|© 2002 Bernard SUZANNE||Last updated August 31, 2002|
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Since this quote appeared, attributed to Plato, at the beginning of Ridley Scott's 2001 movie "Black Hawk Down", several people have asked me the exact source of the quote in Plato's dialogues. Yet, I have been unable, to this day, to locate it in any one of them.
And I'm not the only one in that case ! One person who asked was Mr Michael Takiff, who had come up with the quote, attributed to Plato, in a letter from a soldier in Vietnam to his father while preparing a book called "Brave Men, Gentle Heroes: American Fathers and Sons in World War II and Vietnam", to be published by HarperCollins in 2003. I was unable to help him, but I later learned, in further exchanges I had with him by mail, that, with the help of friends and colleagues, he had come up with the following about the quote:
Here is what Mr Takiff wrote me on August 2, 2002 about the quote, based on these data:
"I think it's almost certain that MacArthur's use of the quotation
in his famous speech in 1962 accounts for the its popularity among American
soldiers. However, I'm doubtful that MacArthur is the ultimate source of the
quotation's attribution to Plato. My reason is that it appears, attributed to
Plato (just Plato, no citation), on the wall of the Imperial War Museum in London.
(I owe my awareness of this appearance of the quote to a former professor of
mine -- Victor Bers, a classicist at Yale -- who recently visited the museum.)
The museum has been housed at this location since 1936; of course, the quotation
could have been put up any time since. One would think, however, that the keepers
of this institution would practice more scholarly discipline than the producers
of a Hollywood war movie. And so, I'm doubtful that the quotation's route to
the museum's wall passed through General MacArthur's speech.
I have just emailed the director of research at the museum. I'll let you know what, if anything, I find out."
In short, the attribution of this quote to Plato remains most questionable, while its appearence in works by George Santayana is a fact, and the possibility that the source of its misattribution to Plato be General McArthur is quite real, though not proven.
If I learn more about it, I'll update this page. And if anybody around finds it in one of Plato's dialogues, please let me know, I'll be glad to add his/her name to this page as the finder of the quote in Plato...
Back to index of frequently asked questions about Plato
(1) In a text
guide to studying history at Fort Huachuca, Only the dead are safe: war and
history", available in PDF format on the site of the US Army Intelligence
Center at Fort Huachuca, and also in HTML
format through Google, the quote is also attributed to George Santayana,
but the source given there is Santayana's "The Life of Reason", Scribners,
New York, 1953.
In the entry on George Santayana in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy on the Web, one can read: "Santayana's stay in Oxford during the Great War led to his famous counter to Wilson's war to end all wars: 'Only the dead have seen the end of war.' (Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, 102)".
On another site reproducing General McArthur's speech, the author ot the site, Bill Thayer, adds the following note with regard to the supposed Plato quotation: "I have been unable to find this in Plato; and apparently I'm not the only one. They are undoubtedly to be found in the 20c philosopher George Santayana's Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (1922), and reappeared in The Life of Reason, a book published in 1953 shortly after the author's death during the Korean War at a time when they would have been very likely to catch Gen. MacArthur's eye. A brief thread on the Classics-L includes the opinion that these words are now widely seen as Plato's precisely because of Gen. MacArthur's misattribution in this speech." (<==)