This weekend is set apart for honoring our veterans. Set apart for those who have worn the uniform for their country. My father, grandfather and great-grandfather have each served, and I, for one am grateful. Some, like my dad, served in peacetime; others in times of conflict. Many have paid the highest price. All have forfeited the comfortable life civilians take for granted; forfeited the same kinds of comforts their sacrifices have made possible.
Today, JFK’s iconic “ask not” line would rate as an embarrassing gaffe, not a call to action. Our values have changed, and what we value has changed with it. With those changes, many have forgotten how to properly honor our veterans.
Let’s start close to home. To my dad, and all who have proudly worn the Maple Leaf, thank-you. Thank you for your training, your deployments, and the time you spend apart from your loved ones so that we need not worry about those who wish us harm. Thank you for serving in wartime, in peacekeeping and for your presence in national disasters like the Ice Storm in ‘98. Your presence here projected the confidence that order really would emerge from the chaos; you brought relief, you protected from looters, and you preserved lives. Thank you.
But I can’t stop there. Some credit for the peace we enjoy goes beyond our own armed services. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to Uncle Sam.
For some, it has been a long time since Gorbachev obliged Reagan’s challenge to “tear down that wall”; longer still since phrases like “World War Three” and “Nuclear Winter” were used in casual conversation. Those days were quickly forgotten. Many have never known the terror of the Cold War, others have simply moved on. But I still remember.
As a child, I remember looking at a globe, and trembling with the realization of just how near Canada sat to the dreaded USSR. I remember a vague awareness of the Red Army’s military strength dwarfing our own. I remember movies with nearly-invincible Russian villains, just barely overcome by the grit and perseverance of some American hero too stubborn to admit he can never win.
But mostly, I remember the comfort of knowing we had friends “out there”. However big and fierce the Soviet bogeyman may have seemed, we somehow knew that that bogeyman looked under his bed for any American GIs lurking there. Many of us felt the peace that only comes from having a good friend looking out for us. And so, I extend my thanks to the many American servicemen and women who made that child’s comfort possible.
This friendship with America is the main reason our sparsely-populated and resource-rich nation was not devoured and subjugated by the expansionist Soviets. Furthermore, our politicians, safe in the shadow of Washington, scaled down our own military. We watched you spend gazillions on ships, troops, tanks and planes while we diverted our funds to infrastructure and lavish social and health care projects. Much of what Canadians point to as “uniquely Canadian” might never have existed without this friendship. Could we ever have been able to pursue these ideals if we had to seriously prepare our defenses in the Cold War? Maybe not.
And so, it rankles me when anti-Americans call the USA some neo-colonial empire-builder. Which other nation in history, possessing enough military might to swallow up its neighbors through easy conquest, remained content within her borders? Which other military power has used its strength to liberate other Sovereign states, spending its own blood and treasure to that end, without demanding tribute or the fealty of those it rescued?
Which other nation in history crushed bitterly mortal enemies in battle, only to rebuild those same defeated, and battered foes? To help them become World-leading economic powerhouses one short generation later? (Namely Germany and Japan.)
More recently, amid the swirl of dust and debris of Benghazi, we can glimpse the heart of the American soldier. Two SEALs saw people in harm’s way; people with neither the training nor means to defend themselves. They took action, and answered the threat. They did not crouch in the safety of their remote location, even when ordered to “stand down”. Reports say they engaged with a courage and dedication that saved many lives, and yet, not their own. They fought — bravely and well — defending those who could not defend themselves. They fought in the proud tradition of their nation.
Those of us who have benefited from the protective hand of a friend like America should acknowledge it, and express our gratitude. Those who govern such a nation need to prize the lives of their troops, and never spill such blood carelessly. Any leader betraying that trust, and shown to be reckless with those lives must pay a steep price. A very steep price.
This weekend, I will bring my kids to the cenotaph, I will tell them what we are remembering. I will tell them of their grandfather, their great-grandfather, and his father, whose name I bear. I will tell them of the noble history of Canadian servicemen and women. And I will tell them of America — our friend. To all who have served, under either flag, thank-you.