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In Flanders Fields
November 6, 2013 11:03 AM   Subscribe

In Canada, poppy pins are worn for the two weeks before November 11, Remembrance Day. The pins, inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields, commemorate Canadian soldiers who have died in war (any war), and are distributed by the Royal Canadian Legion in exchange for small donations.

There has been some discomfort with the pins in recent years, however, with activist groups claiming that they contribute to the glorification of war. The Rideau Institute has now started distributing white poppies symbolizing peace. Veterans are not pleased, and some are pointing out that the red poppy already symbolizes peace.
posted by 256 (132 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
White poppies were distributed in 1933 Britain as a pacifist alternative to red poppies according to Wiki

Also, Remembrance / Armistice Day red poppies are such a strong UK & Commonwealth tradition... I was surprised to learn from Wiki that it started in the US (where it is not practiced today and never became a custom as far as I know)
posted by Bwithh at 11:10 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel more conflicted about poppies being made by convicts.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:11 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hmmm. "In Flanders Field" is a great poem but it's not really pacifist at all...
posted by Bwithh at 11:12 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bwithh it certainly is a custom in the US in my own anecdotal experience. We learned the poem in elementary school and I have certainly seen the American Legion folks or other veterans groups offering poppys to wear around Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

I always associated it with rememberance rather than glorifying war but on the other hand upon adult reflection the poem is a little ambigous on that, what with the take up our quarrel line.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:15 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that there isn't a connection made between Canadians wearing a poppy and Americans putting a yellow Support The Troops sticker on the back of their car, insofar as most people who do these things often have no connection with vets or have never had to suffer the consequences of wars they support.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:17 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whatever. I still like the poppies.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:24 AM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


White poppies were distributed in 1933 Britain as a pacifist alternative to red poppies according to Wiki

They're distributed by the Peace Pledge Union (as sort of implied by wiki). If they're really a new thing in Canada, I'm pretty surprised.
posted by hoyland at 11:26 AM on November 6, 2013


They're a big deal in Britain, and there's a lot of pressure on people to wear one. If you're a public figure and you're seen not wearing one on TV in the run-up to Remembrance Day, you'll attract a lot of attention and be expected to justify your decision. James McLean, an Irish footballer, refused to wear one on his shirt in a match the day before Remembrance Day last year, presumably as he's from Derry, the site of Bloody Sunday. He was on the receiving end of abuse and death threats as a result.
posted by kersplunk at 11:27 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


US person here. Have a poppy on my cork board at my cube right now.

Has always been a thing here for as long as i can remember.
posted by sio42 at 11:27 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have certainly seen the American Legion folks or other veterans groups offering poppys to wear around Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

Yeah, (fake) poppies were distributed in at least some parts of the US as late as the seventies. I haven't seen it recently, though.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:30 AM on November 6, 2013


Poppies are certainly not a thing in the US (or not all of it) in the way they are elsewhere. As a project for a folklore class, I took myself to the San Francisco Veterans Day Parade one year and (among other things) interviewed people wearing blue poppies sold by the Disabled American Veterans. It was pretty clear that those people had zero context for poppies whatsoever and they were pro-war types who had bought poppies on the grounds that they were 'supporting the troops'. (And, no, I'm not inventing their politics. They felt the need to tell me about their politics and what they imagined mine were (namely the same as theirs).)
posted by hoyland at 11:31 AM on November 6, 2013


He was on the receiving end of abuse and death threats as a result.

Which pretty much tells you all you need to know about how fetishizing a symbol can basically vacate the thing it symbolizes.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:31 AM on November 6, 2013 [47 favorites]


I keep thinking that opium is somehow involved.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:31 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


In all my schooling and life I have never met anyone who didn't see the red poppy as a symbol of the horror of what war can do. Surprised to hear it heard as glorification.
posted by kanata at 11:32 AM on November 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


One of my profs in law school always wore a white poppy. Not knowing the history, I thought it was a bit of an affectation, but one I could get understand.

Two years later, if there were any in town that I could find I would wear one for sure.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:36 AM on November 6, 2013


I heard the white poppy is actually glorifying giving heroin to children. I just made that up but everyone is free to repeat as fact.
posted by three blind mice at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


I grew up in the South and I never saw a poppy worn for veterans until I started visiting the UK and then moved to Canada.
posted by Kitteh at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


White poppies were pinned onto men, not in uniform, by "patriotic" young women, as a symbol of their supposed cowardice.

