As we parade and display poppies in remembrance of the armistice that ended World War I, the war to end all wars, I am reminded of the last stanza of the timeless poem “In Flanders Fields.”
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Parades and displays of poppies accomplish nothing save to allow the multitude, those who make war easily or ignore completely its insanity and horror, to feign support and appreciation for the sacrifices of the few, those who do the killing and the dying. In reality, parades and displays of poppies are a designation of the few as the purveyors of death and destruction, and a proclamation by the multitude of their status as observer and hence, their innocence, an ablution of culpability and guilt for immoral war and crimes against humanity.
Parades and displays of poppies neither educate nor inform about the nature of war. Rather, they celebrate and perpetuate the myth of honor and glory, encourage war amnesia and provide veterans a false refuge from confronting the realities of their experiences on the battlefield, making healing more difficult if not impossible – 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Just as tragic, parades and displays of poppies inspire and encourage young people to enlist in the military and to become the future cannon fodder and instruments of slaughter for those criminals who benefit and profit from perpetual war.
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack –
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.
I will display no poppy, nor will I parade. In refusing to heed the admonition of the poet to pick up the torch and “take up the quarrel,” I am confident that I violate no trust, nor fidelity of my comrades. Having seen the reality of war, I will not celebrate the mythology or perpetuate the old lie that it is sweet and noble to die for one’s country. Rather, on this 11th day, of the 11th month, at the 11th hour, I will sit in silent contemplation and grieve as the faces of the dead and the screams of the dying I will never forget bear witness to the insanity and the horror of war.