November 24, 2012

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”)


“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
(“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”)

Horace (Quintas Horatius Flaccus; 65-8 B.C.) 
       Roman poet 
       From his poem
“Dulce Et Decorum Est,” in Odes, Bk. III, No. 2 (35 B.C.)
       This is one of the two most famous quotations from Horace’s Odes. (The other is “Carpe diem.”) The Latin word decorum has been variously translated as fitting, honorable, glorious and becoming. In the poem, Horace muses on patriotism and cowardice, saying: 
  ”It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. 
       Yet death chases after the soldier who runs, 
       and it won’t spare the cowardly back 
       or the limbs, of peace-loving young men.” 
Before becoming a poet, Horace briefly served as a soldier in the army of Brutus, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar. Marc Antony and Octavian (later Augustus Caesar) defeated Brutus at the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. It seems a bit ironic, given Horace’s brave words in “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” that he threw down his shield and fled the battlefield during the Battle of Philippi to save himself from death. After Augustus declared amnesty for Romans who served in armies used against him, Horace became a clerk in the government treasury and a poet in his spare time. His Odes, published in four volumes between 23 B.C. and 13 B.C., are considered to be among the greatest works of classic Latin literature. 


“The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
       British poet and soldier in World War I
       In his poem
“Dulce et Decorum Est”
       Owen’s lines calling the patriotic quote by Horace “The old Lie” are nearly as famous as Horace’s original words. Owen volunteered for the British Army during World War I, but quickly became disillusioned by the horrors of The Great War, which included terrible carnage caused by modern guns and mustard gas. In the summer of 1917, Owens was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh to be treated for severe shell shock. While there, he wrote “Dulce et Decorum Est” and other moving poems that were published posthumously, years later. His famed “old Lie” lines come at the end of the poem, which describes the horrific effects of mustard gas on a fellow soldier: 
     “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
       Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
       Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
       Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
       My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
       To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
       The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
       Pro patria mori.”

On November 4, 1918, a few months after returning to active service, Owens was killed in action at the age of twenty-five — just seven days before the war ended.


“I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
General George S. Patton (as played played by actor George C. Scott)
In the 1970 film Patton (screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund North)
       This well known quote is from a speech Patton (Scott) gives at the beginning of the film, while standing in front of a giant American flag. The movie speech is based on
a real speech Patton gave to American troops before D-Day on June 5, 1944. However, the famous movie quote is not in the recorded version of Patton’s 1944 speech.


“Should America have gone to war after Pearl Harbor and should the French and British have decided to stop Hitler in 1939?...It is not sweet to die for one’s country. It is bitter. But it can be noble.”
Noel Annan (1916-2000)
       British educator, historian and critic 
       In his review of the book Wartime: Understanding Behavior in the Second World War by Paul Fussell (1989), published in the New York Review of Books, September 28, 1989. (Annan felt Fussell’s book had an overly simplistic, anti-war slant.)


“Years ago some one wrote...‘Tis sweet to die for one's country. The writer hereof, in this contribution to his country's warlike literature, begs leave to differ with the cheerful idiot who originated that assertion. It is not sweet to do any such thing. Of course the writer has not died for his country to any great extent, so that he speaks not from actual experience. Yet he has seen several others die for their country and they seemed not to like it a bit.”
       Major H.A. Muldoon
       A possibly fictional American Civil War veteran
       In the story
“The Gun Shy Warrior,” published in Camp-fire Sketches and Battle-field Echoes (1886)


“They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.”
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
       American novelist and journalist
       In his article
“Notes on the Next War,” published in Esquire magazine, Sept. 1935 
       Hemingway wrote this piece at a time when he opposed American involvement in the growing European tensions and conflicts created by Hitler and Mussolini. He said:
       “War is made or planned now by individual men, demagogues and dictators who play on the patriotism of their people to mislead them into a belief in the great fallacy of war when all their vaunted reforms have failed to satisfy the people they misrule. And we in America should see that no man is ever given, no matter how gradually or how noble and excellent the man, the power to put this country into a war which is now being prepared and brought closer each day with all the premeditation of a long planned murder. For when you give power to an executive you do not know who will be filling that position when the time of crisis comes.”
        By 1941, Hemingway had changed his mind and supported America’s involvement in World War II.

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