Remembrance Rage

(NOTE: Yes, I realize that I haven’t posted in a while. I have a backlog of posts ready, don’t you worry. They will see the light of day soon enough)

Ouch! I just pricked my finger on my Remembrance Day poppy. Oh well, I’m not complaining. It’s not like anyone’s forcing me to wear it. I could choose not to. It is a free country, after all.

You know, for all my bitching, ranting, and raving, the truth is that I am, in fact, a very blessed person. I have a supportive family, fantastic friends, and a wonderful partner who loves me. I have a fabulous apartment downtown in the greatest city in the greatest country on Earth. And I am free.

A man on the subway was selling poppies. Bright red with a black centre- it’s November 11th, after all, and here in Canada we are patriotically convinced that John McCrae was a great poet. The old man on the subway wore a uniform, decorated and freshly pressed. He stood tall, proud, and gave me the warmest smile I’d seen in a long time. He reminded me of my grandfather, a figure of stoic dignity if ever there was one. My imagination led me to consider that his smile came from watching the people go to and fro, free of tyranny and oppression. The smile of one who knows that the years spent in the heat of battle were worth it. So of course I bought a poppy from him. I mean really, is there any other option?

As it turns out, yes. Yes there is.

The White Poppy has been distributed by the “No More War” movement since 1934. This lovely flower has become a symbol for Peace, while her bloodstained brother glorifies violence. Anyone who can take a break from Call of Duty: Black Ops long enough to turn on the news can tell you that War is Hell, and portraying it in a heroic light only encourages the bloodshed. The White Poppy, we are told, serves as a reminder of the virtues of Peace, and stands in opposition to armed conflict, and the horrors of War.

Of course, most people alive today are too young to really understand what exactly those horrors are. So “remembering” them might require more imagination than actual memory. Okay then, imagine that you, your husband, your father, or your son are drafted into a conflict that isn’t yours, that perhaps you do not even understand. Or maybe you volunteered, because you’re that goddamn brave. But bravery only gets you so far in the trenches, and soon, you are lost, cold, alone, and afraid. You are watching your comrades die, some quickly, some slowly and painfully, some, unable to take atrocity in stride, by their own hand. All is terror, madness, pain, death, and you come home from years of exile broken, if you come home at all. Maybe your body is filled with shrapnel, or you lost your leg to gangrene. Maybe you can’t escape the nightmares. Maybe you defeated an evil foe whose holocaust had to be stopped, or maybe you fought an unjust war, and were spit upon by your own countrymen and forgotten by the government that sent you. Maybe you were just doing your part to make this world a better place. Maybe you were confused and didn’t know what was happening. Hell, maybe you even enjoyed the slaughter. In any case, you stood before the fire, at the gates of Hell, you felt the heat and suffered the burn, and you did not turn away. You stood your ground. And you did it for us.

There are fields of dead. Each body is someone’s husband, father, or son. Each body fertilizes the crop growing above it. Poppies rise from the corpses, stained with their blood, amid the white crosses seemingly spattered by violence, and they remind us. They remind us why you fought, why you suffered, and why you died.

To us, from failing hands, they throw not a sword, but a torch. Let us continue the quarrel, they ask, taking up not arms, but light. The foe is oppression, tyranny, slavery. The foe must be defeated. Let us lead the way through the trail they blazed toward an enlightened future.

The Red Poppy does not glorify violence, but reminds us of its consequences. The money collected from its sales go toward providing for veterans, some of whom are too shattered from their experiences to fully provide for themselves, all of whom deserve nothing less than the knowledge that we haven’t forgotten them.

I have been doing my research, and have yet to discover where the money from the sales of white poppies go. Toward the manufacturing of more white poppies, perhaps? How much can a few buckets of bleach cost? You can even make your own at home- take a red poppy, and erase all colour as vigorously as if you had made a horrible mistake that you’d rather forget. What more appropriate way is there to remember?

I am a liberal pacifist myself- I don’t believe in war. Yet the white poppy offends me. I find it distasteful and disrespectful. I imagine the kindly old veteran on the subway who fought so hard and sacrificed so much, watching a white poppy prance by as a statement that the wearer would rather he hadn’t have bothered.

But don’t get me wrong; I am not against the White Poppy. However mis-guided the movement might be, it is still a non-confrontational protest against war, which is a noble idea. In some places, you might be locked up for such propaganda, but Canada is a free country, and censorship has no place here. If we deny those we disagree with the right to wear the poppy of their choice, or even none at all, then those who sacrificed themselves so valiantly will have done so for nothing.

The White Poppy is a means of expressing an ideal. While I may disagree, I believe in your right to freedom of expression. I only wish I had the courage to defend that right to the death. I’m not sure I do, but I know someone who does. He stands on a subway platform, quiet, proud, peaceful. He sells red poppies, so that we will remember the sacrifice he made so that we may choose not to wear them.