Just to reiterate… it’s November 11th. And interestingly, it’s 11 pm as I begin this post. (Definitely not the “last post” though – haha. Sorry. Not a joke.)
Oops, I didn’t mean to start off all irreverent, especially since this post is about Remembrance Day and how I take it very seriously. I really do. As a teacher, I make sure the kids have their poppies on before the assembly, and we talk about why we’re observing this day, and how important it is not to talk during the silence. (If they forget and disrespect… they get a piece of my mind afterward.)
I remember discovering, in a conversation with a French acquaintance during my year in France, that November 11th is quite a joyous day. Most of Europe celebrates finally being free – of course it’s joyous. I remember explaining to this woman that in Canada (although I know Canadians must have whooped in exaltation upon realizing the Great War was over), it’s a day when we remember those who have died in war – thousands upon thousands dead, many different conflicts, and almost none of them were “ours”.
Shortly after that, I visited Vimy Ridge for the first time. The agent at the train station, unaccustomed to printing tickets for Vimy, checked to make sure I hadn’t mistaken my destination. “Are you sure? You know there’s nothing in Vimy.” Pause. “Unless you’re Canadian.” Bingo, monsieur.
That visit was one of the most powerfully moving experiences of my life. Standing on that little piece of land that actually belongs to Canada, it felt so real. I felt the weight of it. The horror that is now cloaked in beauty after all these decades.
I could go on and on about Vimy Ridge, but that’s another post. Suffice it to say I have profound respect for the sacrifices made during war.
I’m also a Quaker, a pacifist. I know there are reasons why wars break out, and reasons why factions decide to resist government bodies, etc. Lots of these reasons are extremely well-intentioned. (I guess a reason can’t have intentions, but oh well. It’s late.) But ultimately, Quakers recognize that wars cause countless people to die in awful ways, and innumerable precious things to be completely destroyed. War, overall, does not respect life or land or beauty or historical artifacts – it can’t afford to. To me, this isn’t okay.
In the 1930s, there was a Women’s Guild in Britain who started wearing and distributing white poppies, similar to the red ones the Legion had begun distributing after WWI. Most of these women had lost men they loved, and did not want to see history, with all its attending pain, repeat itself. The white poppies were a symbol of peace, of hope that humanity could find better ways to deal with problems. People would wear one along with their red poppy, to honour the people who made sacrifices, and as I see it, further honour them by not wishing that fate upon others.
I recently read an article quoting a man in a position of authority in the Legion here in Canada, getting up in arms (sorry, it just seems the best phrase to use) about the white poppies. He said they disrespect the symbol of the red poppy, they besmirch (I’m paraphrasing) the intended purpose of the day, and most preposterously, they encroach upon the Legion’s trademark. Seriously. That’s just petty and bitter.
There are lots of people who come back from armed conflicts completely traumatized. They come back full of conviction that war is bad. They come back and can’t enjoy normal lives. They come back disfigured. They come back in a coffin. And we’re not supposed to wish for an alternative??
A couple years ago, one of my Grade 4 students came to class one day and proudly showed me the yellow ribbon pinned to her shirt. “It means ‘support our troops’,” she said, with an air of grown-up-ness.
“Hmm,” I said, “Does that mean support them to fight, or support them to come home?”
“Ummm,” she said, brow furrowing, “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask my mom.”
You can see why I am uncomfortable with the phrase “Support Our Troops”. I would like a phrase that conveys “I appreciate that our troops train hard and go to places of conflict and experience really scary things that I would never want to go through, and that most of them want to defend people in need; I understand that there are things very wrong in the world that need to be changed; I don’t want people, including soldiers, to die or suffer needlessly; I know that soldiers, while brave, are not higher beings, but are humans like the rest of us, who make mistakes – sometimes with their weapons; and I know that although we say our troops protect us and keep us safe, it is important not to make new enemies for ourselves through armed conflict, because that would achieve the opposite.”
I don’t think Support Our Troops covers it. Any suggestions?