The poem's message, as revealed in the final stanza, is "we got killed real quick in France, join up and avenge us".
posted by thelonius at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


This argument is easily debunked by the slogan that accompanies the poppy in the run-up to Remembrance Day:

LEST WE FORGET

No issue with the white poppies, but almost everyone I know (not exactly a war mongering lot) wears red poppies because it's exactly about remembering the horror of war, and the sacrifice of so many people.
posted by dry white toast at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


sio42 -- having the poppy on your corkboard indicates that it's not a "thing" in the US the way it is in Canada (Ontario, at least. Can't speak for the rest of the country). Putting it anywhere other than pinned over your heart is considered somewhat disrespectful around these parts.
posted by AmandaA at 11:40 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh wow. That answers the question I had yesterday but didn't bother looking into re: what Mayor Rob Ford and his staff were wearing on their lapels.
posted by limeonaire at 11:44 AM on November 6, 2013


Canadian here - I don't think the poppies are explicitly pacifist, but to call them glorifying of war is a little bit of a stretch. The way the poem was taught to me from elementary school is that the poppies serve as a reminder of the very real costs of war. So while it doesn't explicitly condone war - and in fact, it carries forth the historical belief that war may be inevitable in some circumstances - it reminds us not to glorify bloodshed and to remind ourselves of the reasons why we fight wars. In that sense, it's hugely different from American culture around warfare (e.g. the Support our Troops stickers) because the tone of the whole affair is solemn and reflectory, rather than celebratory.
posted by Conspire at 11:44 AM on November 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm a lifelong Canadian and military brat. The poppy has always symbolized the horror of war, sacrifice and remembrance for those who have lost their lives.

I think the white poppy folk are a bit misguided.
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl at 11:47 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Here in New England, veterans hand them out as I leave my local grocery store. I will wear one if I see them this year; I lost mine from a couple of years ago.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:51 AM on November 6, 2013


I'm pretty uncomfortable with widespread wearing of symbols stuff. Like how an American politician wouldn't dare be caught out without a dumb flag pin. It seems like even if the white poppies are not symbolically the opposite of the red, the act of doing something different and wearing the white is a more potent expression than wearing the same thing as everyone else. They're getting more coverage and awareness of their cause than if they had decided to wear white poppies some random week in March.

And a veteran griping about being disrespected (though I'm sure that isn't widespread) is being ungracious. If someone decided to wear one because you complained would that be a sign of respect or just of not wanting to rock the boat? Wouldn't that make you wonder about everyone else? Better to accept everyone's expression as genuine and assume the best about those who choose not to wear the "correct" symbol.
posted by ghharr at 11:51 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


A "Previous" thread about white poppies.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:52 AM on November 6, 2013


I've always seen it as rather a complicated poem, the last bit being more "please let us not have died in vain", and that message is not precisely pacifist, but I wouldn't say it's glorifying war, either. It's alway seemed to me like: Here is this horrible, horrible thing. We need it to mean something. Does it mean something? Can it mean something?

Taking all that complicated stuff and turning it into factionalism of "whose color of poppy are you wearing" seems, um, problematic.
posted by Sequence at 11:53 AM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Take up our quarrel with the foe" is a call to arms, not so much a mere plea for remembrance.
posted by fredludd at 11:56 AM on November 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


The problem with the red poppy is that is specifically refers only to those who fought. Rather than remembering veterans as victims of war, it sets them out as a class apart. The teen soldier who is killed on the battlefield is just as much a victim as the old woman who starves to death in her cottage. The white poppy remembers them both; the red poppy only those who have somehow "given their lives for our freedom". If the red poppy crowd wish to not be seen glorifying war, they can start by leaving off the uniforms and medals, waving flags, and beating drums. They can then stop calling themselves a "legion" and also start using their funds to help those victims of war not connected to the armed forces. It is not long since they were named after Earl Haig, one of the most vicious and foolish propagators of bloodshed in WWI.
posted by Thing at 11:57 AM on November 6, 2013 [24 favorites]


White poppies were pinned onto men, not in uniform, by "patriotic" young women, as a symbol of their supposed cowardice.

I thought those were white feathers, but my knowledge of this largely derives from Wikipedia and Downton Abbey.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:58 AM on November 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


As a pacifist who served in the Canadian Forces, I'm torn about the whole poppy thing.

What I'm sure about: the intended symbolism of the red poppy is to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, the whole "lest we forget" thing. Hence the association with Remembrance Day. The red of the poppy is for all the blood spilled, the colour is a patriotic coincidence and has nothing to do with the red of the red ensign, the maple leaf, or the red patch worn in WWI/WWII. Can the poppy also be a symbol of peace? I think the vast majority of Canadians would agree that anyone hanging on to the poppy as a symbol of peace is adding secondary meaning to the symbol of the poppy. The poppy is a symbol of consequences, not of actions.

What I'm not sure about: does the poppy glorify war? I'm torn between remembering buddies past, family members past, unknown soldiers, and all the victims of conflicts past and present, and drawing attention to the ever expanding military apparatus and use of conflict as a lever. I think the poppy is a valid symbol of remembrance, but any remembrance also draws attention to the fact that we continue as a society to glorify the warrior, the military, military technology, and the use of violence and terror as a means to an end. The symbol of the poppy is strongly interconnected with the military, with veterans, heck, it's trademarked by the legion, and so the association is pertinent. Since we tend not to diminish these institutions then, in a way, we are glorifying them.

I don't think we should go about repurposing the poppy, that goes against the who "lest we forget" mantra. I'd rather see another symbol be added, to better contextualize our remembrance. I'd love to see a peace symbol in the pin of each poppy.

