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On Not Wearing a Poppy

Clay McLeod, a teacher in Kelowna, has written a wrong-minded editorial about why he doesn’t wear a poppy. Here are a couple choice bits:

What would Gandhi have done in Poland or Germany if he were faced with the advance of the Third Reich and witness to the holocaust?

Perhaps, in protest, he would have joined a line up of Jewish people waiting to board a train to Auschwitz. Would you have the courage to make that sacrifice? Would I?

And later…

That is why I oppose war and refuse to wear a symbol that justifies and glorifies it. While I’m glad that I don’t live in a country ruled by Nazis and I don’t have to protest observations of the glory of the Third Reich under penalty of death or imprisonment, I do insist on exercising my freedom by not honouring the fictitious efficacy of military solutions that divide humanity rather than renew it.

As you might imagine, the comment thread on this article is long. Happily, it’s also articulate. A couple of people dissect Mr. McLeod’s argument better than I can:

The poppy does not symbolize war. It is not a medal or a flag. Not everyone who died on the battlefield believed in what they were dying for. The poppy stands alone, away from the political and economic justifications for war. It is a symbol of remembrance.

And even better:

War is what happens when world leaders blunder headlong into crises. This is why a free press is so vitally important to a free and enlightened society — to peace.

The blood red poppy is a cry of anguish for what was lost — not a howl of triumph for something supposedly gained. I observe Remembrance Day each year, and wear the poppy, to remember that lesson. You know: “Lest We Forget.”

Mr. McLeod, wearing the poppy isn’t about nationalism, it’s about remembering and honouring sacrifice. Your Ghandi example is foolhardy, because while the sacrifice of the Jewish people was mighty, the sacrifice of voluntary soldiers who died was greater still. They went willingingly to the fight and their death, to win freedom for those who couldn’t. You can be certain, Mr. McLeod, that had no one opposed the Nazis with the warfare you disdain, that today the European Jew would be as rare as the snow leopard.

I wear the poppy for my great-uncle, whose grave is in Kiel, Germany. I also wear it for the three or four hundred men lying next to him. Most of all, I wear it because I’m free to do so, just as you are free not to. My great uncle and millions of men like him helped win us those rights, and they deserve your respect.

17 Responses to “On Not Wearing a Poppy”

  1. Jeff

    Well said Darren.

    Anyone rejecting symbolism of Remembrance day on that kind justification is seriously missing the point.

  2. double-plus-ungood

    While an admirer of Ghandi, and as anti-war as all get out, my family and I attend Rememberence Day every year to honor those who died in the wars, and who continue to serve.

    However, reading this in the post made be twitch:

    They went willingingly to the fight and their death, to win freedom for those who couldn’t.

    That, I think, is spin. We didn’t go to war to defeat fascism, otherwise Franco wouldn’t have been left in power after it was over. We went to war because Germany was agressively eating up territory that belonged to allies. To paraphrase Gwyyne Dyer, if Hitler had remained inside his own borders, happily exterminating Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and communists, he would have remained in power for the rest of his life.

    Honour the memories of the fallen and those that served and cane home again, by all means. Their suffering was great, and what the gave for their nation was greater. But let’s not rewrite history.

  3. Anonymous

    I totally agree with you, Darren. And I’ll bet you a steak dinner that Mr. McLeod would be one of the first people to call for blood against anyone who would come to his country with Nazi type intentions.

  4. Derek K. Miller

    I think without our country having gone to war against Nazi Germany (for whom, incidentally, my grandfather was a footsoldier, captured by the Russians late in the War and imprisoned in a camp where he caught the tuberculosis that killed him in 1947), Jews in Europe would be much more rare than snow leopards. There are still snow leopards left, after all.

  5. Ross

    The biggest problem I personally have is his statement that war only happens because blundering politicians steer into crises. That takes an “evil” component out of things. We (Americans, Canadians, British, Australians, etc..) took out Hitler cause he was bad. We took out Saddam cause he was bad. The idea that everything in the world is fine, until politicians decide that their countries should start killing each other is ludicrous. There are people in the world who will stand against this tyranny, and they are to be commended. And if they are willing to go fight and die for something to ultimately improve the lives of many, many people, while protechting our right, we could all stand to wear a flower a little more often.

  6. LapinLove404

    We don’t wear poppies in Belgium. So I won’t have to choice between wearing it or not.

    But certainly, more than the idea of heroic soldier deserving to be honoured, argument such “The blood red poppy is a cry of anguish for what was lost” would convince me to wear it.

    Not because war was great, but because we shall remember it…

  7. becky

    Since I’ve moved up north, I have a new-found appreciation for remembering the sacrifices of those who fought for my freedom. Perhaps if more people from back home (the US) were to remember these noble losses, we wouldn’t be so eager to invade and send soldiers off to their death.

  8. Paolo

    … the sacrifice of the Jewish people was mighty, the sacrifice of voluntary soldiers who died was greater still. They went willingingly to the fight and their death, to win freedom for those who couldn’t. You can be certain, Mr. McLeod, that had no one opposed the Nazis with the warfare you disdain, that today the European Jew would be as rare as the snow leopard.

