Nobody wrote more beautifully about the history of conquest and adventure than Theodore Roosevelt. Nobody wrote more poetically about war and glory and empire than Rudyard Kipling.
In the end, where did this leave these two men? It left them grieving the sons they loved so much.
Theodore Roosevelt lost his son Quentin, shot down over France. Kipling lost his son Jack in the trenches in 1915, so destroyed by ‘shot and shell’ that they never identified the body. Roosevelt was broken by the loss of his eldest boy and followed him soon to the grave. Kipling, who had written “If” to his son when he was just 12 years old, would write one of his last poems in grief,
“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
These were tragic, devastating events that no parent should ever have to experience. But it’s also indisputable that these two great men were not blameless in bringing them about—not only because of the pressure and impossible expectations they put on their children, but because they were part of a generation that had encouraged, celebrated, glibly supported the policies that led to the carnage that claimed their sons.
It’s a cautionary tale for all parents, and for all the decisions we make and politics we tolerate, not just war. Our generation, just as all past generations have, make decisions in the present that have consequences borne primarily by future generations. But these future generations are not faceless, nameless hordes, they are our children and grandchildren. The wars that Kipling celebrated and the imperialism that Roosevelt was a part of? Their children paid that debt with their lives. Just as your children will reap the natural extrapolations of what you cheerlead or rationalize or pay no attention to today.
The culture wars you get caught up in, the dunking you enjoy, the short term policies you support, the warning signs you ignore? Your kids and your grandkids will live in the world they create…and you yourself may live long enough for it to break your heart.