Poppycock!

It’s no big deal to drop a loonie in the Legion collection box and pin a poppy on your lapel as a good many people do around this time of the month, but I have to confess that over the years I’ve become increasingly resentful of participating in this annual symbolic ritual.

When I was a little kid, I was introduced to the solemn ritual of observing two minutes of silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of every year in commemoration of something of which I had absolutely no comprehension. Eventually I learned much about the origins of this mysteriously pious gesture of “remembrance” from various sources and was appalled by the gruesome reality, generally witless conduct of everyone involved and completely insane pointlessness of the “Great War” that gave rise to it.

And of course, it wasn’t the “war to end all wars” as some had wistfully dubbed it in the aftermath of its brutal carnage… not by a long shot. There would be an even more terrible and globally destructive second act to follow twenty years later. And then many other wars in the latter half of the last century, both large and small, brief and prolonged, hot and cold, often for reasons that defy rational understanding.

But I digress…

What irks me most about the poppy campaign (worthy though its charitable efforts may be – and I’ll still throw money in the box but won’t wear the pin) is the veneration of war itself as a noble and praiseworthy endeavour through patently false messaging that claims our country’s engagement in various wars over the years has somehow protected or otherwise secured our “freedom” and “liberties”… To me, this notion is not only facile nonsense but the rhetorical essence of the drive that cynically manipulates people into perpetuating a militaristic insanity that is utterly counterproductive to the common good.

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18 Comments

Filed under War

18 responses to “Poppycock!

  1. billg

    I just wear it to say thanks, and, to pay my respects to people who had and have much more courage then I do. There is an overglorification, I agree with your point there, but, I think much of it is to compensate for attitudes such as, well, yours. I live close to an interact with a CF Base, the majority of these men and women didnt want to leave Afghanastan, they made a difference and that’s what they signed up for, the thought of never making it home was secondary. Its just to say thanks and be respectful of their courage. Visit a base on Nov 11, you wont find a vet glorifying war, you’ll find men and women who will tell you how fucking scared they were and how they cant sleep at night and how they hope to God no one has to do what they did ever again….I think thats worth remembering.

  2. Take Dead Aim

    i like this site, but this post is wins the prize for ‘poppycock’ post of the year here. i grew up in a very conservative household and in a very conservative culture. i should be the poster boy for the ‘veneration of war’. In my entire 38 years i have never witnessed a remembrance day ceremony that venerates war, and i’ve been to at leasst 30 of them. i can only chaulk this up to the continued polarization of our society, where saying thank you to your follow citizen’s sacrifice is a cover for woshipping mass killing sprees. It’s just as reasonable as thinking giving to charity fosters a culture of dependence and unproductivity (which i’ve heard from the other pole in the polarization of opinion). the world would be a much better place if we could all just take one giant step back from the margins.

  3. I stopped wearing a poppy when rightwing brownshirts started attacking anyone who didn’t show the “proper” respect for the day.

  4. billg

    That’ll show em eh Robert! You wore one out of respect and gratitude, now, because you “heard” or “read” something someone once said to “somebody” you wont wear one anymore. I’ve never read or heard of anyone being attacked for not wearing a poppy. I’m sure in your mind brownshirted conservatives are wondering the streets of Canada checking peoples jackets and sweaters, but, I’ve yet to see them or even hear of them. Man up Robert, just say you dont wear one for whatever reason, but, making up a reason with some goofy story is silly and childish.

  5. I always wear one – and always will. Three of Ours died in The Great War and one of Ours died in WWII. I don’t wear it to venerate militarism, but wear a Poppy to venerate their Loyalty and Sacrifice. The small gesture of wearing the Flanders Poppy is truly the least I can do.

  6. Craig Chamberlain

    Remembrance Day ceremonies are about remembering what people did in war while wearing our uniform and the ways lives were changed, sometimes broken, and some, ended. Grief and pride, the latter for the sake of consolation, not ego. And with hearing the story of any life lived, a quiet inner challenge for one to consider what they have done for others, with the shot at life some never knew.

  7. ATY: Sorry, but I don’t subscribe to the “loyalty and sacrifice” argument as that’s precisely the kind of sentimental nonsense that helped feed the lives of millions into the horrifically violent meat grinder of the “Great War”… How can anyone read historical accounts of Battles of Ypres, Somme or Verdun without being infuriated at the staggering waste of life and utter pointlessness of that murderous bloodbath?

