To those that don't know - we as a nation collectively, on Armistice Day (11th November) and the nearest Sunday, observe memorials to those lost in the First World War. It is symbolised by the poppy, mostly inspired by Lieutenant-Colonel John McRae's poem In Flanders Fields:
In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.
(There's two versions of this poem. That's the original. The only real difference is that the word "blow" in the first line is replaced with "grow". The version above is the version that made it to print.)
The notion and sentiment is a valuable one - the statement Lest We Forget is unique to this time of year. In fairness, that is because we, as human beings, forget a whole hell of a lot of things with relative ease.
I'm going to tread a little carefully here.
It is hard to actually forget the death of eighteen million. That was, at the time, around 1% of the total population of the earth. While the figures are hard to tally properly - for obvious reasons - perhaps 40% of those deaths weren't soldiers at all. They were civilians.
We killed literally 1% of the earth's population at the time because of political upheaval, political intentions, political desires and political alliances.
There is a line of rhetoric that talks about freedom, that we went to war to preserve it. That simply isn't true. In fairness it isn't true for the Second World War, either; we put up with Hitler's Germany doing an awful lot of rather questionable things before we decided to actually do something about it. The declarations of war had precious little to do with freedom. It is very easy for post facto justification to become conflated with war's prelude, and this is one of the things that we, as people, seem to forget.
Another thing we seem to forget is the actual makeup of the soldiers that were tasked with dying for those politics. I don't want to paint large swathes with the same brush, but the last time I was "poppy policed" - that is, the last time someone called me out for not visibly wearing a poppy during the first half of November - it was an individual that I've witnessed doling out casual racial and anti-Muslim abuse in the past. An individual that has literally delivered the "coming over here" speech. Apparently, the 885,000 Muslim soldiers that fought with the Allies, and 400,000 of them were in the 1.5 million strong British Indian Army, don't get a look in. Lest we forget.
Then there's the poppy itself.
Many of the battlefields of Europe were covered with poppies, after the fighting was finished. They were the hardiest little flower in the region, and where the deadly spread of industrial war's influence had killed off just about everything else - well, nature abhors a vacuum. Their ubiquitous appearance in places of mass loss inspired their use in a poem, which was taken up as a symbol of remembrance of the fallen.
That is, of course, papaver rhoeas. There's another poppy that is somewhat tied to the history of war. That being papaver somnium, more commonly known as the opium poppy. Literal wars were fought over this thing. They were called the opium wars. Two of them - 1839 and 1856.
A symbol is a thing. It is an object that can be used to indicate many things. The intention of the poppy as a symbol is a good one, but it is starting to come to mean something else. There is a certain amount of peeping and poking and noting. A certain amount of attention paid to who is wearing one and who is not. The implication, if you aren't wearing one, is...well, varied, but almost always includes the assumption that the non-wearer is somehow disrespecting the military, or those who died IN the military, or somehow disrespecting the nation that the military served.
Several veterans have gone on record as saying that they dislike the symbol, and that they won't wear it, for these nationalistic leanings. When it comes down to respecting the military, I think their wishes and opinions count for something, too.
Those millions of people died for political reasons. They died for preventable reasons. They died in the space of not much over four years, and ever since, their deaths have been presented as meaning a hundred different things - but what it comes down to is a failure of diplomacy. I can't forget their deaths, but I take the further step of not forgetting the reason why.
They died because it was easier to kill millions than it was to just...back down.
My NaNo kind of deals with the consequences of war - with the people that it scars, the problems it leaves behind, and the kind of person who only remembers some of what we are meant to remember. That war is awful, and that in its awfulness, it does what most traumatic things do to people - makes it hard for those people to perceive the whole.
We don't want to have to be in a situation where, a hundred years from now, we look back with sadness and police each other on symbols and stand in two minute's silence because several groups of powerful, stubborn people couldn't compromise or, heaven forbid, just take a loss for once.
We want to be able to remember when it happened a century ago, and then make it not happen now.
I look at some of our leaders, and I really wonder.
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