In the end I'm not wearing a poppy this year, and haven't for the past three or four. It sucks to remember that we are not where we want to be yet. But having written this, I realize I need to be more active in promoting peace, and not simply disengage from things I no longer wish to be associated with.
posted by furtive at 12:00 PM on November 6, 2013 [31 favorites]


September 21 is International Peace Day. They should distribute and wear the white poppies of peace during the run-up to that day, and refrain from co-opting a day meant for veterans and their loved ones.
posted by rocket88 at 12:04 PM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think most Americans have a different view of WW1 than Europeans. For whatever reason, American education has tried to give the thing some sort of noble purpose. Brits and other Europeans seem to have better grasped the horrible futility of the war.
posted by Steakfrites at 12:05 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The red poppy is a symbol of needless bloodshed and betrayal. We told our soldiers they were fighting for freedom. We told them home by Christmas. We threw them in a meat grinder.

We remember their noble sacrifice and our eternal national shame. That's why Nov 11 is solemn as a tomb.

White is the colour of innocence. It is inappropriate because we as citizens of a democracy always have the blood of our soldiers on our hands.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:05 PM on November 6, 2013 [18 favorites]


dry white toast funny you mention the "Lest We Forget" line. I know it's probably supposed to be associated with the Binyon poem but I can't help but think of the more politically fraught Kipling Recessional, which was written before WWI. I think it was someone on Metafilter who pointed me to Orwell's essay on Kipling, which completely revised my view of the man.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:06 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great comment, furtive. Thank you.

I wore a red poppy as a child and teenager, have worn a white poppy in the past when I could get one, and for the last few years have't worn one at all. Of course, I'm currently living in a country where poppies for Remembrance Day are not a thing at all. (Switzerland.) For me, the main good of the white poppy is to provoke exactly this kind of conversation. What does remembrance mean, exactly? What is the glorification of war, and the army, and how can/should we avoid it? (I think we definitely should, for the record.)

---

On a far less subtle note, I was revolted to see this picture today, tweeted by the Royal British Legion's official account. It's of four children holding giant plastic poppies three of them wearing t-shirts that read: Future Soldier. Unbelievable.
posted by daisyk at 12:08 PM on November 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


I thought those were white feathers, but my knowledge of this largely derives from Wikipedia and Downton Abbey.

My (American) grandfather happened to be in Canada before the US got involved and was given one of these. Not sure if it had any effect on his entering the army when America did enter.
posted by BWA at 12:09 PM on November 6, 2013


Okay, thinking about it a bit more, perhaps that photo's not 'unbelievable' as such, but it's still awful.
posted by daisyk at 12:12 PM on November 6, 2013


On a far less subtle note, I was revolted to see this picture today, tweeted by the Royal British Legion's official account. It's of four children holding giant plastic poppies three of them wearing t-shirts that read: Future Soldier. Unbelievable.

Good word, that's horrific.
posted by Thing at 12:13 PM on November 6, 2013


Yeah, regardless of what people may have been taught about the red poppy or what textual analysis we can do on the poem, what we are taught about a symbol and what that symbol actually means are often (always?) two different things. Similarly in the US, the yellow ribbon is a reference to a song about waiting for a veteran to come back home. You would think that it was a message of peace. That does not appear to be how it is interpreted by many who use the symbol (on their cars or otherwise).

It is possible for people to view the poppy as a sign of peace and for others to disagree with that notion in good faith.

(As a side note, the author of the piece in the last link should be fired and never so much as allowed near a typewriter again).
posted by Inkoate at 12:18 PM on November 6, 2013


but almost everyone I know (not exactly a war mongering lot) wears red poppies because it's exactly about remembering the horror of war, and the sacrifice of so many people.

My dad was a veteran, saw serious combat in WW2, and never spoke a remotely pro-war (or pro-even violence) word to me. And every November, he'd stick a red poppy in his collar.

That's good enough for me.
posted by philip-random at 12:22 PM on November 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


It's also a great way to remember that all those Canadian soldiers went there to help the good old British Empire, that glorious thing, or France, which had traded them for a bunch of sugar islands some decades before. And, of course, how fun the conscription debate was.

And say what you will about Haig, at least he wasn't John French.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:29 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Similarly in the US, the yellow ribbon is a reference to a song about waiting for a veteran to come back home.

Mmm, it contains the lyric "I'm really still in prison, and my love she holds the key". So no, not so much veteran as convict.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:33 PM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


This thread has shown me that people have very individual mindsets concerning the poppies and what they mean, and that the decision to wear a white or red poppy or no poppy is a very personal one, and I have no quarrel with any one else's decision as I expect them not to quarrel with mine.

As for myself, I'm making a white felt poppy pin to wear for the next week or so, because to me the white poppy symbolizes peace and remembrance while the red poppy stands for remembrance and military associations.
posted by orange swan at 12:34 PM on November 6, 2013


Growing up in Newfoundland in the 70s I remember the poppies, my impressions even as a child was of them being a reminder of the soldiers killed in war, not of "rah rah war!". I do absolutely agree there should be something to mark ALL those affected by war. But that should be something that stands alone and not something trying to co-opt a different symbol.

