Fable of the Emperor and the Grieving Mother

Once upon a time there was an Emperor who thought that the war he had started was exciting, albeit troublesome. He thought that running a war was “hard work,” and thinking always made him tired. So, he decided to take another vacation and visit his castle in the provinces, where he could relax with his vassals and nobles seeking his favor and not have to think.

Nearly all of the vassals and nobles, like the Emperor himself, liked war very much, although they didn’t like to personally participate. Many had cleverly avoided their own involvement in wars when they were young. For instance, the Emperor’s chief vassal, Sir Dick, loved war nearly as much as life itself, but had been a champion at getting deferments from participating in war as a young man. In this way, he could live to grow old and send new generations of young people to war.

A problem arose in the Emperor’s realm when a grieving woman whose son had died in the Emperor’s war decided to visit the Emperor and ask him what purpose her son’s death had served. She traveled to the Emperor’s castle in the provinces where he was relaxing from the “hard work” of war. She sent a message to him, which said, “I have lost a son who was most precious to me and I wish to know from you that his death was not in vain, that he died for some greater purpose. Please come out from behind the walls of your castle and let me know how my son’s death has been for a noble cause.”

One of the Emperor’s vassals approached him, and told the Emperor that he had a message from a grieving mother of one of the Emperor’s fallen soldiers. After reading the message, the Emperor turned to the vassal and asked, “Why do you bother me with this, the words of a simple woman, when I have an empire to run and am relaxing from the hard work of war? As you know, tonight we have more riches to gather, and I must be in a mood for gaiety.”

The vassal bowed low and backed away, apologizing, “I’m sorry,” he said, “I thought that her encampment before the castle might stir up trouble among the people of the realm.”

“Leave me,” said the Emperor imperiously, “My loyal subjects know better than to speak ill of me.” The Emperor was supremely confident in the knowledge that his subjects, and especially the scribes, would not speak ill of him.

But the woman’s message had put the Emperor in a bad mood. He thought it impertinent of this woman to send such a message. He had an empire to run, and no time for explaining to a grieving mother why her son had died. It should be obvious to her that her son died because that’s what soldiers do. They die in battle. If they cannot avoid the military, like Sir Dick had done, or at least stay out of war as the Emperor himself had done, then they die in battle if they are unlucky and then are replaced by other soldiers.

The walls of the Emperor’s castle were high, and the Emperor knew he was safe from this grieving mother and her kind behind them. He and Sir Dick knew best what the empire needed, and he knew that now was the time to relax so that after some weeks he could return to the “hard work” of war.

But while the message of the grieving mother encamped in front of the Emperor’s castle did not move the hard heart of the Emperor, it did indeed miraculously resound through the empire, and the populace did indeed begin to question with her whether her son had died in vain and whether the Emperor’s war had been no more than tragic folly.

All fables have a moral, and the moral of this one is: If your son or daughter has died in war and you are a grieving mother, know that while your words may not move the Emperor to come out from behind the safety of his castle walls, your pain and courage may still stir a revolt across the empire and save other mothers’ sons and daughters as well as the innocent citizens of far-off lands.

DAVID KRIEGER is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and author of a recent book of anti-war poetry, Today Is Not a Good Day for War.


















More articles by:

David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). 

Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
Thom Hartmann
How Billionaires Get Away With Their Big Con
Your 19th COVID Breakdown
Danny Sjursen
Undercover Patriots: Trump, Tulsa, and the Rise of Military Dissent
Charles McKelvey
The Limitations of the New Antiracist Movement
Binoy Kampmark
Netanyahu’s Annexation Drive
Joseph G. Ramsey
An Empire in Points
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset
Ramzy Baroud
On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed
Judith Deutsch
Handling Emergency: A Tale of Two Males
Michael Welton
Getting Back to Socialist Principles: Honneth’s Recipe
Dean Baker
Combating the Political Power of the Rich: Wealth Taxes and Seattle Election Vouchers
Jonah Raskin
Edward Sanders: Poetic Pacifist Up Next
Manuel García, Jr.
Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Vegetation After Emissions Shutoff “Now”
Heidi Peltier
The Camo Economy: How Military Contracting Hides Human Costs and Increases Inequality
Ron Jacobs
Strike!, Fifty Years and Counting
Ellen Taylor
The Dark Side of Science: Shooting Barred Owls as Scapegoats for the Ravages of Big Timber
Sarah Anderson
Shrink Wall Street to Guarantee Good Jobs
Graham Peebles
Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?
Zhivko Illeieff
Can We Escape Our Addiction to Social Media?
Clark T. Scott
The Democrat’s Normal Keeps Their (Supposed) Enemies Closer and Closer
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
In 2020 Elections: Will Real-Life “Fighting Dems” Prove Irresistible?
Dave Lindorff
Mommy, Where Do Peace Activists Come From?
Christopher Brauchli
Trump the Orator
Gary Leupp
Columbus and the Beginning of the American Way of Life: A Message to Indoctrinate Our Children
John Stanton
Donald J. Trump, Stone Cold Racist
Nicky Reid
The Stonewall Blues (Still Dreaming of a Queer Nation)
Stephen Cooper
A Kingston Reasoning with Legendary Guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith (The Interview: Part 2)
Hugh Iglarsh
COVID-19’s Coming to Town