All Wars Are Planned by Older Men in Council Rooms Apart

Grantland Rice? Herman Melville? Herbert Hoover? Reverend E. W. Elstron? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A mournful anti-war poem contains this line:

All wars are planned by older men in council rooms apart.

The poem has been attributed to Grantland Rice who was a popular sports journalist. I have seen a version of the verse that used the word “old” instead “older”. Do you know which version is correct? Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Grantland Rice published a long-running syndicated column called “The Sportlight”. In 1921 he shared his poem titled “The Two Sides of War” with his readers. The following was the first verse. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who plan for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1864 a newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania published a poem by Timothy Parker titled “Peace” in which the author referred to the occupants of a council room who were deciding whether to follow a path of war or peace. Parker hoped that the occupants would choose peace: 2

Come, gentle Peace, with healing on thy wings,
Come hover o’er the men in council room;
Breathe on them, in thy mercy, love and peace,
That hearts may meet the waiting hearts at home.

The fame of Herman Melville was primarily achieved after his death in 1891 due to the growing praise of his novel “Moby Dick”. Back in 1866 he published a poem about a civil war battle, and he noted the young age of the frontline combatants in the following excerpt: 3

Whence should come the trust and cheer?
Youth must its ignorant impulse lend—

Age finds place in the rear.
All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys,

The champions and enthusiasts of the state:
Turbid ardors and vain joys
Not barrenly abate—
Stimulants to the power mature,
Preparatives of fate.

In 1921 Grantland Rice published “The Two Sides of War”. This was the full poem:

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who plan for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

Out along the shattered fields
Where golden dreams are gray,
How very young their faces are
Where all the dead men lay.

Gray haired cast and solemn, in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the warlike note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life’s vanished joys,
I’ve noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.

In 1930 a newspaper in Rock Island, Illinois reported on a gathering that honored veterans of the Civil War. The Reverend E. W. Elstron delivered a brief address: 4

“One of the most striking revelations of that war was the age of the men who entered it. It has often been commonly said that great wars are planned by old men and fought by young men. Statistics show that more than two million of the men who enlisted in the Civil war were under 20 years of age and that 150,000 were under 14 years of age.”

In 1944 former U.S. President Herbert Hoover addressed the national convention of the Republican party and spoke about war: 5

Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die. And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow, and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.

In 1955 the 13th edition of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” included the first stanza of Rice’s poem. Interestingly, the word “older” was changed to “old”: 6


All wars are planned by old men
In council rooms apart,
Who plan for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

Also, in 1955 a collection of Grantland Rice’s works titled “The Final Answer and Other Poems” appeared, and the poem “The Two Sides of War” was included. The first verses of the 1955 and 1921 versions were identical. The other verses were revised slightly. 7

In 1989 “The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations” included a version of the first two lines of the poem. The word “old” appeared instead of “older”: 8

All wars are planned by old men
In council rooms apart.
Grantland Rice (1880-1954) US sportswriter. Two Sides of War

In conclusion, Grantland Rice should receive credit for the poem he published in 1921. The 1921 poem used the phrase “older men” and not “old men”.

(Great thanks to Jonathan Lighter who located the 1921 Grantland Rice citation and the 1866 Herman Melville citation.)


  1. 1921 March 26, New York Tribune, Column: The Sportlight, Poem: The Two Sides of War Quote by Grantland Rice, Quote Page 11, Column 2, New York, New York. (Chronicling America Library of Congress) link
  2. 1864 August 3, The Luzerne Union, Poem: Peace by Timothy Parker, Quote Page 1, Column 4, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1866, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of The War by Herman Melville, Poem: The March into Virginia Ending in the First Manassas (July, 1861), Quote Page 22, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1930 May 27, The Rock Island Argus, War Veterans Are Guests of Club at Aledo, Quote Page 22, Column 1, Rock Island, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1944 June 28, Chicago Tribune, U.S. Wants 30 Freedoms, Not 4, Says Hoover (High points of the address of former President Herbert Hoover to the Republican national convention last night), Quote Page 5, Column 1, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1955, Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett, Thirteenth Edition, Centennial Edition, Entry: Grantland Rice, Quote Page 910, Macmillan and Company, London. (Verified with scans)
  7. 1955, The Final Answer and Other Poems by Grantland Rice, Selected by John Kieran, Chapter: None But the Brave, Poem: The Two Sides of War, Quote Page 55, A. S. Barnes and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1989, The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations, Topic: War, Quote Page 599, Column 2, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on paper)