Monday, October 17, 2011

People, Poppies and Perception Checks

(In Flanders fields, the poppies blow...)
Note to offshore readers: In the British Commonwealth countries it is common for people to wear a red plastic poppy near (Armistice Day) November 11, "Lest we forget" with the proceeds, via the legion, going to the needy veterans. The poem, In Flanders Fields, was written by Canadian Lt-Colonel John McCrae after the death of a young Lieutenant who had been his student in civilian life. McCrae did not survive the war.
(... 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...) 

"The torch is not a gun: It's peace."
-My grade five teacher, Mr. Thompson, back in the days when our fathers, all veterans, were middle aged schoolteachers, coaches and Scout Masters.

Have you heard? Away out east some old war veterans are dismayed and disturbed. Very little news has reached us back here, but anyway, it seems some folks are proffering their white poppies as a replacement for the traditional red ones—because they profess to see the red ones as making war “romantic.”

Romantic? Really? When my father gave up years of his young life? When my mother’s high school friends, their names now hanging on the old school wall, are forever young? My dad never misses a November 11 service; my mum can never attend because she cries so much. Can anyone gaze at so many rows of silent white crosses amidst the gently blowing red poppies and still say war is romantic?

While I can understand how for very young soldiers a bit of denial is very healthy, I have no doubt that young veterans, and civilians like you and I, and old veterans, are all fully aware of the facts of death. Never mind how Hollywood romanticizes death and war and crime. Hollywood shows many deaths in movies about, say, criminals, and in a TV series about a mafia family. I admit that while I am watching I might pretend that crime families are "romantic," but at the end of the day, in reality, I still wouldn’t want my sister to marry into one—Never!

If you and I know that war is Bad, and poppies are Good, then why don’t those guys back east? In theory, a man—and somehow I imagine a man, not a woman—who cares enough to make white poppies would also care enough to do a perception check. He would easily walk down the street and ask the butcher, baker and hot dog maker, “Do red poppies portray war as romantic?” I know dam well what my parents, along with almost everyone else, would say.

So why don’t the eastern dudes, those modern day “long haired hippies,” bother to ask? I think I found an answer in my favorite 1960’s campus cartoon: Doonesbury. The creator, Gary Trudeau, gave the lead activist the name “Megaphone Mark.” I think Mark’s first name means he has an egotistical vested interest in neither hearing, nor respecting, other views.

It’s such a pity... for your campus years could be a time for broadening your mind by meeting diverse people, just as the "school of life," although with more difficulty, can also be broadening. But not if you start to stay more and more in your comfort zone… until one day you reach a tipping point… and then from that day onwards pick all your friends for being clones of yourself.... and cut off from your  life the non-clones.

For me, as an observer of the human condition, in this, our Romantic Glorious democracy, my choice is clear: For me to seek a narrow life, a false comfort, would be unworthy of me. I love the people too much to cut most of them off.

Sean Crawford,
On the Great Plains,
October 2011
Above I quoted part of the poem, In Flanders Fields. Part of the poem is on the Canadian 10 dollar bill.

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