11.11.2014

11.11: honour the dead by committing to peace

Robert Fisk, in The Independent:
But as the years passed, old Bill Fisk became very ruminative about the Great War. He learned that Haig had lied, that he himself had fought for a world that betrayed him, that 20,000 British dead on the first day of the Somme – which he mercifully avoided because his first regiment, the Cheshires, sent him to Dublin and Cork to deal with another 1916 "problem" – was a trashing of human life. In hospital and recovering from cancer, I asked him once why the Great War was fought. "All I can tell you, fellah," he said, "was that it was a great waste." And he swept his hand from left to right. Then he stopped wearing his poppy. I asked him why, and he said that he didn't want to see "so many damn fools" wearing it – he was a provocative man and, sadly, I fell out with him in his old age. What he meant was that all kinds of people who had no idea of the suffering of the Great War – or the Second, for that matter – were now ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic and British when it suited them, to keep in with their friends and betters and employers. These people, he said to me once, had no idea what the trenches of France were like, what it felt like to have your friends die beside you and then to confront their brothers and wives and lovers and parents. At home, I still have a box of photographs of his mates, all of them killed in 1918.

So like my Dad, I stopped wearing the poppy on the week before Remembrance Day, 11 November, when on the 11th hour of the 11 month of 1918, the armistice ended the war called Great. I didn't feel I deserved to wear it and I didn't think it represented my thoughts. The original idea came, of course, from the Toronto military surgeon and poet John McCrae and was inspired by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, killed on 3 May 1915. "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row." But it's a propaganda poem, urging readers to "take up the quarrel with the foe". Bill Fisk eventually understood this and turned against it. He was right.
Read the whole piece: Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?

I'm the only person in my workplace not wearing a poppy. This is when I appreciate the Canadian quiet live-and-let-live attitude and aversion to potential conflict. I'm sure the absence has been noted, but no one says anything.

No white poppy for me, either. It has no meaning to me.

I just wear my peace button on my jacket as always, and wait for the collective brainwashing to blow over. When our masters give the signal, everyone can take off the fake poppy - made with prison labour - and create a bit more landfill. And another annual ritual of war glorification comes to a close.

Meanwhile, in my country of origin...

David Masciotra, in Salon:
Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him. It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as “heroes.” The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.

It has become impossible to go a week without reading a story about police brutality, abuse of power and misuse of authority. Michael Brown’s murder represents the tip of a body pile, and in just the past month, several videos have emerged of police assaulting people, including pregnant women, for reasons justifiable only to the insane.

It is equally challenging for anyone reasonable, and not drowning in the syrup of patriotic sentimentality, to stop saluting, and look at the servicemen of the American military with criticism and skepticism. There is a sexual assault epidemic in the military. In 2003, a Department of Defense study found that one-third of women seeking medical care in the VA system reported experiencing rape or sexual violence while in the military. Internal and external studies demonstrate that since the official study, numbers of sexual assaults within the military have only increased, especially with male victims. According to the Pentagon, 38 men are sexually assaulted every single day in the U.S. military. Given that rape and sexual assault are, traditionally, the most underreported crimes, the horrific statistics likely fail to capture the reality of the sexual dungeon that has become the United States military.

Chelsea Manning, now serving time in prison as a whistle-blower, uncovered multiple incidents of fellow soldiers laughing as they murdered civilians. Keith Gentry, a former Navy man, wrote that when he and his division were bored they preferred passing the time with the “entertainment” of YouTube videos capturing air raids of Iraq and Afghanistan, often making jokes and mocking the victims of American violence. If the murder of civilians, the rape of “brothers and sisters” on base, and the relegation of death and torture of strangers as fodder for amusement qualifies as heroism, the world needs better villains.
The essay: You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy.

14 comments:

tom s. said...

Excellent post, and voices the reasons I stopped wearing a poppy a few years ago also. Thank you.

M@ said...