If you're a public figure and you're seen not wearing one on TV in the run-up to Remembrance Day, you'll attract a lot of attention and be expected to justify your decision.


Already kind of beaten to the punch, but was going to remark on how this is so similar to flag pins in the US (a la Obama during the first Prez run).
posted by edgeways at 12:35 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I rather have a problem with the red poppy when I see things like this. I visited Canada's war memorial in Vimy Ridge last year and the experience made my blood run a little cold, but for the wrong reasons. The video I watched in the visitor's center and the pictures and text displayed gave a clear message that Canada was proud of what her soldiers had accomplished, that the war had been a "trial by fire" from which we emerged as a grown nation, that we lament the sacrifice and the bloodshed but we can hold our head high and speak of our dead as heroes. But I saw nothing to be proud of and I still don't.

I respect the right of people to feel the way they do. I do not begrudge people their red poppies and I understand they may wear them understanding them to be symbols of peace and sacrifice. But I myself am deeply conflicted about the messaging I feel behind this symbol in the modern era, and I don't wear the poppy anymore. From my earliest education as a child I have absorbed messaging about Canada's military history that was strong on patriotic pride, and you will forgive me if I find it difficult to disentangle the poppy and its message of peace from the background noise. Even the poem is a profoundly mixed message, yes it regrets the sacrifice, but it says courage and press the fight, it became powerful government propaganda during that war, and today if one regrets the utter waste and pointlessness of war it is hard to identify with cries to hold high the torch and take up the quarrel. Today the poppy honours veterans from Afghanistan in a conflict that has none of the rhetorical grandeur of the past wars, and which is an active political issue (or has been in recent years), but all politicians wear the poppy like a shield at this time of year -- not doing so is unthinkable -- and thus it gains power. It is hard to simultaneously wear the poppy and publicly decry military intervention, reject nationalistic pride, and proclaim the senselessness of war, as one may be accused of devaluing the sacrifices our veterans made. Yet, one must wear the poppy.

I would wear a white one, personally, I do support what it stands for, but by wearing it I would be implicitly challenging those wearing red, and I have no desire to do so. These are delicate subjects. But I don't like how easily the symbol of the poppy and the rhetoric of peace and honour can be (and often is) twisted into a pro-military message. Maybe I'll wear a red and a white together.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:39 PM on November 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


On a far less subtle note, I was revolted to see this picture today, tweeted by the Royal British Legion's official account. It's of four children holding giant plastic poppies three of them wearing t-shirts that read: Future Soldier. Unbelievable.

Back in my young day, a kid wearing a "future soldier" shirt would be doing it as an act of punk rock provocation, with the meaning being "combat fodder for the state". I don't think even a fairly conservative person would have viewed joining the military as an actively great career choice, except from a "well, our other options are so shit" standpoint, and no one would have put that on a t-shirt.

They were handing out poppies here in the US when I was a kid, so early eighties.
posted by Frowner at 12:39 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another American who has never heard of this tradition nor saw anyone wearing poppies growing up. I grew up in the midwest for what it is worth.

Although this does help explain why I see all the managers in the BPL wearing poppies. I have been wondering about that for the past couple of years.
posted by nolnacs at 12:40 PM on November 6, 2013


Mmm, it contains the lyric "I'm really still in prison, and my love she holds the key". So no, not so much veteran as convict.

"Tie a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree" and "She wore a yellow ribbon" are different songs. The latter has the lyric "And if you ask her why the heck she wore it /
She wore it for her soldier who was far far away".
posted by gregjones at 12:40 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


sio42 -- having the poppy on your corkboard indicates that it's not a "thing" in the US the way it is in Canada (Ontario, at least. Can't speak for the rest of the country). Putting it anywhere other than pinned over your heart is considered somewhat disrespectful around these parts.

Having lived in both Alberta and Ontario, a poppy on a corkboard means you bought/found a poppy and need somewhere to stick it so it doesn't poke anyone. There's probably a poppy stuck on a cubicle somewhere in my office right now.

The people who take poppies most seriously seem to be actual veterans, as well as politicians and the TV media. Gotta wear that thing when you're seen in public. Note how Rob Ford wears a poppy in his latest crack-related press conferences.

I wouldn't connect it with the yellow ribbon, though. The red poppy doesn't mean you support what the troops are doing today, and it doesn't glorify war. It is about recognizing the terrible cost of the world wars.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:42 PM on November 6, 2013


I kind of wish there were light blue poppies to promote our support of the long history of involvement we have with UN peacekeeping operations. Let's just go full balls/ovaries-out and politicize the poppy.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:46 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I think most Americans have a different view of WW1 than Europeans. For whatever reason, American education has tried to give the thing some sort of noble purpose. Brits and other Europeans seem to have better grasped the horrible futility of the war."

Those would be fighting words in Belgium.