    I thought sacrifice was willingly giving something up. I don’t think Jews during the late 30s and 40s were willingly giving anything up. What they lost was forcefully taken. As for the soldiers that went to war, I don’t know that you could prove that the bulk of them did so thinking that they were willingly offering up their lives for freedom. Even the Russians that died in the tens of millions were basically told, ‘fight the Germans or get shot by us’.

    I believe double-plus-ungood makes a good point:

    Honour the memories of the fallen and those that served and cane home again, by all means. Their suffering was great, and what the gave for their nation was greater. But let’s not rewrite history.

    There were soldiers who went to war for glory, those that went because of social pressure, and those that went to ‘fight the good fight’, just as there were nations that joined in for many other reasons other than freedom. The poppy represents a lot of things to a lot of people, which is why I think it’s best to leave everyone to make their own decisions without caving into peer pressure type comments or posts.

    I think it has become entirely too easy to look back at WWII and believe all the hype that the Allies went to war for freedom. That packages everything up in a nice little gift box and seals it with a pretty ribbon, but it isn’t accurate.

    If you wear the poppy it’s because you want to share your reasons with the general public. I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with those that choose not to, for whatever reason. WWII did not end all wars and is not the height of our worst global conflict, which is why turning it into the war to be remembered above all wars, and the deaths to be remembered above all deaths is a dangerous practise, especially when we still don’t recall it as accurately or as honestly as we should.

    It sort of makes me wonder if the poppy also represents the loss of so many innocent Japanese, or the death of so many germans who thought they were fighting for good reason, or for the women and girls who were mass raped by Russian soldiers storming Germany, or for the Russians shot by their own countrymen for being afraid, and for the millions of people that died for something that ultimately did not end the madness of war and tyranny, in fact it only escalated it …

  9. double-plus-ungood

    Well said, Paolo. And to add, I’m wearing a poppy, but I’m not going to get all bent out of shape if someone chooses to. Freedom means freedom to not participate in things like that if you don’t want to.

  10. a sane voice in a mad world

    and what of the people of the 3rd world?

    the ones who were colonised, whose lands were divided as colonies or protectorates,

    whose lands were given as compensation to the Ashkenzi Jews for redressing the holocaust?

    should they wear the poppy?
    and if so, for what should they wear it?

  11. Fay

    Whatever our thoughts about the poppy!? It is a symbol of respect for those that have died for our freedom that we have today. This also includes our heros today. We should be proud of our armed services and what they do. If you are unable to do this, then put yourself in their shoes. If you can’t then all the more reason why we should remember those who have.

  12. Harald Bien

    I do not wear a poppy as I feel there is no need to demonstrate my respect and remembrance for those who died in war by wearing a symbol. I pray daily for peace on earth and pray for those who lost their lives through war and their families who mourn their loss. I attend church weekly, including Remembrance Day, and I don’t wear a poppy as I don’t feel the need for such a symbolic gesture. If you want to wear one then do so – I don’t mind, but let’s not condemn those who don’t.People should not try to interpret how others feel or what they believe in by visual symbols.God knows what we really believe and how we feel.
    I personally support as much as I can – charities etc, but I do not need to glorify this by wearing a band, ribbon or poppy.

  13. T. Seth Puusa

    How he paralleled the wearing of poppies to Nazis while failing to link its roots to Napoleonic Wars in Flanders and especially WWI is beyond understanding. The poppy is worn to remember all those people, military and civilian, who were sacrificed without their knowing as well as those who did so willingly. A poppy is remembering people who died before they should have so that we would not.

    As for Mr. Bien, he says he does not need to glorify Remembrance Day by wearing a Poppy as he attends church regularly; I doubt he refrains from wearing a crucifix.

  14. Dean

    As a retired member of our military I proudly wear the poppy in remembrance of those that had their lives taken during all wars, this would include my great uncle who was shot down in WWII by friendly fire. I will say and this is my feeling only, that soldiers of free countries fight for what they believe is right. If they believe what they are doing is wrong they can question and even refuse to perform the duty they have been assigned. The will have to deal with the results of that later.
    A soldier in my experience is a person that is unselfish in every respect and wants everyone to have the freedom to live their life as they want. as long as it is not in disregard for his or her fellow beings.
    A soldier is a person that does not want wars as this only brings grief, I have seen some of this personally and it is sad to see what we are willing to do to each other for money, power, pure greed, etc.
    This is unfortunate, for those that cannot defend themselves or their rights and there must be someone willing to stand up and speak for them. In most cases the powers that are keeping those people depressed do not listen to reason and employ every delay tactic possible to stay in power as long as possible. Most of the time the only way they listen is by force. Again, I say this is unfortunate but history has proven this is the only way we have that we have learned to change things.
    Until we develop other ways for those who repress people to see the folly of their ways war is inevitable.

  15. Jane

    who said this quote? “The poppy does not symbolize war. It is not a medal or a flag. Not everyone who died on the battlefield believed in what they were dying for. The poppy stands alone, away from the political and economic justifications for war. It is a symbol of remembrance”

    It is a very well said quote explaining the poppy and i would like to know who said it, and possilby when they said it.

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