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 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.’