Nothing to do with anything in this post but the title, but I remember reading some of the above bit of painful prose in the original French. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember reading it, and only vaguely how some things can spawn an “involuntary memory”. The original title is more along the lines of “In Search of Lost Time”, but English editors of French works can be a little pompous and can feel the need to change authorial intent. I was never a fan of Proust, but that little kernel of truth is quite profound, as it relates strongly to interconnectedness.
Today was Remembrance Day in Canada and the Commonwealth, and marked in different ways in other countries. Canada uses the day–though not a national, public holiday–to honour its fallen heroes, its war dead, a tradition dating back to the end of World War I. The poppies come out about two weeks before the day. Generally, at no other time during the year is there any mention of such things in the “popular” press, and come the 12th, the poppies disappear from the talking heads on television, and also the public consciousness.
There has been some talk in recent years of a so-called “white” poppy, that’s intended to represent peace, as though the red poppies (there are other colours?) are meant to honour war and killing. People who would believe this tripe are ignorant, stupid, or misled. Or all three. People who think that another type of poppy is needed have no idea what a “Remembrance” poppy represents, and they probably don’t care to learn, either.
War is hell. Period. Some have said it’s the failure of diplomacy, which is probably true enough, but diplomacy is often used just as another military manoeuvre, and is often the opening salvo in the war, or the base causus belli. And sometimes, diplomacy is just another way of saying, “Please turn around, so I can stab you in the back.” Friends close, enemies closer. There are people/entities/national actors in the world with whom diplomacy is impossible, because they are not rational actors. With groups like those, war of some type is inevitable, and it’s harder to fight off, both because they are not rational actors, and because we often give them the means to destroy us.
War is hell. It has a huge cost, beyond military budgets and economic/environmental damage. War kills generations, whether the war is “won” or not. War is a horrible, horrible thing and should be avoided–unless it can’t be. And if it can’t be, that war should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible, to ensure that your side doesn’t bear the cost of it any more than it has to. It should be as nasty, brutish, and short as possible, and preferably destroy your enemy’s ability to make war again for a very long time. People who have studied war’s history, and the history of wars, understand this, more so if they have military experience. Politicians, as a rule, do not, and they are often eager to increase the cost of a war that they do not personally have to pay.
War veterans understand the hellish nature of war at a bone-deep level we “normal” people can’t possibly understand, and for this we should be grateful, because it means that we have not experienced it. And we “normals” have trouble understanding why anyone would volunteer to go out and kill or die to serve a political or necessary end for people they know nothing about. But they do, and they die. It is this that the poppies represent: their sacrifice, not for a glorification of war. The poem “In Flanders Fields” encapsulated this fairly well, which is why it has stood the test of time. They died, that others might live. They died, that those who started unnecessary wars might be defeated in their goals. They died, that evil might be fought to a standstill and destroyed. They died, that people might say egregiously-stupid things about poppies without being imprisoned. They died, and we live. They died, and we wear poppies once a year.
There is a problem, though, in that as we get further away from the global wars of the past, the memories around them fade. And schools slowly stop teaching about the true causes and costs of war. And the sacrifices of the honoured fallen are gradually pushed to the side, so that generations of people grow up not understanding what happened in the past. Memories fade, and people stop seeing the warning signs of oncoming global conflict, leaving us unprepared in the face of existential threats. Memories fade, and people stop appreciating the freedoms they take for granted every single day, freedoms bought with the blood of young generations, something that today’s young generations don’t want to confront. And they fail to see that the price of those freedoms is eternal vigilance, because there is always someone out there who wants to restrict your freedoms, to control your lives and thoughts. Honouring and supporting a military that is the only bulwark against external threats of that type is about the least you can do. And the simplest way to do that is to wear a red poppy on the left side of your chest for a couple weeks around Hallowe’en. If you feel particularly punchy, you can go for a yellow ribbon as a year-round display. But we must not forget. Or there might come a time when we need the help of the warriors to protect us, but they are not there, and this time, it is we who will die, but there will be no one to remember us.