I spent a week in Europe recently as a guest of one of the largest independent citizen lobby groups in France. They had asked me to do an evaluation of their expansion plans. While there, I was able to spend a few days seeing the sights of France. The places that impressed me the most were in the rural areas -- old castles, ninth century churches and forts, and thousand year old farms.
Farms were mini-fortresses back then. The workers would head out to the fields in groups during the day. At night, they'd shut themselves inside. The tall stone towers would be manned, the heavy wooden gates locked tight against marauders and bandits. As I stood gazing at the old stone towers and walls I couldn't help but drink in the rugged beauty of the place. I clearly saw that the people who had originally lived there knew what it meant to be vigilant. They knew that their vigilance was the price of remaining free. The towers and walls that surrounded one especially old castle left me with the same impression.
On the long flight home I happened to sit next to Barney Danson. He was Canada's Minister of Defense in the 1970s. He's 77 years old now. His eye sight is getting poor, but his memory and mind are quick. Like many of his generation his outlook on things has been heavily influenced by his experiences in WWII. He was seriously wounded while fighting to liberate France.
He talked about the rows upon rows of graves in France and Holland where Canadian boys are buried. Many were his friends. He fought with them. He bled with them. He watched them die. He told of how he'd wept like a child when he visited the graves of his former comrades on the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
Barney Danson and the young men who died at his side understood what it meant to be at the exact point in history where those who would destroy the freedom of others had to be pushed back. Like the defenders of those ancient fortified farms, they were being vigilant in the cause of human freedom. Much of history is the story of such people and such events.
After what I had seen in France, Barney's comments left me with an even clearer concept of the necessity of being vigilant toward those who would destroy human freedom. While it's true that Canadians today are not required to pick up guns to defend our farms and homes, we should nevertheless remind ourselves from time to time that vigilance and knowing what we stand for is a prerequisite to freedom. Without them freedom loses the boundaries that define it.
The defenders of those fortified farms used swords, rocks, and spears to defend their lives and property. Barney Danson and the brave men he fought with used guns and grenades.
Freedom's enemies in modern Canada, and in the 21st century, are not going to be militaristic. Nor do any of us expect they will be. Instead, they are less visible - though certainly not less real. They include excessive government regulation, the erosion of the right to own property, inappropriate confiscation of personal assets. By way of example, consider Canada's proposed laws pertaining to firearms and endangered species.
The primary lesson of history is that freedom is not free. Vigilant citizens who have determined that they are willing to pay a price purchase it. In the future, freedom will still be measured and obtained in the same way. Our primary weapons will shift from guns to computers and from military strategy to political strategy. Research, communications, and education will each play a role. But no matter how you look at it, it is the case that whenever any of us bump up against human freedom, or see people who are free, it's safe to assume that vigilance and self sacrifice have been there first.
Without exception, they are the seeds from which human freedom grows. It takes root in no other soil.