Remembrance Day : My poppy shall rule
Thoughts on Remembrance Day
Why this pacifist immigrant Canadian desi thinks it is important
Please note that I am still facing a certain amount of ribbing for swearing allegiance to QEII (the queen not the ship) at the citizenship ceremony, after a lot of effort went in eliminating her daddy’s rule in India. For me the Remembrance Day is not about that woman or her shrunken domain.
For me, there are no personal veterans who I need to laud or defend. Unlike many of my friends, I have no relation or neighbour who was a player in the war. I do not belong to a country that was liberated by the vets. In fact, until my immigration, I had no inkling of the significance of Remembrance Day. There were no school texts, no school visits by old men with medalled chests, no awareness of how sacred this day is held in this part of the world.
I know the commemoration of this day commenced after World War I. The first poppy was worn in Canada in 1921. The most important aspect of the poppy week and participating in the ceremonies gives me a feeling of being a part of the entire community of Canadians. We come together this week as on no other occasion without the usual bickering about Hijabs vs Bikinis, Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays, Liberals vs Conservatives, Rob Ford vs Rob Ford and so on …. The total unity this day brings is alone sufficient reason for me to celebrate – however there are other reasons too.
With all due respect, WWI achieved practically nothing of lasting significance. WWI sowed the seeds of WWII, created extreme right wing and left wing dictatorships of the fascist and communist kinds. In just 20 years, Germany was again a threat. 9 million soldiers laid down their lives in WWI for practically nothing lasting.
For me, and the world at large, the significant event is WWII which produced some lasting changes.
I am a pacifist and always feel uncomfortable about extremely jingoistic statements and actions by military personnel of all stripes. All nations resort to hyperbole to project their military prowess as they feel obliged to protect imaginary lines on the ground.
In spite of my reservations about armed conflicts, I do feel that the Second World War was perhaps the only “Good” war with clear lines drawn between the good guys and bad guys. It gives us tremendous pleasure to celebrate the victory of Good over Evil. Every single conflict that went before was in support of feudal lords and attempts to prop up dynasties. After 1945, the motives for warfare became less and less clear and were mostly driven by the thirst for oil and the fear of communism. In my mind, therefore, WWII stands out as an exception.
Any human endeavour must ultimately answer the question: “did you create a better world?” In my mind, the only military event that is able to provide a “Yes” (albeit somewhat qualified) is World War II.
The War ended fascism in Europe and the militaristic ambition of Japan. Communism under Czar Stalin carried on. Perhaps the most glaring new problem created after the war was the creation of Israel. 60 years later the embers have not died down and the conflict appears to be escalating. It is difficult for an impartial observer to take sides.
The major benefit to a large number of people from the War was the end of colonialism. The former colonial powers were unable to maintain status quo and had to create exit strategies for large parts of the globe. Unfortunately more blood was spilled in many of these exits than during the creation of these empires.
As a result of the compulsions of war, even patriarchal societies, had to allow women to enter the workforce. While their battle is far from over, the world’s women benefited from the war. It is doubtful if any woman today wishes to exchange places with her grandmothers.
These lines from the original poem have great meaning for any soldier and anyone in a protective care-giving role:
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, where poppies grow
In Flanders fields in Flanders fields
We shall not sleep, where poppies grow
In Flanders fields, In Flanders fields
There were negative actions galore which are seldom discussed. Some of the most obvious ones were:
- Refusal by Canada/USA to allow ships carrying families fleeing Hitler to disembark (one example: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_St._Louis)
- Internment of all Japanese origin citizens (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-internment-banished-and-beyond-tears-feature/)
- Mustard gas/Germ weapons experiments carried out on hapless allied soldiers, often targeting minorities (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/u-s-military-exposed-minority-soldiers-toxic-mustard-gas/)
- Rampant homophobia persisted: while the Allies liberated the concentration camps, homosexuals were not freed and had to wait many more years for their freedom. (http://www.hardenet.com/homocaust/liberationforothers.html)
- The most well documented homosexual war hero was Alan Turing.
While it is difficult to gloss over any of these incidents, I cannot condemn the soldier of those days. These negative decisions were taken by the political masters of those times. Blame the Stalins, the Eisenhowers and the Churchills. The actions of those soldiers were mostly blameless and patriotic. Just that one man’s patriot is the other man’s terrorist.
Let history be the judge.