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Remembering the Soldiers

Whether you know today as Remembrance Day, Veterans’ Day or Armistice Day, in the countries which commemorate their soldiers on the day the first world war ended, today was a day of sober reflection and memory. This is also the year of the hundredth anniversary of John McCrae’s World War I poem “In Flanders Fields.”

 

 

We’d like to contribute this anonymous piece someone shared with us.  Though it refers to Canada, it could just as well fit the soldiers of many free countries.

THE CANADIAN SOLDIER

He is profane and irreverent, living as he does in a world full of capriciousness, frustration, and disillusionment. He is perhaps the best educated of his kind in history, but will rarely accord respect on the basis of mere degrees or titles. He speaks his own dialect, often incomprehensible to the layman. He can be cold, cruel, even brutal and is frequently insensitive. Killing is his profession and he strives very hard to become even more skilled at it. His model is the grey, muddy, hard-eyed slayer who took the untakeable at Vimy Ridge, endured the unendurable in the Scheldt, held the unholdable at Kapyong, and made possible the impossible in Kandahar. He is a superlative practical diplomat; His efforts have brought peace to countless countries around the world. He is capable of astonishing acts of kindness, warmth, and generosity. He will give you his last sip of water on a parched day and his last food to a hungry child. He will give his very life for the society he loves.

Danger and horror are his familiars and his sense of humour is accordingly sardonic. What the unknowing take as callousness is his defence against the unimaginable; He whistles through a career filled with graveyards. His ethos is one of self-sacrifice and duty. He is sinfully proud of himself, of his unit and of his country and he is unique in that his commitment to his society is Total. No other trade or profession dreams of demanding such of its members and none could successfully try. He loves his family dearly, sees them all too rarely and as often as not loses them to the demands of his profession. Loneliness is the price he accepts for the privilege of serving.

He accounts discomfort as routine and the search for personal gain as beneath him. He has neither understanding of nor patience for those motivated by self-interest, politics, or money. His loyalty can be absolute, but it must be purchased. Paradoxically, the only coin accepted for that payment is also loyalty.

He devours life with big bites, knowing that each bite might be his last and his manners suffer thereby. He would rather die regretting the things he did than the ones he dared not try. He earns a good wage by most standards and, given the demands on him, is woefully underpaid.

He can be arrogant, thoughtless, and conceited, but will spend himself and sacrifice everything for total strangers in places he cannot even pronounce. He considers political correctness a podium for self-righteous fools, but will die fighting for the rights of anyone he respects or pities.

He is a philosopher and a drudge, an assassin and a philanthropist, a servant and a leader, a disputer and a mediator, a Nobel Laureate Peacekeeper and the Queen’s Hitman, a brawler and a healer, best friend and worst enemy. He is a rock, a goat, a fool, a sage, a drunk, a provider, a cynic, and a romantic dreamer. Above it all, he is a hero for our time.

You, pale stranger, sleep well at night only because he exists for you, the citizen who has never met him, has perhaps never thought of him and may even despise him. He is both your child and your guardian. His devotion to you is unwavering.

HE IS A CANADIAN SOLDIER.


WHY WE NEED TO RECLAIM OUR PATRIOTISM

It’s November 11 again, that day variously known as “Remembrance Day,” “Veterans’ Day” or (originally) “Armistice Day,” when we honor the brave men and women who sacrificed so much to protect our civilization and what it stands for.

It’s much more poignant than usual for us here in Canada, since two of our soldiers have been murdered on Canadian soil by Islamic militants in the past two weeks. One of these soldiers was shot in the back while guarding the National War Memorial itself, the very center of today’s celebration.

However, there are other reasons to put a special focus on Remembrance / Veterans’ Day this year. First, our civilization itself is at a crossroads. And second, this year happens to be the 100th anniversary of the event that gave rise to this holiday – World War One. This makes it the opportune moment to address the issues. These issues cut right to the heart of everyone who studies Warriorship and speak to the resilience of our civilization itself.
How the Great War Changed Patriotism

Europe’s endless wars had been fought every fifty years or so for centuries and were pretty predictable: more powerful countries would gain more territory and concessions at the expense of weaker ones. The general public was seldom averse to these wars- after all, armies of the period contained only two types of people: aristocrats looking for power and glory and the misfits of society (today we would call them “white trash”) they led into battle. As the Duke of Wellington is reputed to have said of his soldiers, “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me.” The public was in it for national prestige, and if a few of these dregs of society had to die as soldiers, so be it.

World War I (1914-18) was exactly that sort of war as far as its causes were concerned – yet another “accounting exercise” among the European powers, touched off by an obscure set of alliances and an unforeseen assassination down in Serbia. But…

Two things had changed. First, the advent of modern transportation meant that armies of over a million men could be mobilised on short notice, and so it was no longer just the dregs of society doing the fighting, but everybody’s brother, son, husband and nephew.

