The True Cost of Freedom

In today’s article, I’d like to honour Remembrance Day and talk a bit about why it matters … beyond the fact that its observance has become a solemn ritual in most parts of the free world. There are countless annual gatherings where veterans of all ages and from all conflicts muster in full dress uniforms, displaying their medals proudly as they await their marching orders from the parade marshal. The parade assembly areas will be abuzz with anticipation; pipe bands tuning their drones, and marching bands receiving their last-minute instructions. And there will be a complex undertone of emotions that each participant will be secretly managing ­– because, whether their service was long ago or recent, I’m told the horrors of war are never far from the surface for anyone who has experienced it.

I’m among the many blessed to not know this first hand. My father served in WWII, but never spoke about his wartime experiences. I’ve come to understand that they were shocking, gut-wrenching and gruesome – and I’m sure they changed him at a most visceral level … because war does that. My mother also served in WWII, as a driver in the army. It was, after all, a World War, so there was hardly anyone who didn’t contribute to the allied effort in some way, whether at home or abroad.

Wars today are quite different, though … they seem to have morphed into an all too familiar backdrop of our everyday life, without necessarily interrupting much of our actual daily routine. Wars still happen “over there” … in some distant part of the world where conflict seems to thrive – places already long-struggling against some description of tyranny or oppression … many times, places we’d never heard of before, until the bowels of hell itself erupted all over their landscape and consumed every pleasurable aspect of their existence.

In stark contrast, most of us continue our lives of abundance and security, with often only a vague awareness of the daily news headlines reporting on some war, some where, being fought by some country’s troops. We have become desensitized by the relentless statistics of current death toll, or progress gained or assets lost.

When It Hits Close to Home …

And then, suddenly … tragically … that anonymous and far away war hits close to home, as we learn that someone from our own community has somehow been sacrificed to that nation whose name we never had a reason to speak before now. And in that sadness, the world – at least temporarily – seems a much smaller place, with our own security perhaps feeling not quite as comfortable as it once had. For it has now become personal, this cost of war, this price of freedom. And we might even become aware that our loss is not the only one taken from our community – which brings into stark focus the reality that the long, icy fingers of war can thrust into anyone’s heart anywhere and leave a permanent, jarring scar.

We have Remembrance Day ceremonies to raise our collective awareness that our privileged, secure existence is possible because our communities quietly dispatch their sons and daughters to serve as soldiers bravely willing to stand up and meet evil at its own doorstep – to fight valiantly to either defeat it, or in the very least, contain it, to ensure our own land remains strong and free. Because of their courage and sacrifice, we will never have to surrender any of our liberties … nor must we face those unspeakable horrors that all wars imprint on the souls of its soldiers.

So when it comes time to gather at your local cenotaph, let your heart be genuinely grateful as you look into the faces of those once proud warriors – they who gave up their youth to defend our way of life so fearlessly. Applaud them as they march by you – it’s the very least they deserve … 

… and as you consider this, remember to stay focused on those Good Things in Life!


The True Cost of Freedom — 22 Comments

  1. I too have parents who served in World War II. I too grew up in the Cold War Years and survived the reality that nuclear war IS mutually assured Destruction. Those facts have made me search for other ways.
    In school I learned that our Freedom was marked by the Bill of Rights. We are free from UNREASONABLE search and seizure. A mark of our freedom was our lack of a need for Identification Cards. Cards that were mandatory in repressive societies Like Russia and Nazi Germany.
    You and I came of age watching Martin Luther King and the Freedom Riders. I learned that he was motivated by his Christian Faith to challenge the system with Love and non-Violence.
    As I have lived in various parts of this country and met others who were not like me, one of the Privileged White Males, I came to question the understanding of America as the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave”.
    It has been observed that in the 20th Century Presidents who had seen combat got us out of wars and Presidents who had not, got us into wars. That may be why our young men and women are still dying. Our leaders have not seen the horrors of war and thus have the courage to resist our violent impulses.
    The 20th Century has been a time of great wars. The 20th Century has seen the rise of a Non Violent alternative. It comes from a fresh look at the life of Christ and His Followers. Leaders such a Tolstoy, Gandhi and King applied these new Christian understandings with great success. This week the Washington Post published an article about Dr. Erica Chenoweth who set out to prove that nonviolence was a poor alternative to violence in unseating dictators. She failed with astounding results.
    If we are willing to die for our cause, why should we give our potential killers the justification of “Kill or be killed”?
    Are we Americans really free? Are We Americans really Peaceful? Are we Americans really Christ Like? Can we find ways to be better at all three?
    If we must honor our Warriors, can we also honor our Peace Makers?