The reasons for fighting in the Great War are largely forgotten, but they were very real, halting German Imperialism was very much not pointless. For a taste of what that really meant to people in the small countries of Europe check out the remarkably gripping Judicial Report on the Sacking of Louvain by the Flemish Professor Leon van der Essen, which is written with remarkable neutrality and conspicuous respect for truth. The report is euphemistically circumspect about the fate of women in Leuven, and what exactly the Germans did to priests, in the style of the time but don't be fooled. For the 'other side' of the story, this is the official German statement on what happened and a telegram to Wilson by the Kaiser that mentions it.

Also, here is a documentary,
Under the Eagle (50:03) The German invasion of Belgium and France was brutal and fanned the flames of war
posted by Blasdelb at 12:48 PM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Tie a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree" and "She wore a yellow ribbon" are different songs.

Curse you and your inconvenient facts! (Thanks, that was a lacuna in my cultural underpinnings. Wondered why felt so breezy down there.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:50 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let's just go full balls/ovaries-out and politicize the poppy.

I suppose the argument is it's too late for that -- it was politicized from the start.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:51 PM on November 6, 2013


Indeed, invading Belgium and committing war crimes there meant the war was pretty much lost as soon as it began, since it cemented Britain's entry into the war, and hence the sea blockade that made Germany's position untenable.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:54 PM on November 6, 2013


maybe the mocking of non-uniformed men was done with white feathers, not poppies....I will see if I can find a reference to this when I get home
posted by thelonius at 12:57 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "Hardcore History" podcast recently posted part 1 of a series on WWI. This first part is three hours long, and Dan Carlin goes into great length about why the whole thing is so wasteful and futile and dumb:
Show 50 - Blueprint for Armageddon
posted by wenestvedt at 12:58 PM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Always been a pacifist and never fell for some power-hungry twit wanting to use people as disposable pawns, but white poppies seem pretty much like unoriginal slacktivism endorsed by those who just like to seem more moral than everyone else. Red poppies don't glorify war but remind us not to get too cocky or take peace for granted.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:11 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is a service on top of Great Gable in the English Lake District every year. The mountain was bought by the early climbers - most of whom were killed in the first World War, and donated to the National Trust.

There are a few words from the climbing club and National Trust and then the two minutes silence.

I don't care what colour your poppy is, but if you cant join in and silently give a thought for all those lives lost and damaged, yesterday and today, just 120 seconds, then you're missing out on something important. Millions of ordinary people coming together.
posted by quarsan at 1:11 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm from the south (Texas and Georgia) and have never seen locals wearing poppies at this time of year, not even veterans.

However, I have totally worn lilacs on the Glorious 25th of May.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:14 PM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Today the poppy honours veterans from Afghanistan

The Canadian Afghanistan war stopped making sense by about 2002 but we kept our soldiers in Kandahar for another decade, dying by the dozen. For me, remembering that war is much like remembering WWI - pointless bloodshed we ordered our soldiers into.

On the theme of betrayal:

Prior to the 2nd Battle of Paschendaele, Canadian General Arthur Currie protested to Haig that the village could only be taken at a cost of 16,000 Canadian casualties and was not strategically significant. Haig overruled him. In the end it cost 15,654 casualties and had no strategic significance.

For a WWII example, see Dieppe.

The civilian government and electorate of Canada do this sort of thing to our soldiers on a fairly regular basis, most recently in Afghanistan. We have no right to say "not in our name." Each of us is complicit, having allowed the election and reelection of the representative governments that put our soldiers in Afghanistan and kept them there. Those of us who were against the war when it mattered should remember our failure to stop it. No Canadian has the right to pretend that we are innocent and wear white.

(I am aware that symbols mean different things to different people, but wearing a white poppy does not have the same meaning now in the immediate aftermath of a long war that it might have had as a preventative political statement pre-war.)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:15 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The centre of the Australian War Memorial is a courtyard flanked by long cloisters, lined with bronze panels. On the panels are a list of dead Australians, who gave their lives during a long list of wars, 'emergencies', police actions, and peace keeping missions. The bronze panels aren't flush with their neighbours - there's a little gap between each one, just the right size so that when you find your great-grandfather, uncle, brother, daughter or friend, you can leave a poppy next to their name.

I was a little surprised to find out that poppies and Australia goes back to 1921:
The Australian Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League (the forerunner to the RSL) first sold poppies for Armistice Day in 1921. For this drive, the league imported one million silk poppies, made in French orphanages. Each poppy was sold for a shilling: five pence was donated to a charity for French children, six pence went to the League's own welfare work, and one penny went to the League's national coffers.
There are two other things that you might find in Australian lapels at another time of year - rosemary and Legacy pins.
posted by zamboni at 1:16 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's sad but also kind of nice that we've reached a point where people can think the poppies glorify war. In the past the cost of Canada's wars was so obvious it wasn't necessary to point out the meaning of "Lest we forget." Every family had lost a husband, brother, cousin or friend, or had a loved one come back physically broken.

But we've had almost seventy years of peace since WWII, and the peacekeeping and police actions between then and now have been fought by volunteers. It's been so long since a generation has been called to war we've almost forgotten the mixture of bitterness and patriotism that lies beneath the surface of Remembrance Day.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:19 PM on November 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


I always associate poppies with this time of year and Veteran's Day, and I also grew up in the Midwest. However, my grandfather was heavily involved in both the VFW (the "vee eff dubya")and American Legion, and my dad was Commander of his American Legion post for a while.

