“In peace, sons bury fathers. In war, fathers bury sons.”
Attributed by Herodotus in Book 1 of The Histories to the Lydian king Croesus, from a speech in which Croesus was lamenting and repenting his failed invasion of Persia, which failure in turn caused the utter loss of his kingdom and all of his fabled wealth and power. He blamed the god Apollo for his disaster, because it was Apollo’s oracle at Delphi who initially told Croesus that, if he attacked Cyrus in Persia, “he would succeed in destroying a great empire.” His mistake was in assuming that the empire he would destroy would be Persia itself, when in fact it was his own.
I recently reread the 9 volumes of The Histories (last time was more than 45 years ago) and this early passage really struck at my heart.
Above all else, it reminds me of the profound gratitude and sheer relief I felt upon the safe returns of my warrior son and son-in-law from their respective tours of combat duty. Many more parents will experience the same joys over the next few years.
But no joy will visit those whose sons and daughters returned home under draped flags, or with pieces of themselves left behind. Yet to be written in our history is whether these casualties will have served a just cause or merely a lost cause. If the latter judgment be deemed, then the irony of the ancients becomes modern again. It will haunt us – today and tomorrow. It will inflict a grave wound upon each and every one of us – forever.