    • Hi, Dave …

      All very good points, and I’m in complete agreement with you. It’s an interesting statistic that war-veteran Presidents keep America out of wars, while non-veteran Presidents seem more willing to engage. I don’t want to believe that it’s anything more than a sad coincidence, though. Before I would embrace it as otherwise, I’d need to really analyze all of the political factors that either led up to those deployments or, conversely, that allowed a diplomatic solution instead. I’m not sure war experience is the only factor on the table. But I agree that it is a suspiciously compelling statistic …

      From our civilian perspective, we don’t always get to know the political realities of these complex decisions, and what lengths the enemy is now willing to go to in order to gain an advantage. There was a time when war, as brutal as it was, still loosely played by a globally accepted set of rules – or at least pretended to. But as time has gone on, the moral standards of warring factions has disintegrated to a point where brutality has been redefined to such a shockingly gruesome level, it seems that nothing is beyond their conscience. The Geneva Convention means nothing to this enemy.

      Still, I separate that from honouring the gallantry of our service men and women who answer the call – trusting in their leader’s decision for deployment. I have three nephews who have served multiple tours in all the Middle East conflicts, and in talks with them, they are adamant that we in the general public have no accurate picture of what the real threat is or what our troops face every day in the war theatre. I don’t hesitate to believe them.

      But to balance this, however, I do celebrate the Peace Makers … and I agree that we all should. Progress, however, does dictate that such Peace Makers must be effectively represented on both sides of the conflict – otherwise, it ends up simply being concessionary on one side, while the other side gains. And yes, negotiations are always give and take … but again, there has to be a balance to ensure a satisfactory outcome. Until we see a true desire for peace from across that negotiation table, it’s very unlikely that we can expect wars to be averted. I wish we could … but there seems to be such a culture of violence and a celebration of martyrdom that has swept through the Middle East (and has even leaked into other continents – including ours), the trophy they’re fighting for is world dominance for Allah – which invokes a fanatical zeal we’ve rarely faced before. It isn’t a specific dictator that must be unseated … it’s an entire culture. I’m not seeing much wiggle room there, so what is the answer?

      An interesting discussion, Dave … and a problem that has no easy solution. So until we come up with one that can be embraced by both sides, we will unfortunately continue to send our youth into harm’s way, and to celebrate our veterans as they step up to defend our values despite the cost.

      I look forward to reading your future comments, and I’m glad you weighed in on this …


  2. Thank you for this article, Lily-Ann. The people who sacrificed their lives, and those who did battle and returned certainly deserve to be recognised for their contribution and sacrifice. I wish that it could be different and it was not necessary to send people to fight. That we could, indeed, live in a world of acceptance, compassion and tolerance.

    It is something that I battle with – what is the answer to peaceful negotiations when you have people who are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want, including sacrificing lives, on both sides.

    • Hi, Tamsin …

      I’m with you, on that one … but we are at odds with a warring culture – or a sub-culture, actually, because it’s only a relatively small (but zealous) segment of that culture which seems to thrive on violence … and the more shocking and reprehensible their methods, the better-served is their cause. How do we relate to that? It offends our sensibilities … it seems no heinous act is beyond their reach.

      It’s such a sad situation – of course, any war is sad … but in a war where the enemy has no conscience, right from wrong becomes impossible to balance. History will never adequately capture how appallingly uncivilized terrorism is … how purely evil its tactics. Civilized nations are ill-equipped to face this type of enemy – at least, not without discarding our own conscience to level the playing field. These are strategies that our allies may well employ, but which will be closed door decisions and likely never admitted … but we have to meet the enemy at the same level from which they fight. Otherwise, we’re metaphorically bringing a knife to a gunfight.

