In Canada, there is a battle this year being fought over whether or not the Remembrance Day Poppy glorifies war [The White Poppy Debate].
The poppy every year is handed out at mall and grocery store entrances, in front of liqueur and beer stores, and any number of spots all across the country. Young boys, old men and women, volunteers all, hand them out for a donation. For as long as I can remember, it has always symbolized remembrance, and our appreciation of the men and women who served, and fought in all the various battles and wars this country has engaged in.
The debate is over whether or not that very poppy is really just glorifying war. Quite frankly, I’m not quite certain who began the debate, or who started the whole movement, but it has been a popular topic this week on my Facebook Newsfeed.
This has reminded me of this Saturday Night, almost 20 years ago to the day now I believe, and my sister and some of her friends were gathered. We were drinking wine, talking, laughing and discussing various things, when somehow the topic of the holocaust in WW2 came up. I really can’t recall how it came up, but all of a sudden I was sitting there being subjected to such a stream of misinformed, racist, anti-Semitic drivel, that it made my stomach turn.
As the bile that rose in my throat brought forth a rage that I could not ignore, I found myself verbally attacking this racist, Nazi sympathizer. Young though he may have been (21 perhaps), the garbage he believed was quite unbelievable. I don’t know what crap he’d been reading, or what he was involved with, but at some point he’d been made to believe that the Holocaust was no big deal, and that there really were not that many Jews who died…that it was all this North American propaganda or some such.
I don’t recall what I said, but it was eloquent, angry and I gave the lad some facts to chew on. Afterwards, I just couldn’t be there any more. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room – I said, “its him or me…I will not be in the same vicinity as this disgusting hunk of flesh”!!!!! And so I left.
The house were it happened is just a few blocks from where I now sit. At the time I was living the other way a few blocks, so I stomped out the door and started to walk home. Tears were streaming down my face, as unfortunately when I am that angry I have a tendency to cry. Very annoying, actually. So there I am, tears streaming down my face, at 3 o’clock in the morning, drunk, on a Saturday night. As I came to a four-way stop, I saw a young guy on the other side of the street, walking towards me. I will to this day never know what prompted me, but I walked across the street and said “excuse me, this may seem like an odd question, but do you think that the holocaust was overblown and that there were not as many who died as we’ve been taught”??? Amazingly, and without missing a beat, or looking at me as the freak I must have seemed, he says “no, I’m Dutch”.
You see, in WW2 the Canadian Forces liberated the Netherlands from the clutches of the Germans. To this day if you ever have a chance to visit Ottawa in the Spring, you will be enchanted by the most beautiful thank you your eyes will ever behold, as acres and acres of Tulips carpet the Capital of Canada.
What a gift that night was, as it taught me what Remembrance Day is really actually about. We say, NEVER AGAIN, but memories fade, and often we forget why we enjoy the freedoms we do today. Too often we forget that human beings fought, were captured, tortured, and died in these many wars that have been fought over the decades and centuries.
That year a remarkable piece of history was discovered in the documents of the family of the nurse who served alongside the man who wrote “IN FLANDERS FIELDS”. Tucked in amongst the various notebooks, diaries and other ephemera, was an original copy of the poem.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie 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.
The year that angry, misinformed man uttered his untruths, the finding of that original copy of the poem had awakened a resurgence of Remembrance across Canada. On the 11th month, of the 11th day, at the 11th hour as thousands and thousands of Canadians stood and honoured these men and women, for the first time since I was in school, I as well stood amongst them. It was a beautiful sunny day, and for the first time, I truly understood the significance of this day, and the symbolism of that Red Poppy. For the first time, it resonated inside me. Deep within, I felt as though I too had fought, if but a far more miniscule battle. I think it is all of our duties to fight, and serve the cause of remembrance, and strive towards the idealism of NEVER AGAIN.
As some wise person once said, “together we stand, divided we fall“.