  8. billg: With all due respect to the troops who served in Afghanistan with great distinction, I never agreed with our involvement in that totally ridiculous war in the first place. All of our troops’ valiant efforts and the billions of dollars involved spent fighting the Taliban and then “nation building” – or as you put it “making a difference” – will soon be flushed down the toilet whenever this failed state is finally vacated by the NATO/US “coalition” forces and it returns to being a hopelessly backwards, tribal, narco-terrorist clusterfuck…

  9. Peter

    Red, it’s a free country. If you want to take a pass on Remembrance Day, you don’t have to make up your own personal narrative as to what it signifies. It’s funny you should be so sure it glorifies war, because a very progressive teacher at my wife’s school is beating the drum this week to convince everyone in the school that it celebrates peace.

  10. Craig Chamberlain

    It’s actually about the men and women who served, and their families, not the government, not even the military.

    BTW, if it wasn’t for us already having Remembrance Day, who here thinks the present government would have initiated it for our contemporaries? The sensibility that led to us to otherwise have this sort of thing for our vets is long gone.

  11. Peter: Obviously different people can read different interpretations into the event and the reason(s) why it’s commemorated. I was just sharing my own reaction of deep antipathy to what I believe is a thoroughly dishonest narrative concerning “why we fight”…

    The British and Canadian soldiers embarking on “expeditionary forces” at the start of WWI, for example, weren’t fighting to protect our liberties and freedoms at all… they were engaged in some vainglorious adventure that would be over in a few short months… they were escaping the stultifying boredom of their lives, or swept up in patriotic fervour to battle the dreaded Hun – “Enemy of the Human Race” (seriously, that’s how the Germans were described in propaganda of the time).

    p.s. I never said that I thought Remembrance Day “glorifies” war, but rather, that the messaging surrounding its premise is false and misleading. Nonetheless, war is and always has been glorified and bestowed with noble sentiments that are, as General Sherman famously said “all moonshine.”

  12. Rotterdam

    Dear Red Tory, with all due respect,
    I have different view.
    I would not be here today but forth the brave sacrifice of Canada’s soldiers in the liberation of Holland. My mothers home town, Rotterdam, was devastated by German bombardment. During the occupation the Germans stole all the food, leaving the Dutch to starve. My father was hauled off to Northern Germany to “work” in a concentration camp. He witnessed many of his colleagues either starve or shot. He had saved the life of one man who had a nervous breakdown in camp- he wanted to die. My father was a optimist, convinced him thing would get better, shared his meager ration with him. My mother witnessed a Canadian soldier, in a parachute, shot out of the sky. My mother worked in a home for the disabled, she witnessed the Germans take all the Jewish patients out, only to be sent to Westerbork, they never made it back. I could tell you a lot of gut wrenching stories, stories that I only recently learned, because my parents always kept it to themselves, the memories were too painful.

    In 2007, I had the opportunity to visit the Canadian War cemetery in Holten The Netherlands. An elderly Canadian man, who for many years was the medical Doctor for the Toronto Maple Leafs, was visiting the same time. I watched how he was overcome with emotion. He had served alongside these men who did not make it home. All this for the Dutch.

    November 11 is a emotional time for me, and always will be.
    I am glad that this is a time when party and ideological differences are set aside to remember those who sacrificed, may we never forget.
    God Bless those who served, and God bless those who sacrificed.

  13. Rotterdam: Thanks for sharing your personal experience and reflections about the meaning of Remembrance Day to you. I fully respect your feelings in this regard.

  14. Tomm

    RT,

    Rotterdam brings home the breadth of the meaning. We have the words of people like John Stuart Mill, John McRae, legitimate battles of moral differentiation (e.g. Nazi’s) and so many personal stories.

    Robert M. subscribes to the polarization of society. Remember the “white” poppies? the marches for “Peace Day”. It always seemed to me that Rememberance Day was broad enough to bring all these people together, but apparently the thought of sharing a square or a ceremony with former soldiers, cadets, or others that are, or were part of the “military industrial complex” leaves such a vile taste in the back of some people’s thoroats that they would rather break communication and create fissures in our society.

  15. Roland

    I wear the poppy, out of rememberance for all the dead of all the nations, including those who are or were our enemies. The poppies blow above all the graves, marked and unmarked, and not just the Canadians’.

  16. Roland: That’s a nice sentiment.

    I just think of the gruesome reality… and it matters not who were our “enemies” at the time:

  17. “the veneration of war itself as a noble and praiseworthy endeavour”

    i just had a voneguttian notion….a nculture that not only withholds reverence for its veterans, but reserves a dubious eye for those returning from service. contempt, even; battle ribbons would allow the observer to decide the proper degree of distaste. only the purest of hearts would elect to serve a nation that would then turn its back on him.

    there’s a satire in there somewhere.

    KEvron

  18. Indeed. Bureau of Labor stats show that vets are just about as likely to be unemployed as the population at large (i.e., 1 in 5 for their age group) which isn’t much of a reward for their “heroic” service abroad and must be all the more difficult to cope with considering what they’ve been through.

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