Same here. Even as a former soldier I don't wear a poppy and I don't participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies. The one thing I do is post "Dulce et Decorum Est" or some other appropriate war poem somewhere.

I really wish they'd read Owen or someone instead of McCrae at these ceremonies.

Amy said...

The poppy thing is not something we do here in the US, but the hanging of flags and wearing of flag pins replaces it, I suppose.

I always have mixed feelings. I do feel terribly about the losses suffered by those who serve in the military. Their scars, mental and physical, are undeniable. But I see them more as victims than heroes.

And I am grateful for some military victories---against the British in 1776, against Hitler in 1945. Sometimes the enemy gives you no choice but to use arms. But most wars are not about protecting against an evil or oppressive enemy. Most are about land or money or religion.

So overall, I weep for our soldiers and for those they kill. Wearing a flag pin or a poppy would not express what I feel, which is mostly sadness, not pride, and regret, not gratitude.

James Redekop said...

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

laura k said...

So overall, I weep for our soldiers and for those they kill. Wearing a flag pin or a poppy would not express what I feel, which is mostly sadness, not pride, and regret, not gratitude.

So true.

Except I can't say I feel gratitude. More often sorrow and regret, but "not in my name" says it better than "thank you" for me.

The more I've learned about WWII, the more I've seen even "the good war" was mostly not about stopping bad guys with minimal civilian loss.

But from 1776 to 1945 to now, that's a lot of war-making and very little peace to show for it.

laura k said...

Source for James' quote above

Amy said...

You perhaps misread my last line. I also said I feel regret, not gratitude.

And for sure there were other motives in World War II and in the Revolutionary War as well. There are always those who stand to gain from war, I am afraid.

laura k said...

Oh yeah, I got that. Further up you said you are grateful for some military victories.

I certainly agree with you, as you know, that those who fight are victims, not heroes.

laura k said...

In other words, we agree. :)

But my feelings are not mixed.

Amy said...

OK, got it!

James Redekop said...

I know Owen's poems best from Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. "The Parable of the Old Man and the Young" appears in the Offertorium (specifically, at 3:41 in the video).

Stephanie said...

Thought you would like to know (or maybe you do know) about local actions in London surrounding remembrance day in our community. A group of local activists had a workshop on making homemade white poppies (and why) and then they were joined by our local Council of Canadians and People for Peace groups in arranging a table in the downtown Public library to raise awareness of this global action for peace on remembrance day as well as the War Resisters campaign and local initiatives to oppose military operations in the Middle East. They have had a tremendous response (over the weekend too). YAY for the public library in providing this venue to the community.

And Yay for such a unexpected public response!

This initiative has provided a much needed injection of encouragement to the peace activists who usually spend hours out in the cold with very little to show that the message is being received.

Maxwell Horse said...

Hey, without the military doing what it does, we wouldn't have our freedoms. (And if I were ever in danger of forgetting this, Mikey Adams on WEEI just reminded me of it.) And apparently that goes for literally everything the military does, has done and will do until the end of time.

That's why I worship and respect every single politician. Because Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. By logical extrapolation, I figure every single politician that ever lived has been equally responsible for freeing the slaves.

That's why George W. was the man. Say what you will about his usage in grammaretics, at the end of the day, the dude was like the Terminator of slavery, what with all the decisions he made. And not the wussbag girl Terminator from T3 either, but the original Arnold Terminator that liked to walk around naked and steal prescription eyewear.

Patriot Act? Helped keep black people free. Lying about WMD's? Can you say, "African American Emancipation?" Katrina non-response? Dudes, that was so anti-slavery it was like "Amistad" and Denzel Washington from "Glory" had a baby, and it came in the beautiful, beautiful form of federal ineptitude.

{If it were at all technically possible, I would put a picture of the Lackster here.}

laura k said...

Stephanie, that's great to hear! And surprising. And heartening.

MH, awesome as always. Put a uniform on it and it gets a free pass. And thanks for the laugh. A literal LOL. (llol?)