Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Where poppies blow . . .

Suppose you were marching in a military parade dressed in a crisp, khaki uniform, shoes shined to perfection, embedded in a troop of soldiers looking and stepping exactly as you do. (North Koreans are very good at this.) Would you not feel just a tad odd? Wouldn't it all seem a bit kindergarten? Would you not feel a bit like an interchangeable machine part?

     I know I would.

     There's plenty of that military "peacocking" going on just now, what with our CF18s in Kuwait, two soldiers killed in civilian territory, the anniversary of WWI and today, poppies everywhere. And militaristically-motivated thinking is on the rise in Canada, in part because our politicians are crassly willing to hitch their electoral hopes to whatever mood is in public favour at the moment.

     I'm not wearing a poppy this year. I've been to the fields where poppies blow; I've counted crosses row on row, I've marveled at these delicate red blossoms growing, waving valiantly against the gold of European wheat fields. They don't represent the dubious valour of desperate soldiers trying to survive greedy politicians' wars in the muddy, cold trenches of Belgium to me. They suggest much more closely the wispy, timid fight for survival of an idea, an idea about a better world, a world in which peace is won through gentler campaigns. A world schooled by the sure knowledge that what is won through brutality destroys both victor and vanquished.

     Wild poppies are very fragile.

     The first priority of military endeavour is to dehumanize one's own men, to uniform them, accustom them to marching lockstep, convince them that obedience is better than reason. The second need is to dehumanize the other, characterize enemy soldiers as soulless vermin to be eradicated. How else could your neighbour or mine bring himself to set rifle sights on another man and pull the trigger?

     No. The poppy has become for me a reminder of our folly, not our honour. It's a reminder to me that we humans routinely shit where we eat, befoul the bed where our children will need to sleep.

     I won't wear a poppy today. Unless, perhaps, I should find one that is black.

     I willingly honour, though, the heartbreak and mourning of those who have lost loved ones in war, whose fathers or mothers, husbands or wives, sons or daughters were brutally taken away in whatever war fate placed them.

     May God comfort you.

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