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Old 10-05-2002, 06:19 PM
peter desmond peter desmond is offline
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Brief history of a short epitaph

In 480 BCE, a huge Persian army invaded Greece. Leonidas and 300 Spartans were ordered to hold the frontier mountain pass at Thermopylae while the Greeks rallied their forces back home. All 300 Spartans (also known as Lacedaemonians) died, but the Greeks won the war. In gratitude, they built a monument to the slain heroes and commissioned an epitaph from the lyric poet Simonides of Ceos. Here are two translations of what he wrote:

Go, stranger, and tell the Lacedaemonians
that here we lie, obedient to their commands.

Go, tell the Spartans, thou who passest by,
That here obedient to their laws we lie.

Nearly 150 years later Alexander the Great invaded Persian territory, though the Spartans did not cooperate with him. After his victory at Granicus, Alexander sent the spoils to Athens, along with this note (clearly a reference to Simonides' epitaph): "Alexander son of Philip, and the Greeks except the Lacedaemonians, from the barbarians that inhabit Asia."

In more recent times, the classicist and poet A.E. Housman wrote an expanded version of the same text:

Here dead we lie because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

Another modern adaptation is A.D. Hope's on the Australians who died in Viet Nam:

Go tell the old men, safe in bed,
We took their orders and are dead.


Here's my version of the poem, which I hope will find no use:


Tell the Lacedaemonians

You sent us to Iraq to die.
Mission accomplished: here we lie.
http://www.doctorweevil.org/archives/000157.html http://www.xrefer.com/entry/169307


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  #2  
Old 10-06-2002, 01:08 PM
hector hector is offline
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Epitaph for most wars

Please ask the men who sent us out
To tell us what it's all about.
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  #3  
Old 10-06-2002, 01:47 PM
Jerry H Jenkins Jerry H Jenkins is offline
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Peter,

Kipling also followed this track in his brief:

“I could not dig, I would not rob
and so I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale will serve me now among
Mine angry and defrauded young?”

And related to the courage of the defenders at Thermopylae, the patriotism of the War of Texas Independence noted that “Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat. The Alamo had none.”

The sentiment in your contemporary edition of the verse doesn’t ring true for me. It’s typical sentimental anti-war stuff, suggesting that those who are prepared to go into combat believe in advance in the likelihood that they’re going to die. I haven’t observed it to work that way. Most soldiers who actually go into combat realize that there’s a chance they may become casualties, but they also have the conviction that it’s much more likely they’re coming out alive, and that their job is to make the other SOB die for his country. Their attitude is more likely to be embodied by the slogan “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because I’m the meanest [substitute vulgar phrase here] in the valley.”

With you, I also hope that this doesn’t come to pass, but the attitude of resignation and futility your poem suggests won’t find much concurrence in people who know that discipline, training and battlefield leadership make a difference.

As Hector’s realistic couplet points out, there’s more confusion and ignorance and exasperation than theatrical lamentation in combat service. The attitude is best expressed by this, from one of my troopers who was fed up with the boredom and mindlessness of the daily routine while waiting for something to happen:

“Oh, f**k this f**kin’ f**kin’ around”.

Jerry



[This message has been edited by Jerry H Jenkins (edited October 06, 2002).]
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Old 10-07-2002, 10:58 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Sir, I'm delighted to see a distinguished officer of the Marines respond to Peter Desmond.

My own translation, from my age 21:

Tell them in Lakedaimon, passerby,
that here obeying their commands we lie.

Yesterday I watched "The Rise and Fall of the Spartans," on the History Channel. In the long hours of that coverage, the most moving parts are the Spartans' defense of the Hot Gates, the Athenians' triumph at Salamis, and the final triumph of Thebes and her allies over imperious Sparta under the generalship of Epaminondas. It was a good refresher course on the triumph of what became our Western ideals.

I was excused service to my country on the grounds of my sexuality (how the Thebans would have laughed at that!), but I salute those who have served, and those who have fallen. Timothy
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Old 10-07-2002, 11:31 AM
hector hector is offline
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My own version was inspired many years ago as a TA soldier by the SM who always quoted "Ours not to reason why/Ours but to do and die" (it was probably the only poetry he knew, and certainly all he thought mattered) and the soldiers' song when things go wrong (it's sung to "Auld Lang Syne"): "We're here because we're here because we're here because we're here." Ideally, if that's the word, sung slowly and morosely to the sound of pelting rain and a broken lorry motor.
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Old 10-07-2002, 12:49 PM
Jerry H Jenkins Jerry H Jenkins is offline
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Tim,

Another moving event and turning point in the decline of Sparta occurred in the Peloponnesian War(s) with the capture of the Spartan hoplites on Sphacteria Island. As they languished there pending a decision on their repatriation, assimilation, exile or execution, their absence was greatly felt in their cities, and one retired Spartan warrior, by then too old to fight, remarked that "It was as though the spring had been taken from the year."

Individual courage and bravery and devotion to principle come in many forms. We prosper in diversity, and hope that those who now take aim at our institutions and infrastructure continue to learn that our diversity will help us get through this period in history.

Jerry
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Old 10-07-2002, 12:59 PM
Jerry H Jenkins Jerry H Jenkins is offline
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Hector,

Sergeants Major memorize what will serve them best, and if Tennyson was his guide, he didn't pick badly. I remember my platoon gunnery sergeant repeating the same thing (although it was little consolation) when I was camped for a week on Taiwan with my platoon in an odoriferous onion paddy one hot, wet spring. I changed 'die' to 'dry', hoping that eiher we or the onions would do something.

Anything.

Jerry
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Old 10-07-2002, 01:46 PM
Wild Bill Wild Bill is offline
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When life hands you an onion,
Make onionade.

------------------
Bill
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  #9  
Old 10-07-2002, 02:28 PM
Jerry H Jenkins Jerry H Jenkins is offline
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Bill,

That works. It's also a useful philosophy for serens, masquers, used tires, and cannons.

Jerry
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  #10  
Old 10-07-2002, 05:33 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Robert L. Barth served with distinction in Vietnam. And he is surely our definitive poet of that unfortunate war:

Simonides in Vietnam

Go tell the Spartans that we hold this land,
Deeply dug in, obeying their command.
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