Regardless of your political stance, you may have been caught a bit off guard during tonight’s debate. When asked a question about China, one of the first things Mitt Romney said was that “The biggest threat to America today is Nuclear Iran.”
I was initially perplexed as to what the endgame with this comment was. Hammering home a point? Vague political points? It was just a weird non sequitur.
But then, it dawned on me. It was the basest of rhetorical manuevers! This “Nuclear Iran” is the Carthago delenda est of our modern political era. What is Carthago delenda est? It means, from the Latin, Carthage is to be destroyed. The phrase originates from Republican Romans, who would finish their statements on going to war with Carthage with the phrase. However, the phrase reached heights of meaningless under the oratorical skills of Cato the Elder. He would, regardless of the content of the speech he was making or law he was proposing, declare, “And Carthage is to be destroyed.” At times, it would be so absurd other Senators would be confused!
There’s also a construction in Latin called “Ablative Absolute” that’s hard to precisely translate into English. But loosely, it creates a clause of dependent action based on future action. So Carthago Deleto, habeo crustulam - Carthage having been destroyed, I will have cake. And indeed, this phrase was used a lot in senate hearings in Roman to sway people to vote for war with Carthage. “Carthage having been destroyed, we will have prosperity.” “Carthage having been destroyed, we’ll have jobs!” It’s the easiest of rhetorical tricks, and it’s interesting to see it cropping up again. It’s certainly not the first time it’s happened, but the seemingly random insertion of the phrase into weird, disconnected situations brought my mind right back to Cato railing against old Carthage.
Of course, peace between Rome and Carthage was technically only signed in 1985 CE, so…