My Grandma knew a lot about war. Grandpa fought in WW 1, and later seven of her eight sons, who were pilots in the Royal Air Force were killed in WW II. On the wall of the lobby of her house she had hung the proud photographs of each of her boys when they got their wings, and later it seemed like each time we visited her during that war, one more photograph was turned face to the wall and the official notification telegram was pasted on the back.
Even to this day I can recall the text of the beginning of those telegrams which were printed under the royal coat of arms, and which read, “His Majesty’s Principal Secretary for Air regrets to inform you that this day your son, (name) was killed in action. On behalf of a grateful nation, His Majesty extends his most sincere condolences on this tragic loss……..” As a boy I was always taken with Grandma’s stoicism in the face of such losses, and I wondered, (then as now), how she managed to retain any semblance of her normal demeanor which was always so much in charge and under control.
When I foolishly spoke with boyish enthusiasm of the glories of our military, the pride of uniform, and my fears that the war would end before I could get to the fighting, she spoke to me of war in the direst terms as a failure of old men to recognize that their quarrels were killers of young men, and represented a total failure of civilized behavior.
In support of her beliefs, she frequently quoted the epigram, “In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.” It was not until many years later, when I was studying history, that I learned that the quote was attributed to Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC (c. 484 BC – c. 425 BC). He has been called the “Father of History.”
In more contemporary terms her sentiments were perhaps best exemplified by the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, when he opined sadly in 1942, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”