They used the money generated from poppy sales for the upkeep of veterans' graves and to help offset the cost of memorial services, as I recall.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:21 PM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


My grandfathers fought in the first world war, my father in the second and I consider myself and those of my generation enormously fortunate not to have had to follow in their footsteps.
I wear a poppy for them.
posted by islander at 1:32 PM on November 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


I respect what each individual decides with respect with what they do with the poppies, but here's why I wear the red poppy.

Canadian troops were sent into Hong Kong to defend against that Japanese invasion of the British Colony and the Mainland in general. They were hopelessly outgunned and the Colony fell to Japanese control. These Canadian kids - most of whom had not seen much of the world beyond their home provinces - were subjected to some of the most absolute horrors of WW II and spent most of it in hellish POW camps.

My mother lost 5 sisters during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong through starvation and capture by the Japanese troops. But she and my grandmother are forever grateful for the sacrifices these troops made in the face of hopeless odds to try to proctect Hong Kong and the families that lived there. It still breaks my mother's heart to think of kids that were sent halfway around the world, to a completely foreign country, and yet be willing to serve in the way they did.

We can argue the merits of colonialism, the British rule of Hong Kong and calling in the troops from far flung corners of the "Empire" - but I think its worth remembering the young men and women who came to the defense of my family.
posted by helmutdog at 1:33 PM on November 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


My grandfather fought in WW2, my other one was in the merchant marine facing U - boats. I wear it for them and all the others who sacrificed. Lest we forget, no glorification at all.
posted by arcticseal at 1:40 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lest we forget, all those plastic poppies end up in landfills.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:50 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up in the American midwest with military parents (and grandfathers on both sides) and now live in the UK in a city where the Royal Navy is the biggest industry we have.

As a kid I occasionally saw poppies around 11 Nov ("Veteran's Day" in the US, not "Remembrance Day") which my parents would quickly purchase if they saw someone selling them. But it was a purchase and wear for the day kind of thing, not a two-week poppy-wearing extravaganza. Veteran's Day was pitched as a day to thank veterans for their service, a day which coincidentally overlapped "Armistice Day". My mother (retired USAF) always got very upset if no one thanked her for her service on Veteran's Day and was always upset that it wasn't a proper federal holiday that everyone got off. She also was furious when one year the bleeding heart liberal Berkeley grad history department head at my high school read In Flanders Fields during morning announcements, instead of letting a veteran come speak to the students.

So it was much to my surprise when I discovered during my first Remembrance Day service last year that in the UK it's so very much about the veterans of one awful war, not today's veterans living in the shadow of Vietnam and war protests. Yes, I totally felt like a social pariah after it took me about a week to realize I was like the only person not sporting a poppy, and I was happy enough to do so, and found the Remembrance Day services at the local war memorial very solemn and touching. It's a 100% different experience than what I was taught about Veteran's Day in the US. I think the "Lest We Forget" part of it is critical to what that day is supposed to symbolize, and it was something I never ever heard in the US.

Also my husband reminds me to remind all y'all that whether or not you buy into the poppy wearing, at least in the Commonwealth countries, donating to the Poppy Appeal et al does support important charities. Unlike, say, buying a yellow ribbon car magnet at Wal-Mart.
posted by olinerd at 1:50 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I want a special-coloured poppy just for me, and it has a special meaning that only I know about.

What's that? I should fuck off and make it myself? Oh.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:51 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that there isn't a connection made between Canadians wearing a poppy and Americans putting a yellow Support The Troops sticker on the back of their car, insofar as most people who do these things often have no connection with vets or have never had to suffer the consequences of wars they support.

Every poppy sold in Canada goes directly to supporting veterans' charities.

As for the symbolism, no matter how McRae's poem was used in 1915, the red poppy now is always taught as a symbol of blood and remembrance. Some schools combine it with paper cranes as well, for the civilian casualties of war.
posted by jb at 1:55 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, we did that in junior high school. Then (I think) the cranes were sent to Hiroshima.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:04 PM on November 6, 2013


Lest we forget, all those plastic poppies end up in landfills.
posted by Sys Rq


I was just thinking about this yesterday when I managed to poke a hole in myself with the exposed end of my poppy's pin. I'd happily pay $20 for a more durable, less pointed perma-poppy that I could wear for a week or ten days every year, then retire for the rest.

Doesn't mean I'd stop dropping coins into vet's donation boxes every November.
posted by philip-random at 2:12 PM on November 6, 2013


The ex is Canadian and was in the RCAF for three years. I lived in Canada for two years. The Remembrance poppy is cheap and ubiquitous. The role it serves is similar to a US flag lapel pin but without being explicitly nationalistic. It's a way for Canadians to differentiate themselves from the bellicosity shown by the US and simultaneously demonstrate apologetic patriotism. There was one on the left lapel of the suit worn by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at his press conference yesterday.
posted by vapidave at 2:20 PM on November 6, 2013


On a far less subtle note, I was revolted to see this picture today, tweeted by the Royal British Legion's official account. It's of four children holding giant plastic poppies three of them wearing t-shirts that read: Future Soldier. Unbelievable.