      What I know is that I really don’t want to know what they must do to defeat terrorism … I just want them to make it stop – and in the least costly, most efficient manner possible … so that I don’t have to sacrifice my family or my friends or my freedom or my lifestyle – and I want them to do it soon. That’s my wish. But as we discovered when we left our childhood behind, wishes rarely come true. So instead, each year I bow my head and say a prayer at the cenotaph, along with hundreds of thousands of others across the free world, who come to pay their respects, to honour their fallen, and to make a show of support to the troops who defend their liberty …

      I appreciate your comments on this very delicate subject …


  3. Thank your for this lovely tribute. I, too, have heard of the horrors that former soldiers endure. I know one in particular and his life has been quite a struggle. It is nice to be reminded of our blessings for not having to face this ourselves and to look upon the face of all that is good and right.


    • Hi, Dawn …

      Those soldiers who have returned from combat are without a doubt not the same soldiers who were deployed. And the more tours they do, the more damaged they must surely become. I am hopeful that the way we provide for our veterans will soon be vastly improved, so that they are well ‘looked after’ in exchange for what they gave up – the normal life they’ve provided for us, in exchange for the nightmares their closed eyes will never un-see. Their return to society should be heralded as a triumph, and their pensions should reflect that. They should be able to live out the balance of their lives in comfort and appreciation. But sadly, this is not the current state of affairs – not in the USA and not in Canada. Too often, they are left to fend for themselves after only a superficial effort to return them to society.

      Programs are improving as consciousness is rising, and the public is demanding better care and nurturing for our combat troops. I completely advocate for this, and I hope both countries will find a way to honour these veterans 365 days a year, not just on November 11 … make it more than just a day of pomp and circumstance. Let’s get these brave men and women what they need to return to the best they can make of their life, now that they’ve protected ours.

      My thoughts on it, anyway. Thanks for weighing in on it …


  4. I love the comment from Dave about honoring the peacemakers. I don’t have an issue about honoring our service people. I wish more emphasis was placed on finding new ways of resolving issues beyond war. Recently I’ve become so aware of duality, good and evil and how it is an accepted part of our consciousness. We watch combat on the football field, in the movie theater and on TV. Most of the other alternatives are presented as passive. How do we find the strength of a Dalai Lama, Ghandi and make it grow?

    • Hi, Cathy …

      Honouring the Peace Makers is indeed a worthy intention … following in their footsteps is a far harder commitment, though, because enemy aggression would overtake us in very short order. I call to memory that slogan that says “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing …” The Jewish Holocaust would serve as a ghastly example of this. And as beautiful a spirit as the Dalai Lama is, his people are still a conquered, captive and controlled people … whereas he left and chose freedom. Ghandi’s passive ideology was answered by murder.

      I just don’t believe we can respond to tyranny and oppression with a passive policy and expect to not be immediately overtaken and conquered. I wish it could be different, but the hard truth is that humans seem to be aggressive and territorial by nature – and the passive heart is viewed as weak … a target, ripe for domination.

      I certainly don’t advocate for war … but neither do I embrace the thought of being conquered and enslaved, or forced to embrace their oppressive lifestyle. There must be an answer to this conundrum, but for the very life of me, I don’t know what it is.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this …


  5. A beautiful tribute Lily-Ann. I agree with the other comments here – I hope one day we as an allegedly civilised culture can put an end to such sacrifices. Yes, we should honor the peace-makers too.
    Regardless on my views and politics, we cannot forget those men and women who gave up their health, sanity and indeed their lives to protect what we percieve as our freedom.

    • Hi, Jan …

      I share this hope with you … and in the meantime, while we wait for the world to become civilized, indeed let us celebrate the peace makers. Theirs is an uncertain path, with an even more uncertain outcome. But until that path is secured, we celebrate our troops for their willingness to stand between us and the certain danger that threatens our way of life.

      I just hope the day will come when our veterans receive the level of support they’ve earned through their sacrifice, so that their medical and emotional needs are met, their pensions are adequate, and their future is as promising as ours. Surely we can provide this much in exchange for what they’ve left on the battlefield.