Second, the invention of the machine gun, modern artillery and the other modern implements of killing, mixed with the unimaginative battle tactics of the 19th century set the stage for an unspeakable blood bath. Every year of that war, about seventy percent of every front-line unit on the Western Front would be killed or maimed. Nevertheless, the clueless generals, unable to think of anything better to do, kept throwing men at each other by the hundreds of thousands.

It dawned upon the allied politicians that the public would never forgive them for such losses in the name of mere national prestige. They needed a better cause. So…

A great propaganda campaign cast the Germans as the evil aggressors, and the Allied public swallowed this rewriting of history, because they didn’t want their boys to have died for nothing. The results? See for yourself….

1. The Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I, which was so harsh as to make a second war with Germany inevitable. (After all, if the Germans were the evil doers here, they had to be made to pay).
2. For the first time in history, public consciousness began to see war itself as evil.
3. This meant that every war since then has had to be sold as a campaign of “good against evil” to satisfy the public and get them on board.

Fortunately, that next, inevitable, European war, which we now call World War II (1939-45), turned out to be exactly that – finally we had a true “just war”! This conflict was essential in order to destroy two of the most monstrous tyrannies ever created – Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan, who were butchering their way across Europe and Asia respectively with unspeakable cruelty.
Now Here’s the Catch… and You Won’t Like It…

Of the seemingly endless minor conflicts Western countries have been directly involved in since the end of the Second World War, VERY few have been clear-cut “just wars” of “good against evil”. All too often, they have been wars in the service of someone’s political or commercial agenda that had to be “wrapped in the flag” to be sold to a gullible public.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was perhaps the most egregious example. How so? The war was sold to the American public on the basis that Saddam Hussein’s regime was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks (it wasn’t), that it possessed a huge stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (it didn’t) and that once Saddam was removed, the Iraqi people would enthusiastically embrace freedom and democracy, ideas completely foreign to them (and that’s too stupid even to comment on).
The Tightrope We Walk

“There are those in our own country too who today speak of the ‘protection of country,’ of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult.”

―Justice Haywood, Judgment at Nuremburg

“But you know as well as I, patriotism is a word; and one that generally comes to mean either my country, right or wrong, which is infamous, or my country is always right, which is imbecile.”
― Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander

This is the tightrope we have to walk. We have spent the past decade learning the hard way that standing on guard for the ideals of our societies and defending the perceived interests of our nations as they may be politically defined at any given moment are two very different and sometimes opposite things.

The most precious inheritance of Western civilisation is not its economics or its science or its technology. It is the ideals that have driven us to cast off the oppression and tyranny that run deep in our history and attempt to replace them with a more equitable and compassionate society, founded on the inalienable and equal rights of all people. We have never come close to completely living up to that ideal- but we have come an incalculably, unimaginably great distance from where we started when these immortal words were written:

“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…”

Since that time we have eliminated, slavery, much racial oppression, much of the oppression of the workers and much of the oppression of women. The powerful and vigorous belief in the ideals that brought about these changes should inspire us to hold our societies to them.

There is a certain paralysing cynicism making the rounds these days, a cynicism about our ability to change the course of our civilisation for the better, which in turn erodes the value we place in defending it. In resilience terms, the powerful belief that has taken us this far is faltering. We get the sense that patriotism is being cynically used for futile and often heinous political or commercial agendas.

Yet while we absolutely must confront the manifold problems and hypocrisies and inequities of our societies frankly and with both eyes open, we must also realise that the one unforgiveable thing would be to give up believing in and defending our ideals, for then we will have truly no one to blame but ourselves. If we look at patriotism’s vulnerabilities, almost in every case, they come from one of the errors described in the quotes above. A patriotism that can be manipulated is a patriotism grounded in no firm principles, no clear ideals or aspirations for our countries, against which their actions can be measured.
Warriors’ Patriotism

If there is a principled patriotism, a patriotism worthy of a spiritual warrior, it is this:

1. To hold one’s own country to its ideals, especially when this seems most difficult, especially when the emotions of the moment run against them.
2. To defend those ideals from attack, from within or without, and therefore…
3. To STOP tolerating any ideology that seeks to impose conformity on everyone else. That is where we must be firm. The one thing a society based on freedom of conscience cannot tolerate is an ideology that seeks to end freedom of conscience.
4. To make sure, whenever we’re thinking of sending our military abroad, that the real reasons for doing so are principled and clear before we give the green light.
5. To ensure that we only send our military into conflicts that it can win, conflicts with a clear resolution and a viable end-game strategy – the very opposite of the what the criminally incompetent Bush administration did in Iraq and Afghanistan.
6. In other words, we need to get absolutely REAL with ourselves about the wars of the past and equally REAL about the conflicts of the present and exactly what we are asking our young men and women to risk their lives for.
A principled person must decide the sort of country they wish to live in and the sort of world they wish to live in. If it is a world of equal rights for all people, then let us hold ourselves and our countries to those ideals with rigorous and careful scrutiny and with both eyes wide open. An ideal tainted by wilful blindness is self-destructive; pragmatism without an ideal is a descent to the lowest common denominator.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


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):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU8dHEODN8s

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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