When the barbarians come over the wall, they don’t care that you abhor violence, or don’t believe in war. They’re barbarians; they’ve come to ravage, pillage, and burn, and put you to the sword — despite your opinion on the matter. They’re barbarians; it’s their nature.
With barbarians at the gates, we want warriors on that wall to hold them off and drive them back — and make peace possible within; it’s up to us to do the rest.
History rolls on; generations come and go; the walls change. Sometimes they’re lines sketched in the sand of some far desert, or a lonely beachhead on a distant shore.
Barbarians change, too, in guise if not nature. Sometimes they’re hard to recognize, and sometimes they’re already amongst us, whether from carelessness, or neglect, or having already stormed the castle. And then our peace and freedom might very well be lost — until we can win them back. But the price is always high.
It is a price exacted in coin of the realm, it is so, but in greatest part it is in a toll of injury and death, and of deeply scarred minds that will not, perhaps cannot, heal, for in truth we task our warriors in duty and honour to bear burdens truly unbearable. Still, well they do, until they themselves break, or fall, or, despite all, until their watch is done.
And so we must remember — not to exalt, nor to glorify war, but to celebrate the courage and service with which this price is so dearly paid, and to sanctify the peace and freedom so earned. This is why we wear the poppy on Remembrance Day. This is why we have Remembrance, and other commemorative days at all.
It is about respect, certainly, and gratitude as well, but more: it is about carrying forward these painful lessons into each next generation, so that this terrible price need not be paid again, and yet again. And it is about hope — the hope that we can build upon aching loss and hard-won victory and push those walls ever farther out, so that the peace within can encompass the world.
Perhaps, one day, when the world matures and everywhere respects human rights, due process, and the rule of law, not only amongst individuals but among nations as well, perhaps then we will not need warriors on that wall. But that day is not yet come, and there are still barbarians at the gates.
In Remembrance, on the Occasion of Canada’s National Day of Honour, May 9, 2014
Commemorating Canada’s mission in Afghanistan