Friday, 13 November 2009

In Remembrance of the Veterans, Past and Present...

Yes, I realize I'm a day or two late in getting this out. Fortunately, "Remembrance Day" here in Canada has been rebranded as "Remembrance WEEK", so I don't feel so bad!

Just yesterday I had the privilege of reading a very moving letter. It was written only days ago by a young widow, the wife of a Canadian Forces officer who had just lost his life in Afghanistan. Her life has been devastated. She has lost her husband, her lover and her best friend... and the father of her children. Life will never be the same for her or her children.

And yet the letter was a noble reminder of the principles that her husband stood for and of the principles that all of us who love our respective countries and value our freedoms embrace. There was no self-pity, but rather a call for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the things that really matter.

Her letter reminded me of the words I heard from my own relatives who had gone through the darkest days of the Second World War, when all seemed hopeless and civilization itself hung in the balance. "We did what we had to do," my aunt told me. Her husband was escorting convoys in the North Atlantic and she had no idea whether he would come home alive or end up in a watery grave.

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I tends to be somewhat critical of Western civilization. I suppose we Orthodox feel that our historical knowledge of what really happened in the West - of which 99.9% of Westerners are ignorant - gives us the right to do so. Perhaps. However, whatever the faults of the West, I see its value in this world as irreplaceable.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..."

Ponder that for a moment... Written nearly two and half centuries ago, these words from the US Declaration of Independence are ones that we have yet to live up to. They sum up the common foundation of Western civilization as a whole. And they are light years ahead of the sad reality in which most of the human race still lives. As President Obama rightly said, these ideas still light the world. And God help us if we ever allow them to be extinguished by any of the hate-filled religious or secular ideolologies we've had to face over the last century.

"Heaven Rescued Land"

I'm not an American, yet I can think of no better way to remember the veterans than by looking at the fourth stanza of Francis Scott Key's magnificent poem, "The Defense of Fort McHenry", better known as the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner.

Here they are:

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blessed with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Or, if you'd prefer to listen to it, here it is on Youtube (where it's sung as the third and final verse by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir):

Although he wrote it 195 years ago while watching the British navy bombard Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore, it describes perfectly what our forebears lived through only 7 decades ago.

In that epic struggle, all of Western civilization was indeed a "heaven rescued land" and "the land of the free and the home of the brave". Let's face it; there is no freedom without bravery. In the immortal words of the great historian, Will Durant, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

He also noted that "a nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry". And he wrote those words in the context of the massacre of millions of people in India in the middle ages at the hands of their Muslim conquerors, events he called "the bloodiest story in human history". The price of failing to keep your powder dry can be horror beyond imagination.

You may feel a sense of discomfort when you read the Key's words, "And conquer we must, when our cause it is just..." and that's understandable. We've all been conditioned by the disastrous consequences of some of our own foolish military misadventures since World War Two. That can make us pretty cynical. However...

...we must never let it blind us to the eternal values that our civilization is based on, no matter how often we manage to screw up the implementation of those values.

So let's all remember all those brave men and women who have stood up to be counted when it mattered, who have put their lives on the line and are still doing so on a daily basis. And let us all strive every day to be worthy of their sacrifices and of the civilization that we so often take for granted.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

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