This quote is originally attributed to George Herbert, and was a frequent topic of conversation at the poetry group I used to attend. As you probably know from the poems I've shared, many of my poems have staunch antiwar themes. One member of the group, whose name is also George, took exception every time I advocated for military deescalation. He used a variation of the quote, saying, "The sword keeps the sword in the scabbard," and argued this is why the US needs to remain as an occupying force overseas. He thinks the US needs to keep spending $750 billion on the military, bombing eight countries that didn't attack us, killing 90% innocent civilians, and mounting a death toll that exceeds that of Nazi Germany since the end of WWII. As expected, he's a neocon and xenophobe, who treats all Muslims as potential terrorists, which is why he thinks the US needs to make repeated shows of military might to deter violence.
I pushed back against his arguments, obviously, citing the statistics of innocent civilian casualties and the costs of war. I pointed out the US funds Saudi Arabia, which gives the weapons to terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. I said that the regimes the US is trying to overthrow are actually opposed to and fighting these same terrorist groups. None of this swayed him, because neocons don't arrive at their conclusions by considering facts or reason.
This stance can be used to justify all wars and war crimes throughout history. It can be used to justify the actions of fascist and authoritarian communist regimes. It can be used to justify preemptive and aggressive violence of all kinds, because as the Bush doctrine asserted, it's better to kill them first just in case they think of attacking us.
However, the irony of the axiom is that it disproves itself. If you engage in offensive violence against someone else, you've already negated the premise of the axiom, because your enemy failed to deter you. All of the wars in history disprove the idea of using a show of force as a deterrence, because every single culture in history has had some kind of military, but that didn't deter others from attacking them. Swords, like guns and bombs, are designed to kill, and they wouldn't need to exist if humans didn't have a propensity to commit violent acts against each other. Historically, arming swords were carried for self-defense, which implies that people did fight and kill each other with swords all the time. Though by now, it's practically a tautology to say that humans use weapons for violence.
The quote was also spoken in another context, specifically by Raiden, the protagonist of the video game series Metal Gear Rising. For those who are unfamiliar, this was clearly meant to be ironic, as Raiden is a character famous for slicing apart scores of hapless enemies without giving much thought to the human lives he's taking. Look up any gameplay video and tell me if Raiden looks like a pacifist.
Any idiot who still believes this axiom today needs to think of the families of the millions of people killed in the US led War on Terror since 2001. Since neocons are mentally incapable of empathy though, then they better pray neither they nor someone they know is the victim of violence. Threats and acts of violence do not deter violence, they only escalate it. Maybe it's time for everyone to stop overcompensating, put down their swords, and have actual dialogue to settle disagreements.