Thursday, November 11, 2010

White Poppies and Remembrance Day

A good friend of mine really dislikes Remembrance Day. Well ... let me put that a different way: he really dislikes how Remembrance Day is politically conscripted. I think he's right. No one has any problems with Remembrance Day. Well ... no one should have any problem with Remembrance Day. I think it is important that we keep people's memories alive, that we pause to consider -- even if only once a year -- the remarkable human cost of war. I remember the veterans; I also remember the civilians, the prisoners of war, the young people on all sides of conflicts who were scared and who -- data tells us -- did not fire their guns or shot them in the air because they simply could not bring themselves to kill another human being. This is not an insult. This is respect for the amazing humane quality of action of scared young men living day in and day with death and danger.
The problems with the political conscription of Remembrance Day is that it does an amazing disservice to those people who died, whether they were soldiers or seamen or plant workers or some poor person trying to get from point A to point B as their city was bombed. It manipulates them, their memories, and their deaths in the service of someone else's political agenda. Often those screaming the loudest in defence of the vets and Remembrance Day are those doing the manipulation. Remembrance is about thinking about -- I'd make it active; not just passive -- people who died. It should not be about politics. It should not be about one's view on, say, the merits of Afghanistan.

Years ago I was at a conference and a noted scholar who happened to be a war vet was speaking on Canadian military history. A number of younger people who were "war buffs" gathered to hear his talk and were remarkably disappointed that he spoke about ordinary working people instead of the glory of war. He was asked about this and, the question went, should we not spend much more timing teaching young Canadians about Canada's military history? His response was fascinating in that he slowly surveyed the room and said something like (I don't remember the exact quote): I think I am the only person in this room who has actually ever fought in a war. The only thing I can say that you should teach young people is that if you have experienced war, then you know why we don't want any more of them.

I wear a white poppy and some people have made statements about this. I gather a chap in Ottawa decried what he saw as the militarism of the red poppy. I don't see it that way. I wear a white poppy because it is about peace, about why we don't want any more wars. I want to remember, let me be clear about this, those people who died. I think it is an obligation. But, I accept, as well, the international statement that there should be no more war. Is this naive? Perhaps, but it is not simply how I feel. As a Christian, I feel I also need to make a statement against violence. Another friend told me the local legion would be upset at me. Why, I wondered. After all, legions are filled with those people who know more than anyone else the horrors of war. Peace is not a bad thing. And, it is not an insult to those people who have died to say that we want peace. I wanted it before they died. If we had it, they would still be alive.
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