Don’t mis­un­der­stand the true mes­sage of wear­ing a poppy

It’s not about glo­ri­fi­ca­tion. It’s about re­mem­ber­ing the stark re­al­ity of war

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion - WIL­LIAM RAY Wil­liam Ray lives in Nova Sco­tia

The poppy has be­come a mat­ter of con­tro­versy. Some claim it is a sym­bol of mil­i­tarism and a glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of war.

In the par­lance of to­day’s zero sum di­a­logue, the poppy is tied to war, war is bad, war should be ended, there­fore the poppy is bad and should be erad­i­cated. In a time when facts mat­ter far less than feel­ings, this sounds like a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment.

So let’s do the un­ex­pected and look at some facts. The poppy as a sym­bol of re­mem­brance was in­spired by an Amer­i­can school teacher named Moina Belle Michael. She had read a poem writ­ten by Cana­dian bat­tle­field sur­geon Col. John McCrae.

While treat­ing wounded sol­diers at the sec­ond bat­tle of Ypres in 1915, which led to the ob­scene butch­ery and death of 123,000 hu­man be­ings, McCrae learned that his good friend Alexis Helmer was among the slaugh­tered. McCrae wrote his fa­mous poem as a lament on May 3, 1915, while still in the heat of bat­tle.

Michael was moved, as gen­er­a­tions since have been by the Cana­dian’s plain­tive words. While teach­ing dis­abled ser­vice­men in 1918 she ad­vo­cated for the sale of silk pop­pies to pay for the ba­sic needs of veter­ans who were aban­doned by their na­tion af­ter the guns fall silent, as is the case to this day.

I am a vet­eran, as well as the son of a Sec­ond World War vet­eran. My fa­ther was an empty shell of a man. Ev­ery­one who had known him said he re­turned home a dif­fer­ent man.

To this day I re­live the killing fields of the Yu­gosla­vian slaugh­ter in my dreams. The ef­fects of my ser­vice caused me years of pain, home­less­ness and sub­stance abuse.

My son is three years old. I will use all the strength in me to en­sure that he never knows the hor­ror of war. I will do this by ex­plain­ing its stark re­al­ity to him. I will bear wit­ness.

And that is where we, the veter­ans of Canada, are fail­ing in ex­e­cut­ing our fi­nal duty. To bear wit­ness. To speak with power and con­vic­tion against the scourge of war and to act in our com­mu­ni­ties and so­ci­eties to make this re­al­ity. We need to stand up, my sis­ters and my broth­ers, and share our pain. As a warn­ing.

For any who don’t wish to wear the poppy I have a propo­si­tion. Some seem to think sol­diers don’t un­der­stand the role of na­tion states, cor­po­ra­tions and arms man­u­fac­tur­ers in war. We al­ways have.

So I ask you to bear in mind that the hu­man be­ings who gave their lives did so in the ob­vi­ously good faith be­lief that some­how their sac­ri­fice could move hu­man­ity for­ward; and move us all to a day when we would live to­gether in peace­ful com­mu­nity with our sis­ters and broth­ers world­wide.

That, I would sub­mit, is a no­ble goal, even if you think that they were mis­led and mis­taken in hold­ing it. So I would pro­pose that ev­ery day all of us live to­gether in peace­ful com­mu­nity and ev­ery time we ap­proach some­one who we dis­agree with, do so with em­pa­thy, hu­man­ity and re­spect. This way we all com­mit the only true act of re­mem­brance that mat­ters.

Ev­ery day that we do what­ever small thing is in our power to ad­vance the con­di­tion of those in our com­mu­ni­ties and build bridges of un­der­stand­ing and tol­er­ance, then we make their sac­ri­fice a lit­tle more mean­ing­ful. And that is an act of re­mem­brance each of us can, and should, do ev­ery day of our lives.


War vet­eran Wil­liam Ray writes: ‘My son is three years old. I will use all the strength in me to en­sure that he never knows the hor­ror of war. I will do this by ex­plain­ing its stark re­al­ity to him. I will bear wit­ness.’

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