That's made my mind up. It's the white poppy for me only this year. If you are actively using the poppy to recruit kids to the army you haven't learned a damn thing and the remembrance is glorification.
posted by Francis at 2:23 PM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was wrong about white poppies; it was, indeed, feathers.

"Order of the White Feather" - my God. The war propaganda of course eagerly exploited cultural traditions of the heroic, as if these poor kids were going to go out and duel with Trojan warriors, instead of being cut down en masse by shellfire and machine guns.
posted by thelonius at 2:36 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel more conflicted about poppies being made by convicts.

What's to be conflicted about? Convicts gotta work, too, and the proceeds for poppies go to charity AFAIK. Convicts in Canada make a whole lot of stuff, some of which may even be in your office. CORCAN is generally considered pretty beneficial in terms of teaching work skills for employment once the convicts finish their sentences. Provided people are willing to hire them, of course. Which is a problem.
posted by Hoopo at 2:40 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Order of the White Feather"

...kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments...
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:47 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's the problem...are they "Persian White" poppies?
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 2:48 PM on November 6, 2013


The German invasion of Belgium and France was brutal and fanned the flames of war

Yes, but in retrospect, our (British) national interest was not served by our participation in the First World War. It cost too much in money and men. Hence our belief that it was futile and pointless. Maybe if WWI hadn't led to WWII twenty years later we'd be more positive about it, as we are about WWII.
posted by alasdair at 3:00 PM on November 6, 2013


For several years, I imported white poppies from the PPU and you could get them from the Toronto Friends Meeting House. There were no threats from anyone.

Canada's exceptionally militaristic, with all the stuff about 1914 defining the nation recently bandied about. It was the first time that Canada was allowed to send forces under its own name.

The PPU poppies remember all victims of war - civilian and military - and support education to reduce our reliance on war when society fails us. Naïve? Maybe, but it's gotta be worth a try.
posted by scruss at 3:03 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can I wear a puppy instead?
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:19 PM on November 6, 2013


White poppies were pinned onto men, not in uniform, by "patriotic" young women, as a symbol of their supposed cowardice.

hmmm, are you not confusing them with white feathers?
posted by Bwithh at 3:23 PM on November 6, 2013


"Brits and other Europeans seem to have better grasped the horrible futility of the war."

As the UK marks the centenary over 4 years, there has been quite a bit of debate over whether the dominant "WWI was simply a pointless horrific war" (esp. compared with the WW2's "great good war") view is too simplistic. Of course one can believe it was a just war to engage in while still finding the ways that it was fought (lions led by donkeys etc.) absolutely appalling.
posted by Bwithh at 3:33 PM on November 6, 2013


CORCAN is generally considered pretty beneficial in terms of teaching work skills for employment once the convicts finish their sentences.

Yes, now they have the marketable skill of pushing pins into holes, plus the vets get more money per poppy because they're made with slave labour. Win-win! Or, you know, completely fucked up.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:33 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Yes, but in retrospect, our (British) national interest was not served by our participation in the First World War. It cost too much in money and men. Hence our belief that it was futile and pointless. Maybe if WWI hadn't led to WWII twenty years later we'd be more positive about it, as we are about WWII."
My understanding has been that Britain entered the war, at least in part, because some things are more important than whatever national interest is supposed to mean.

This was a war that desperately needed to be made an anachronism and the only plausible way to do that was with force. The western front was started to steal the bells out of churches, the scientific and cultural treasures out of museums, the wine out of cellars, and the food out of peoples mouths so that soldiers could "live off the land" like they were medieval conquerors. With hindsight we now know that the effort failed at Versailles where the miserably vain wrath of men like Clemenceau who were already drawing up plans for the next great war, dooming the sacrifices of so many to irrelevance next to what they were made for, but they didn't know that then.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:52 PM on November 6, 2013


Just returned from Scotland and they were all over the place there. I'm not keen about the symbolism here. The poem is clearly not anti-war, but it should be. It highlights the insanty of sending young people to kill each other en masse.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:54 PM on November 6, 2013


I was in Canada last November and heard on the CBC about how the legion was going after a woman who was selling knitted poppies she had made with a group of her friends.
However, the gift shop at the McCrae home in Guelph sells leather poppy pins (they don't look like the ubiquitous ones) with impunity.
posted by brujita at 3:57 PM on November 6, 2013


Poppies are certainly not a thing in the US (or not all of it) in the way they are elsewhere. As a project for a folklore class, I took myself to the San Francisco Veterans Day Parade one year and (among other things) interviewed people wearing blue poppies sold by the Disabled American Veterans. It was pretty clear that those people had zero context for poppies whatsoever and they were pro-war types who had bought poppies on the grounds that they were 'supporting the troops'. (And, no, I'm not inventing their politics. They felt the need to tell me about their politics and what they imagined mine were (namely the same as theirs).)

