The price of freedom

Columnist Arnold Malone walks the rows of graves in military cemetaries

The cost of war is frequently offered as a number of dead and wounded.

There are 65 war cemeteries where Canadians soldiers are buried.

The First World War was, by far, Canada’s most deadly. Nearly ten per cent of our population was engaged in that war with a loss of 66,349 lives. At the time Canada’s population was a mere eight million. The Second World War witnessed 70 to 85 million deaths – soldiers and civilians – from 61 countries which represents about 3 per cent of the, then, world population.

Numbers are important. Unfortunately, numbers are data for thoughtful analysis but they do not awaken the heart as to the sacrifice of war. Military cemeteries do that. This recent September, Susan and I visited Europe and spent a week visiting Second World War cemeteries and museums in The Netherlands, Germany, and in Dieppe, France along with a visit to Vimy Ridge, a First World War Monument.

War museums tell an impacting story, but it is the cemeteries that twist your heart. We saw several and spent considerable time in two. The Reichswald Forest War Cemetery in Germany is immaculately maintained. I have a cousin buried there. The grave field was about two blocks long and ¾ of a block wide. Standing at one end it is difficult to fathom the seemingly endless number of graves in just one of 65 cemeteries. The reality of war comes by walking among the graves.

Most headstones record ages between 18 and 26 years. There were older persons interned but most were at the dawn of adulthood.

We walked row upon row and read the names. It was youth who were protecting our freedom. Some headstones were especially sad such as: “AN AIRMAN OF THE 1939 – 1945 WAR.” Nothing more was inscribed. This would be the remains of a person so destroyed that he could not be identified. Who back home suffered, and how long did hope endure and when did hope give way?

Pretend that you could sell your freedom for a sum of 40 trillion dollars. What good would that be? When dictators rule, freedom of the press, mobility, assembly, speech, and association with others are choices of the state and not the individual. When freedom is gone, money is of little value. No longer are you in control of your destiny.

I don’t know how to put a value on freedom, but a visit to a military cemetery sure lets one know the price we have paid.

During the past election I heard too many times, “Oh what is the use,” and, “What difference does my vote make.”

The difference is that democracy requires engagement. Without involvement, democracy forfeits itself to the abuse of power.

We can easily name the enemies of the 20th century. Some were Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin. Sadly, the enemy is still among us; his name is Apathy.

Near the end of September, while facilitating a discussion with a group of undecided voters, along with other news personalities, a CBC news broadcaster commented that she was uninspired by all national leaders. Worst yet, she chided that she would spoil her ballot by putting an X beside every name.

Those soldiers lying in foreign fields did not die for our disinterest. So, when a national news broadcaster seemingly accepts an act of non-participation as being normal then something is wrong. Our national media ought to be promoting democracy and supporting our institutions, which is one of our pillars of democracy.

From failing hands we have been thrown the torch. It is ours to hold high. If we lose faith then all those young soldiers will not sleep. Because of their sacrifice we must abide our duty.

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