What does it mean to die for your country? We often think of it in terms of protecting our beloved countrymen and keeping our homeland safe. We often think of it in terms of protecting our sovereignty, our quality of life and our most highly held values. We thank those who fought and we remember those who died while protecting our cherished freedoms. What an awesome gift!
Sacrificing your life is the ultimate gift. We should carefully listen to the accompanying message when this occurs. For when one makes such a sacrifice for the purpose of salvation, it is indeed the ultimate expression of love and compassion. And when one makes such a sacrifice for the purpose of slaughter and destruction, it is indeed the ultimate expression of anger and hate.
Surely, he who lays down his life in order to free and to save is greater than he who lays down his life in order to oppress and to kill. His message is of much greater value. His message is worthy of our attention.
What is so special about freedom?
Risking your life in order to protect your loved ones is an honourable thing of course, but it isn’t extraordinary. Many of the worst criminals are capable of such a thing. This is what I admire most about our veterans. They did much more than protect their countrymen; they risked and sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom. So what is so special about freedom that it is deserving of such an immense sacrifice?
Consider its source. If we thoroughly examine ourselves we will find that our freedom of thought, opinion, belief, expression, and of the pursuit of happiness, inhabits the deepest depths of our souls. Solely through the expression of our freedom is meaning given to our lives. We are free to pursue good as we are free to pursue evil. We are free to pursue truth as we are free to pursue deception. We are free to obey as we are free to disobey. We are endowed by Providence to be free, and for this reason we fight. We fight for what is rightfully ours. We fight for the meaningful exercise of a divine gift.
Democracy is no safe haven
History is a long and ongoing story about the exercise and suppression of freedom. Some feel they are better suited to exercise our freedoms on our behalf. Their attempts to do so can take various forms and democracy is no safe haven. Like a tyrannical dictator; so can the majority infringe on the freedoms of the minority.
This is what Richard Cartwright (confederation-era politician) was referring to when he warned that “our chief care must be to train the majority to respect the rights of the minority, to prevent the claims of the few from being trampled under foot by the caprice or passion of the many.” John Philpot Curran, an 18th century Irish politician, said that eternal vigilance is the condition upon which God has given liberty to man; should we break this condition, we are guilty of a crime for which servitude is a just punishment.
Though the struggle for freedom may appear to have been won long ago, there are always forces working steadily against it. Terrorism and the threat of war are the most obvious and sensational. But there are also forces that are more subtle and slow (language laws, dependency, public debt, tax burdens, etc.). They are often sugar-coated with promises of security or of serving the “greater good”, when in reality they slowly erode our freedoms.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance
May we always be vigilant. May we always cherish the precious gift of freedom. May we always understand its price; and may we always honour and appreciate those who have paid its price. For since the dawn of time has liberty’s fire rarely burned brightly for all to see; but gladly, its flame can never be extinguished from our souls. Thank you, dear veterans, for paying the price and for fanning the flames of liberty.
(Kevin Richard is a freelance Quebec journalist and a Discourse Online contributor. This article first appeared as a Remembrance Day opinion piece special to the Montreal Gazette.)