• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Carthago Delenda Est: Trump Must Be Destroyed

December 2020

At the conclusion of every speech to which he treated his fellow senators, a rather laconic group of Roman statesmen and grave aristocrats among whom garrulity, no matter the eminence of the speaker from whom it came, nor the melodious tuning of his voice, simply had no quarter, Cato the Elder attached the following three words: Carthago delenda est. Carthage, he proclaimed, must be destroyed.

This was, for him, more than a simple mantra of militancy by which, if only to enflame the excitable passions of his warlike comrades, and to loosen from their scabbards a fleet of restless swords, each one of his hair-raising utterances was capped. More than that, it was a deeply-held commitment from which, having resisted every argument in favor of peace, and ignored every whisper of the benefits of conciliation, he simply couldn’t sway. In time, it became a goal of which he hoped first to remind, and finally to convince his many burly colleagues, a pugnacious group of Italians by whom the power of Rome was held, and the fate of Carthage decided.

Cato’s exhortation, so he thought, wasn’t just a time-bound imperative to which, given the immediacy of the moment, his fledgling empire’s attention should briefly turn, but a constant, self-evident truth upon which, beyond three words, he really need not further dilate. Carthage, though twice defeated by Rome in the First and Second Punic Wars, desisted not from being a threat to the claims of greatness with which, in the afterglow of its recent victories, and the enjoyment of its hard-won spoils, Rome had begun to flatter herself.

Control of the Mediterranean, at least in the opinion of our anxious Cato, persisted in being a rather ambitious goal to which that doughty Phoenician colony still aspired. Burdened by this knowledge, old Cato couldn’t rest easy until the complete disappearance of this threat, and the destruction of that detested African city by which he was so unyieldingly menaced.

To date, Carthage had proven itself capable of mustering an unusually effective mercenary army, a trans-national, ragtag group of soldiers-for-pay by which, despite every advantage of numerical supremacy and territorial acquaintance, the purebred Romans were repeatedly trounced. The unconquerable Hannibal, before whose tactical brilliance, every wrinkled military historian still sits in childlike awe, succeeded, as none previously had, in devastating Rome. After leaping over the inhospitable, snow-laden Alps, behind whose every corner, nettlesome mountaineers waited with foul intent, the young general led his wearied men down the spine of the Roman state. Each vertebrae, cap-a-pie, was a victory as he descended from the top of the peninsula toward its tail. First at Trebia, next at Lake Trasimene, and, most famously, at Cannae, he surprised, engulfed, and finally decimated an ever-growing number of perplexed Roman troops.

This continued for some time, until the aged soldier and former counsel, Quintus Fabius Maximus, was chosen to right the ship. The eponymous techniques by which we remember his name, while unpopular, proved successful, but they didn’t last long. They were as ephemeral as Rome’s patience for their employment was thin. The old delayer (Fabius’ agnomen, a kind of army man’s nickname, was, after all, the Cunctator, a word that survives as a synonym for one who fails decisively to act) was relieved of his appointment as dictator after the completion of the Roman constitution’s prescribed six months. Humbled by a history of loss, and made wise by his life’s six decades of experience, Fabius realized that a war of attrition, as opposed to one of annihilation, was his country’s best and possibly final hope. He was ignored, however, and the Romans were ravaged.

Fortunately for that land that would soon be home to all but a few popes, Hannibal knew how to win battles, but lacked the necessary genius to put his victories to good use. For reasons into which scholars of antiquity continue to probe, out of which, frustratingly, they’ve not yet extracted much profit, Hannibal decided against continuing his march on Rome and taking into possession that storied city atop the Palatine Hill. To this day, Hannibal’s refusal to secure his victory causes one to scratch his head. Had he done so, the empire might’ve been his, and the modern world as we know it, quite different. Indeed, the language in which this lengthy article is written, to which, obligingly, the dear reader has thus far committed her precious time, might’ve been derived rather from a Semitic, than a Latin tongue. We might extol the character of Dido over that of Aeneas, and supplicate ourselves before Baal in a rejection of Christ.

Either way, Hannibal’s mission to conquer Rome, an aim to which, from the time of his bustling, precocious youth, he was unreservedly devoted, was incomplete, and his opportunity to achieve that grand design passed him by. Flustered, he returned to Africa where the ruthless Scipio Africanus, himself an incomparably brilliant general with whom, much to their misfortune, centuries of great Romans must try to compete, waited. The Battle of Zama, over which Scipio claimed a massive victory, sealed Hannibal’s fate. Vanquished, he fled the land of his royal birth for the obscurity of the Middle East, where he was pursued by a band of Romans intent on ensuring his demise. Eventually, their objective was achieved. Hannibal, whose name continues to inspire fear, died of the mixture of Oriental poison in his Punic blood.

