Why I Wear A Poppy | By Dave Jones

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The ugliest is a person who thinks nothing is worth fighting and dying for and lets  others better and braver protect him.”  –  General Rick Hillier

 

The days leading up to Remembrance Day are always rife with controversy over wearing a poppy. I thought I would add my thoughts to the discussion.

Every year, for about 10 days, there are poppy boxes scattered across Canada. At every Tim Horton’s, at every legion and every mall one can find the small felt flowers that we pin on our chest in remembrance of those who kept our country free. The money raised from the sale of the poppies is put in trust to provide assistance to veterans and their families. The trust provides everything from comforts for hospitalized veterans (including reading material and toiletries) to providing services to widows of veterans. After my great-uncle’s passing, the Canadian Legion ensured that my great-aunt always had a ride somewhere if it was needed, that her snow was always shoveled and the grass was mowed. This is all funded by the generosity of Canadians who appreciate the immense sacrifices made by the ‘Greatest Generation’, and the sacrifices made by our generation during combat operations in Afghanistan.

This should be apolitical, and serve not as an endorsement of Canada’s foreign policy, but as a simple gesture that we will not forget those who sacrificed so much for us. Yet, every year, I talk to someone who refuses to wear a poppy. They launch into an impassioned, ignorant diatribe against, among other things, Western imperialism, Stephen Harper, George Bush and the military-industrial complex. They complain that we are currently at war with a religion. They say these small felt flowers serve as a grand endorsement of current conflicts. They say that it perpetuates some nationalist narrative.

It certainly does promote a nationalist narrative. It promotes pride in a country that went above and beyond when every democracy in the world was threatened. It promotes pride in a country that helped stop the forces of fascism, racism and bigotry. It promotes pride in a country that helped stop one of the largest and most organized genocides in history. It promotes pride in a country that acted with valour and pride in a number of peacekeeping conflicts; that helped to prevent the murder of millions more civilians. It promotes pride in a country that instills a strong morality in its children, such that tens of thousands still willingly serve to protect it.

The country that exists today is in no small part due to the sacrifices of some 115,000 soldiers killed, and countless more physically and emotionally wounded. These men and women sacrificed to protect the freedoms that we all take for granted. And those who eagerly decry the military and the sacrifices made cite these freedoms as they protest. Yes, I concede, it is within their rights to hate those who made them free – and, perhaps, this is what makes this country so great.

However, for the memory of the dead, the wounded and the families, I would beg you: for ten days a year, put the politics aside. Wear a poppy and wear it with pride, pride for a country that allows you to shame its bravest citizens. Wear it for a country that is ‘Strong and Free’ because of the sacrifices made in the past. Wear it for the man who every November 11th dons a jacket adorned with medals and cries for brothers who rest below the crosses, row on row. 

Dave Jones is in his 3rd year of Economics and Political Science. He remembers those who have gone before by serving in the Canadian Forces Primary Reserves.

 

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  • No doubt buddy, and those are understandable objections to wearing a poppy. Unfortunately, they don’t have anything to do with that time. This was no imperialist/ideological war like those that proceeded it. To this day many people in Canada have family in Europe, myself included. Then, obviously, even more did. That meant that, in many cases, many Canadian soldiers were literally going to fight for their families. The whole resentment toward war is that its impersonal, that its meddling in people’s affairs, affairs that are almost or totally distant from the aggressor’s. Anti-Communism, Oil, etc.. obviously are not good excuses.

    My objection to the poppy is that it is just that, almost exclusively part of the European heritage. Obviously one could say that soldiers fighting for Europe in the world wars was what has made Canada such a stable place for non-Europeans to live, but, still, however true that is, non-Europeans will still feel a bit distant from the history, and no amount of neo-nationalism, even from immigrants adamantly assmilationist themselves is going to make people any less indifferent. The attitude of the immigrant is different in this day and age. No longer are people coming over here ready to assimilate to the dominant Anglo-French culture of Canada. Canada is no longer a nation that accommodates only in order to assimilate. It is a massive piece of land tranquil enough all-around that people can come and do as they please. People can lament it but I see something similar occurring over the next few decades in other countries, and the kind of nationalism that is reacting to this current is not itself so standard. Even when you’re talking about “rogue” immigrant groups, those who refused to assimilate, there were those even in the World War times, like the Italians (Funny that they were vilified in their time just as Muslims are now). Also, the nation as this great project that everyone participates in is pretty new. Look at the Ottoman Empire, for example, which, in theory, was cohesive but in reality was a collection of mostly self-governed states.

    Indeed, this whole idea of a nation is very particularly Christian, this idea of “Christian Land,” which one could argue originated in the times of the Spanish inquisition. When the Jews were pushed down to North Africa, or modern day Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, yes, there was a dominant, Muslim culture, but the idea that the population formed a cohese unit with a name, like Algeria, like Morocco, like Tunisia, is very new, and mostly a response to Christian colonial aggression in the first place. It’s also funny to note that the Christian notion of “sovereignty,” or at least that vested in an authority, remains to this day strongest in its Christian strain. In Islam there is this whole idea of the Caliphate, but there is no existing structure that represents and make this a reality. Not so within Christianity. I know most of Canada is Protestant, but the Catholic Papacy remains a fully-functioning institution to this day.

    Perhaps then, even, wearing a poppy is in fact a colonial endeavour, much like such absurdly managed notions such as white privilege. The poppy, much like European whiteness and its associated guilt, is something that the dominant Anglo-French culture wishes all to participate in, regardless of who they are. Who knows, maybe I’ve just written a whole bunch of bullshit. It sure feels like I have.

    I myself do wear the poppy, sometimes, just because I feel I can appreciate the conditions of the World War period. We young people are so quick to demonize and do away with the old immediately, and replace it with our own bullshit, when in fact there can be wisdom in tradition. As I always tell people, it’s all about complementing, rather than substituting, and complementing is what happens anyway. People are matter like anything else. They can not be created nor can they be destroyed. The poppy I wear because perhaps some old person can see it and, just for a moment, believe that some young person understands and appreciates what they went through in that time of the World War era and its aftermath. Then they can retreat to the comfort of their cynicism but that also means I can throw the poppy away and stop getting poked by it fuck. They should include little plastic bulbous ends so you don’t get freaking pricked. Talk about death culture! Even if you wear a white poppy you’re bound to get some blood on it!

    Yarn spelled backward is nray.