Richard Holbrooke, who died this week at age 69, loved epigraphs. They are strewn all over his writings—poems and passages from Euripides, W.H. Auden, Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot, the diplomatist and historian Harold Nicolson.
An epigraph from Herman Melville turns up early in Holbrooke's remarkable chronicle of his experience in the Balkans, "To End a War" (1998). "With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts."
Holbrooke lived the life of his choice, driven by that itch. The Holbrooke story could have ended in the Mekong Delta, where as a young man he served as "pacification adviser." He could have perished, as three of his colleagues traveling with him did, in the summer of 1995, on the treacherous Mount Igman road to Sarajevo.