But Rome, intoxicated by the dizzying fumes of its glorious triumph and its arch-nemesis’ death, a sweet aroma to which her senses, clogged by a recent string of mortifying defeats, had become strangely unaccustomed, was not yet done. So long as Carthage lived, if only as a feeble shell of its previous self, a statesman like Cato the Elder couldn’t rest. He wanted that terrible city, that rogue southern neighbor by which his beloved Italy was invaded and his countrymen killed, destroyed—trunk, roots, and all. Defeat wouldn’t suffice: Carthago delenda est, Carthage must be destroyed. Nothing of its former grandeur would remain.

This, he repeated to his colleagues, and his message wasn’t ignored.

He proved as compelling an orator as he was inveterate a war hawk. The senate of Rome took his advice and, under his direction, thought up a scheme to provoke another war. Ultimately, it would be the third in which the two states were to be engaged. As a means by which their fighting spirit might be renewed, the Romans began to impose increasingly onerous demands on the poor Carthaginians, a people upon whom they now leaned with the bulk of a victor’s weight. Not only did they change the terms of the indemnities by which they were burdened, but they demanded that they abandon their city and re-locate farther inland, to a place less accessible to their cherished maritime trade. From Tyre to Tunisia, the Carthaginians were, throughout the long course of their collective life, a sea-faring people, a civilization of adventurers and navigators never far removed from the sea. Now, by order of some peremptory Roman statesmen, for whom they hadn’t even an ounce of respect, they were forbidden to live within ten miles of the sea.

In essence, the Carthaginians were made exiles in their own home, a region, mind you, over which they enjoyed an uninterrupted claim of legitimate ownership for nearly six hundred years. Unsurprisingly, these were conditions to which they bravely refused to submit. The Third Punic War ensued, and, at its end, Cato the Elder’s sanguinary goal was realized. Carthage was indeed destroyed, fully and unsparingly, and its power was never rekindled again. The fertile ground atop which its ancient pillars once stood was salted, the stones by which its lofty edifices were built were removed one by one, and the best of her citizens were unmercifully killed. Not even virile Rome, so inclined to conquer and to kill, could’ve hoped for an annihilation so utterly complete. Carthage, in every sense of the word, was totally destroyed.

In some ways, in our own time, this desire for the total annihilation of a party against which we’re ideologically set, this destructive instinct to which Cato the Elder gave so unflagging a voice, persists.

I’m reminded of it when I hear the unfriendly remarks issued by some Democrats and supporters of Joe Biden against their fellow Republicans and the beleaguered incumbent behind whom, through the challenges of the past four years, they’ve loyally stood. Carthago delenda est, converted from Latin to English, and implanted on our own age, now reads, Trump, and everything for which he stands, and everyone by whom he’s been supported, must be destroyed.

The earth upon which his platform once stood must be salted, and every monument to his agenda, dismembered and erased. Those by whom he was so feverishly championed—be it out of calculated expediency or sincere belief—should be made, for all intents and purposes, exiles in the country of their birth. They should be removed from the broad expanse of America’s polite society, a welcoming world through which, without impediment, all are given an equal opportunity to move. They should be sent away into the darkness of the night, as were the Carthaginians from their urban centers and their beloved sea. There, displaced from the “new order” of the state, and under the thumb of an illiberal regime, their careers and their future prospects of work should be symbolically killed. No remnant of Trump’s administration will be allowed to survive, and those responsible for the advancement of his political career must be punished as if murderers or thieves.

I’ll leave it to the Latinist for this sentence’s proper translation, but I think the point is clear.

Leftist opinion-makers, and the progressive legislatures to whom they preach, have pushed forward the idea of making “enemy lists” to which they might occasionally refer. As disconcerting as they sound, these “lists” would be rosters on which, with the nodding agreement of the bien pensant, Trump-supporting individuals or businesses might find themselves placed. Once there, they might be attacked by the censoriousness of the Left until, like Hannibal and the Punic people, they vanish from sight.

I leave you with this. There was, so it appears, another name by which Cato the Elder, that hoary, warmongering statesman by whom so many Romans were roused, was sometimes known: Cato the Censor. The epithet is fitting for a man whose intention it was to erase a political opponent, and a neighboring city, from the memory of the world. The modern political Left is perhaps even more censorious than was he. While it was Cato’s wish to destroy a city, merely, it’s the Left’s hope to obliterate an ideology. One is material, the other less so. The dynamite needed for so large a task is immeasurable, as, I fear, it soon will learn. The means for its execution will be developed in time, but the end is something about which they’re sure: Carthago delenda est, Trump et al. must be destroyed.

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