Therefore choose courage! (DATE DE PARUTION 16 OCTOBRE 2008)

By Beryl Wajsman on June 18, 2009

My father died this past Monday. At a time when so much of the currency of our public discourse is spent on meaningless façade, political correctness and false piety, I wanted to share this article I wrote last Remembrance Day about him. Our political elites could take a few lessons from a member of the “greatest generation”. - BW  


The condition upon which man hath received liberty is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and  the punishment of his guilt.”

 — John Philpot Curran


Veterans Week this year, culminating in Remembrance Day on Sunday, has a special resonation. Canada lost more of its bravest and boldest in foreign fields than it has in a long time. As we remember and pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, we need to reflect on exactly what that sacrifice was for. What is at stake when a horrible evil is loose in the world and must be subdued. How our fate is tied up with others around the globe fighting the same fight. Too often in our smug comfort we think the world beyond our borders has little to do with us. We don’t feel it viscerally. 

I want to try to make you feel it with this personal reflection on memory and witness.

This past spring my father called me and with a tear-strained croak in his voice said “Today is the 9th of May. This was the happiest and saddest day of my life.” 

It was not the first time he said these words to me on that day. He did not have to go into a long explanation. His sentiments were shared by many of his generation. Veterans understand that these emotions go hand in hand.

choosecourageWajsmanbw.jpgOn that day, 62 years ago the Nazis surrendered. But amidst that victory, the world discovered the true depths of destruction and devastation to which mankind had sunk. Still in uniform, my father made his way to his hometown and came face to face with a shattered world. Physical ruin, unmarked graves and foreigners occupying the homes of friends and family and claiming they had lived there for decades. How does one get over seeing strangers at your mother’s table with her crisp, white linen laid out before them? The sense of violation had all the intensity of rape. The feeling of despair, all the futility of a silent cry. The searing pain in one’s heart, the weight of the rock of Camus’ Sisyphus as he fell from the mountaintop once again.

What my father and his friends were forced to confront was confirmation of an era in which we still live to a great extent. An era characterized by the failure of faith, the retreat of reason and the humiliation of hope. An era where all the civilized doctrines mankind swore allegiance to through millennia of struggle crawling out of the jungles of barbarism were betrayed. An era that, with rare exceptions, is permeated with the odious odours of justice compromised by timidity, honour cheapened by expediency and promise mortgaged by avarice. 

It has always been a source of awe to me that my father, and his contemporaries, not only survived, but re-engaged in this world. Even in those pain-filled days after victory. 

In the scorched earth of their hometown they discovered trenches holding the butchered remains of tens of thousands who had been their friends and families. They did not just mourn. They acted. They raised a memorial to the victims of the terror. They understood the importance of memory and witness. But then that too is part of the soldier’s creed. So often they are the first to glimpse a preview of hell. And after the tears, and after the mourning, comes the awesome realization that despite the numbing questions of “Why did I survive?” and “What can I believe?” we must strive forward. But that can only begin with remembrance. 

For what is often rent asunder by the evil our soldiers fight are not just the sinews of our flesh, but the very fabrics of our souls. The depraved indulgences in orgies of blood by murderers and madmen put the lie to mankind’s claims of moral progress if left unchallenged. The sacrifices of our veterans permit us all a degree of moral redemption. Without their courage we would just be mute witnesses as all the hallmarks of decency are swept away in bloody swirls of red. 

We must never cease speaking these truths clearly and candidly. It is important to tell it straight. For in an ungracious age filled with inelegant self-absorption, it is more important to be hard and relentless than genteel and obtrusive.

My father was part of the ‘greatest generation’ that looked into the abyss and, in the words of Aeschylus, were seared by “pain which falls drop by drop upon the heart until through the awful grace of God we attain wisdom.” But they attained one other virtue in addition to wisdom. They attained courage. That is the lesson for the ages.

When Sir Wilfrid Laurier said that “this nation answers to a higher destiny,” that destiny, and our maturity, was not forged from the compromises of public trust bred behind the closed doors of government committees and corporate boardrooms. Nor by the prejudices of social orthodoxy that dominate polls and focus groups that seek to dictate the common weal. 

This nation, conceived in economic enterprise by European monarchs of centuries past, came to maturity, and kept its rendezvous with destiny, overwhelming the bloody trenches of Vimy Ridge; scaling the harrowing cliffs of Dieppe; conquering the sands of Normandy; commanding the stormy seas of the Atlantic; suffering the bitter winters of Korea; and surviving the scorching sun of the Sinai. And too, with courage and conscience, in the corpse-filled jungles of Rwanda and on the muddied fields of the Balkans. 

Our best progress as a people has always been realized when we shouldered our fair share of the burden in mankind’s continuing quests to realize transcendent yearnings for redemptive change. It has always been a struggle, tempered by service and sacrifice, to assure the survival and success of liberty. Our proudest boast was that we were ready to meet the challenges of the open sea and were not content to rest smugly at harbor. If we fail to recognize those challenges from abroad today, we will inevitably face the consequences of that failure at home. 

We must never allow our proud legacy of victory over tyranny, symbolized in these days of drums, to be compromised by the abandonment of national will so cavalierly and so often rationalized in our public discourse today by the low limitations of moral relativism and political equivalency.

Edmund Burke’s admonition that “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” is as true today as when he wrote these immortal words so long ago. It has been said that as each new day dawns we always have two choices. We can live from fear or we can live from courage. Therefore, choose courage. For our courage can truly change the world, and redeem our lives. 


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