July 11, 2007
If ye break faith
I was not there. My sister was, however, for she was returning to Toronto from her cottage, Sunday evening, and turned onto Highway 401, about the longitude of Trenton, Ont. By that chance, she found herself a half-mile ahead of the hearses for six of our Canadian boys, back from Afghanistan.
She reports there were firemen, with their trucks, saluting from almost every bridge along the way to Toronto, and people out, by their thousands, on the bridges and along the highway -- including veterans in full dress, grannies, moms, dads, babes -- and “youffs” even in red face-paint, wrapped in maple-leaf flags. (God bless them!) She let the convoy get ahead, towards the Don Valley Parkway, then doubled down to Bloor Street in Toronto to pay her own respects. There she saw, among many moving things, a little Muslim family waving Canadian flags. (God bless them!)
I forwarded this information, spontaneously and proudly, to a buddy of mine in Texas, who had several times forwarded to me streams of pictures from along Texas country roads, showing similar funeral processions. Huge numbers, saluting, holding their caps on their hearts, lifting the stars and stripes. I just wanted him to know that Texas doesn’t have a monopoly on that; to which end I appended these lines from a song I learned in childhood:
The Maple Leaf, our emblem dear,
The Maple Leaf forever!
God save our Queen, and Heaven bless
The Maple Leaf forever!
Knowing full well, of course, that we live in times when very few of my countrymen might properly recognize these words (which have become “politically incorrect,” as the result of being purposely misconstrued as “imperialist,” and “anti-French”). And yet those people along the 401 did understand, the sentiment behind them. That we are a nation, and when they send our boys back from Afghanistan in boxes, it doesn’t matter what our politics are. We stand with them and for them, and we salute them, for they were our bravest and best.
Ghosts among that crowd. The living people who were signalling their respect, stood on Sunday, shoulder to shoulder with generations passed, and yet unborn. All the old lines came to mind, together with the faces of the old who once declaimed them:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
I see my grandpa up Vimy Ridge; I see my father in the cockpit of a Spitfire; I see my boys so young and strong; I muse at the ease of my own generation. And at my own luck, good or ill, in never having been called to the front, in the uniform of my country. Let us at least not fail to salute the sacrifices that were made by others, and that will have to be made, in time to come, should this nation continue to exist.
The grandfather in question once showed me a pillar, listing the names of old boys from his high school who fell as soldiers in the fields of France, together with those of several brave nursing sisters. So many decades had floated by, in the dream of his life, but what he said was: “Those are just names to a passer-by, but I can put a face to almost every one of them.”
Put a name to each, at least, and not a number.
I am outraged by the numbers game that is played in our mainstream media, and by the political opponents of our Afghan mission. I am outraged by the affectation of remorse, from people who never wanted any soldier sent on any mission to any field. I am appalled by those reporters who nosed through the crowds, fishing for anti-war soundbites. By the newspaper headlines that shriek grief, when we never saw, so prominently displayed, a single article in which the achievements of our soldiers in Afghanistan were mentioned. Such reporting presents our soldiers’ lives as wasted. The drumbeat of casualty numbers gnaws at our will to victory.
Far, far more people die on our streets, in auto wrecks each year, and there is no media drumbeat about this. Yet that is pure waste! Each year, about a hundred thousand unborn children die on the altar of “a woman’s right to choose,” yet there is no drumbeat. And the families of our fallen soldiers are afflicted with “how do you feel” questions, and the gall of false sympathies, from reporters they know perfectly well are using the death of their beloved to pump out a message that desecrates his memory.
That fallen soldier did not break faith, but walked through Calvary. And we, the living, must not break faith, but assure the victory of the cause for which he died