Inspired by an antique photograph of five young boys in World War I era uniforms posing as soldiers, some holding toy rifles, one or two others bearing the weight of the real thing, this painting was begun after Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003. This photo was a springboard used to contextual my thoughts about the 2003 Iraq war and one these boys were posing for. The messaging used to encourage young men to sign up for WWI and the Iraq war was all too similar. Contemporary fear mongering, coupled with the assurance of an easy invasion and high moral purpose, seduced the conflicted American people of the twenty-first century as effectively as the romantic propaganda from the WWI era convinced young men to go “Over There” into France’s trenches. As I made this work, I identify with my subjects. It is as if I feel the heaviness of a man’s rifle in a boy’s grip. I experience the physicality of paint as weighted and wet as mud drenched boots and I begin to see other images. I visualize these boys outside their home. They are scared, alone, confronted by the horrors magnified by war. (Dolce et Decorum est, Pro Patria Mori) 1
Dolce et Decorum est, Pro Patria Mori is a line from the Roman lyrical poet Horace’s Odes (III.2.13). The line can be roughly translated into English as: “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893-1918) used Horace’s line in his famous WWI poem of the same title.
Dolce et Decorum est, Pro Patria Mori was first exhibited in "Grace Hartigan’s Choice: Athena’s Daughters" at Maryland Art Place (MAP) Baltimore, MD, Juror: Grace Hartigan, 2004-2005. It was reworked in 2013.