Recently I had a discussion with a peace advocate who had a problem with the fact that violence was necessary. She hated the fact the “sword of war” was needed. Granted, her issues with accepting realities that don’t fit her moral desires are her own, but part of her argument bothered me; the” sword of war”.
When you fight hand to hand, with weapons or without, one thing becomes painfully clear before long, that you cannot simply defend. Even an inferior attack can only be turned away so long, before it wins through. In the end, defense buys time and creates opportunity for attack. It is only the attack that ends the threat. The shield buys time for the sword, but the sword brings safety.
Peace lovers look at soldiers, look at tanks and planes, artillery and mighty ships of war and see the sword of war. It is understandable. In a tactical sense, these are our weapons, but these are not strategic weapons, these do not, and cannot bring peace. Leaders sometimes fail to understand this, and the price for ignorance can be terrible.
I began my service at the height of the Cold War. We prepared for WWIII, in the hopes that our efforts would make our foes fear they could not translate their superior numbers into a reasonable chance of victory. However, we knew what we were. The First Canadian Division existed to do what soldiers always do; die to buy time. It was their task to break the teeth of the advance they could not hope to stop. To delay long enough, cost enough supplies, cause enough disruption that REFORGER, the redeployment of troops from NATO allies could bring in enough force to actually defeat the enemy. We were a shield; in hacking us apart, our foe would spend his strength, and bare his arms to the fullness of our strength, gathered from nations far away.
Dying to buy time, that is what we do. All the shield can do is weather the attacks, perhaps shatter the enemies weapon, but alone, we cannot break the desire of the enemy to press on, to continue the attack at all costs. The shield of war has limits; and they are often missed.
In 1918, on November 11, the job of our shield was done. Over a million and a quarter Commonwealth and US dead spilled their blood upon the sundered earth, three million of our foes shared that broken ground. The shield of war, battered, and bloodied was put aside. It was time for the sword of peace to be drawn, to slay the conflict, to put in the grave with near five million soldiers, the cause to fight again. Our soldiers job was done, a matching nobility, a matching courage was required from our leaders, and we failed.
Rather than use the sword of peace, rather than ensure those we had whelmed would never rise again as enemies, our politicians chose not to lead their people into peace, but to carry the conflict forward from battle and into punishment. Rather than the sword of peace, we wielded the whip of scorn. The whip yielded the bitter fruit of hate that it always had.
In 1945, the job of the shield was done again. This time half a million Commonwealth dead, and a third of a million US would join five million German dead. The battered and bloody shield of the Allies was put aside, and this time, standing over the broken shield of our foe, we drew the Sword of peace and killed the war. The sword of peace in this conflict had a name, like the great swords of legend that slew terrible monsters, this sword’s name rings in history: the Marshall Plan. A plan not to punish an enemy, but to rebuild a foe, into a strong and independent nation, tied to us by mutual interest, by oaths kept, by frithful treatment. The sword of peace killed that war for all time.
In Afghanistan we fought a foe as terrible in nature, if not ability, and again it was not enough for our shield to stand, battered but unbroken, for if we do not use the sword of peace to slay the root of the conflict past, we will face the same foe, upon the same field, and leave another tally of our dead.
It is easy to call upon our best and brightest to place their youthful promise and strength as our shield, to shed their blood to buy our safety, to buy time for us to end the conflict, not just the means of carrying out this attack. It is harder for our leaders to step up to the podium and tell the people it is time to spend our treasure, to keep our people in the lands of a folk that love us not, and make their lives better. It is hard to tell our people that it is not enough to kill the enemy, if they do not kill the war.
I am a soldier, I can kill the enemy. I cannot kill the war. Only the sword of peace can do that. Will our leaders have the strength to do the unpopular thing? To do what is necessary, rather than what is expedient? In 1919, they listened to the polls, and upwards of fifty million dead would be the cost. In 1945 they listened to their duty, and chose to spend money and sweat for years, to wield the sword of peace, and kill the war.
The brave will always answer. There will always be a shield to defend you. Will we be wise enough to know when shield is struck, that sword must be drawn? Will we remember that if the shield of war is struck, the sword of peace must too be used, or the war cannot end?
John T Mainer
Lest we forget.