      Thanks for expressing your thoughts on this subject … I appreciate you taking the time to comment.


  6. Great article Lily-Ann and timely. You hit on a topic that goes deep.

    It appears there are two schools of thought here, the “this or that principle” and the “this and that” perception. I am fall in line with the former. There is a time to fight and a time when might is not right.

    Yes, we should honor the men and women past and present that have given their lives for our “freedoms” both in war and by peaceful means. Both are necessary and are equal in importance.

    We are all soldiers and victims of wars abroad and at home. You speak of not wanting to be enslaved, denied certain rights, or to be forced to embrace an oppressive lifestyle … it happened in the past to many peoples and it continues today. Death and destruction, disparities in {health care,job opportunities, gender bias,etc.] We are all on the front lines whether we want to be there or not!

    The peace I want to see, I have concluded, must began with me. I must cultivate a peaceful and loving relationship with myself and then allow that to flow into the collective energy of the universe. If we all do this, clean our closets and basements of [hate, greed, toxic thoughts and behaviors] perhaps wars could become a memory of our lesser evolved selves.

    War, in my opinion, is the external expression of the internal discontent of the human being and we each can do something about that when we deal with our own stuff!

    Thanks for the cause-to-pause

    • Hi, Lyndah …

      Of course, you are quite right … there is indeed a battlefront that we’re all soldiers on, in the form of our many domestic wars – the war on drugs, on crime, on poverty, on obesity, on homelessness, on genetically modified foods … the fight for equality, be it racial, gender, or economic … the list is actually quite long, when one begins to compile it. And there is no shortage of political candidates promising strategies to defeat these ‘enemies of the people,’ is there? Unfortunately, talk is cheap and avails us little – it takes cooperation, commitment and philosophical accord, three commodities in tremendous shortage regardless of what government is in power … but still, we must try.

      I agree that peace begins as an inside job – I try to focus on this as a daily ritual … but sadly, regardless of how peaceful our own heart is … or even the collective heart of our countrymen … the fact remains that peace itself holds no currency for the zealots, fanatics, tyrants and oppressors of the world … and that’s always going to be the missing element, no matter how successful we are at cleaning our own side of the street.

      But I can only control my own humanity, and do my best to be the change I want to see in the world … like you, my hope is that this will influence the collective energy of the universe and contribute at least in a small way to a kinder, more loving and compassionate world. Big dreams, I know … but if we don’t have a dream, how are we ever going to make a dream come true??

      Thanks for your thoughts … as always, it’s a pleasure to ponder them.


  7. Thanks for your thought-provoking article and all the interesting comments that followed it.

    As I watched the UK Remembrance Day service this year I was struck by the number of young service-men who are now being honored for their sacrifices.

    Closer to home my dearest friends and I all waited anxiously for the fiance of one of their daughters to come home from Afghanistan. Thankfully he did.

    I respect all these brave soldiers and their families.


    • Hi, Joy …

      I’m happy to hear that the UK honours its war veterans … here in Canada, we are also proud to celebrate our service men and women who have answered the call. It always puts a lump in my throat to watch the parade of veterans – some marching proudly and confidently in their youth, while others are wheeled through the parade route, too broken and bent to manage on their own … the contrast is quite sobering. I love to hear the hymns and the poems that are traditionally presented on Remembrance Day – and I appreciate the ceremonial solemnity under which the entire day is regarded – although I wish more of us carried this level of awareness and gratitude throughout the other 364 days of the year.

      I cannot even begin to imagine what our troops face in actual combat … even with as many war movies as I’ve seen, I’m certain that it doesn’t even come close to addressing the horrors. My three nephews are quick to assure me that no amount of training prepared them for the reality of war, and they’ve each served numerous tours in the Middle East and North Africa … so whether or not we agree with the justification for any specific war or peacekeeping mission, I agree that we cannot say enough about the valour of these men and women who step into harm’s way so that we don’t have to.

      I’m happy to have my nephews back home, thank the Good Lord … and I’m glad your friend’s fiance was also spared. Sadly, so many were not that lucky …

      Thanks for your comments, Joy …


  8. Thanks for this post! Only very recently did I read about an uncle who served in WWll and what he went through and how he would be honored on Rememberence Day. One of my cousins called him a hero in our family. It does seem to change how one thinks of war and how important it is to remember them all. Best Regards, Wendy

    • Hi, Wendy …

      I am curious how it made you feel to read about your uncle and what he endured throughout the War … and even more particularly so since hearing your cousin regard him as a hero. I think if that was me, it would definitely be a soul-shot to learn of this. I hope it made you feel proud.

      Remembering the contribution my dearly departed father and mother both made in service to their country during the War, I thank you for sharing this …


  9. Hello, Lily-Ann

    What a beautifully written article on such a topical subject.

    After moving to California from Montreal in 1964, I witnessed the apathy and disrespect given to the soldiers fighting the Vietnam war. I never wanted to be a part of giving my life for a cause as such but I have a nephew who recently became a Sargent for the U.S. Air Force and I couldn’t be more prouder of him.

    However, as I look back in history, it is a sad conclusion that man has always been at war with one another and as the world becomes darker (more evil), it’s not a stretch to believe that it will continue.

    So I say let’s give our soldiers all of the accolades they deserve and let’s infused them with our prayers and support.

    Thanks for the great post, Lily-Ann.


    • Hi, Guy …

      Thank you for your very kind compliment.

      It’s a sad testament, isn’t it, that the human condition seems so comfortably drawn to confict and violence? And that those same governments that launched our troops into those conficts have always been so casual when it comes to providing for them adequately once the confict is over!

      Two of my three nephews are s-sgts., as well … and like you, I feel equally proud. And infinitely grateful for their safe return, in good overall health and physically intact. It pains me to know that so many who weren’t that lucky are somewhat left to metaphorically twist in the wind. My fervent prayer would be for both Canada and the USA to step up their veterans programs to give our service men and women the life they’ve earned.

      I appreciate you taking the time to check in and leave a comment … hope to see you again.


  10. Correction to previous post!!

    Fighting for what is right
    Remembering those who fought and died
    Everyone understanding the right to be free
    Each person striving for peace in their own way
    Denying power to the oppressor by challenging their views
    Ordinary people refusing to accept aggression
    Making each day count and kindness to those around you……..

    THAT is how you spell FREEDOM


    • Hi, Sarah …

      How clever of you! My title was actually rhetorical, but I like that you treated it as an acronym and broke it down this way. Thank you for that …

      I’ve received a lot of messages from people expressing how Remembrance Day makes them feel … in addition to those who have commented here … and it’s clear to me that almost everyone has a personal story about a friend or relative who has seen combat and has brought their own private little nightmare home with them. Most soldiers won’t speak candidly about their experience, but neither can they escape the memories – and this can easily manifest itself in curious ways we’ll never understand.

      I hear how much support there is ‘out there’ for making changes to the various Veterans policies in order to improve how they are treated and provided for upon their return from battle. All we have to do now is pressure our governments to enact these changes and allow our soldiers to be proud of the price they’ve paid and the sacrifices they’ve made. Currently, most veterans feel somewhat kicked to the curb … and this is reprehensible. As a society, we need to do better.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.


  11. Great post Lily-Ann! While I, like Cathy, would prefer a more peaceful resolution, I definitely feel it is important to honor our veterans. Particularly, our veterans who are now homeless and suffering from PTSD. This next coming week when my beloved and I volunteer to feed our homeless veterans, I will reflect and have your article in heart and mind. Thank you.

    • Hi, Erika …

      Well, blessings on you for your volunteer work, absolutely! In my utopic little world, no war veteran would ever be homeless … and that would be the very minimum reward they would receive for their willing sacrifice. I cannot understand why this is beyond the realm of possibility – in the unlikely event that they were homeless prior to enlisting, I would think it obvious that if they become homeless upon their return, it might have something to do with what it cost them to be in service to their country. And especially so, if they come home bent and broken. To me, it’s unconscionable that these heros are treated as a disposable asset, regardless of what country they were representing.

      I’ll be thinking of your efforts next week, and I applaud you with such respect for your contribution …


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