What.

I'm a 30 year old uberliberal from the Northeast and we have always bought poppies from veterans around Veteran's Day. My husband does, too--and has memories of being encouraged to do so as a child, as a way to remember the young men and women who fought in various wars. We both had grandfathers who fought in WWII, and while neither of our sets of parents served, my parents were extremely patriotic peacenik hippies, who encouraged the practice, too.

We probably have a whole garland of them hanging from our rear view mirror in our car. It might not be a custom on the same scale as in other places (they're not pins here, but on little dangly things you're supposed to clip into your lapel) but it's definitely a custom. I'm sort of shocked that there are other Americans who have never heard of it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:07 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, now they have the marketable skill of pushing pins into holes, plus the vets get more money per poppy because they're made with slave labour. Win-win! Or, you know, completely fucked up.

I have been paid by the Federal Government to remove staples from Census forms in the past. It paid pretty well, and we definitely had a couple of ex-cons in the warehouse. There are low-skill, repetitive tasks that need to be done sometimes, too, and being exposed to that is probably better than not considering the difficulty facing those with criminal records trying to find jobs.

In terms of remuneration, a lot of what CORCAN does is essentially job training for people who are incarcerated. These guys do not make a lot of money and the Conservatives are trying to claw back even more for "room and board", which I thought was already factored in and the basis for paying only 50 cents to $2.30 per hour. That's low but I don't think someone in prison should necessarily get market wages and I don't think putting convicts to work while they are incarcerated is necessarily "fucked up".
posted by Hoopo at 4:40 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]



Just returned from Scotland and they were all over the place there. I'm not keen about the symbolism here. The poem is clearly not anti-war, but it should be. It highlights the insanty of sending young people to kill each other en masse.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:54 PM on November 6 [+] [!]


On the other hand, virtually everyone in the UK knows about Remembrance Day red poppies and what they mean but not many of them know about the poem, and few could tell you what the poem says.
posted by Bwithh at 4:53 PM on November 6, 2013


It might not be a custom on the same scale as in other places (they're not pins here, but on little dangly things you're supposed to clip into your lapel) but it's definitely a custom.

It's not a custom in California. My grandfathers and step-uncle were veterans. I've never seen anyone wear a poppy here, ever.

The U.S. is a big place. It doesn't surprise me at all to find customs in other parts don't exist here.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:57 PM on November 6, 2013


Wilfred Owen's explicitly anti-war patriotism-skeptic poem Dulce et Decorum est and Rupert Brooke's patriotic but simply-mourning poem The Soldier are more widely known WWI poems in the UK than In Flanders Field.
posted by Bwithh at 4:58 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have been paid by the Federal Government to remove staples from Census forms in the past. It paid pretty well, and we definitely had a couple of ex-cons in the warehouse. There are low-skill, repetitive tasks that need to be done sometimes, too, and being exposed to that is probably better than not considering the difficulty facing those with criminal records trying to find jobs.

And these low-skill, repetitive tasks, they require a lot of "training," hm?

It's not so easy to get a job these days even if you weren't in prison. It doesn't help that the low-skill jobs are given to prisoners because they're cheap.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:01 PM on November 6, 2013


Today on CIUT-FM, Classical Underground did an Alternative Remembrance Day Show.

(Classical music, critical commentary with a progressive view, Wilfred Owen poetry)

I'm a fan. This show is great.
posted by ovvl at 5:03 PM on November 6, 2013


Yes, red poppies are (or at least were) a thing in the U.S.. In rural Missouri where I grew up, the American Legion gave them out for Veterans day and/or Memorial day. It was a well-known custom. American Legionnaires would stand in the middle of main street, and everybody would give a few cents and take a "poppy."

According to their web page, they still do, though where I currently live, in somewhat more urban Virginia, there seem to be no discernible customs of any kind...

Anyway, according to that page, as you can see, "The poppy became a symbol of the sacrifice of lives in war and represented the hope that none had died in vain."
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:08 PM on November 6, 2013


Another difference--but as someone said upthread, the US is a big place--I've noticed in terms of remembering the dead from WWI and WWII, is that here in Canada, no matter how small the town, there is a cenotaph. It's very obvious, very beautiful, very solemn. But no place I've ever lived in the South ever had a very public cenotaph commemorating those particular dead. Sure, for the Civil War, maybe for Vietnam or the Korean War, but not one for the first Great Wars. (Again, I may be wrong. Totally possible.)

The WWI/WWII cenotaph seems to be something that is ubiquitous in Canada, the UK, and Europe for some reason.
posted by Kitteh at 5:16 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


And these low-skill, repetitive tasks, they require a lot of "training," hm?

It depends on what training you are hoping to provide. No, there are not a great deal of jobs out there for poppy-pin-pusher-throughers and you won't get any particularly valuable skill out of the tasks themselves. But there are inmates that have not had a great deal of experience with a typical work environment and this kind of work can be valuable for those inmates. And the prison work programs like CORCAN have graduated levels that you work through as well, so this sort of thing would represent a pretty low rung for just that type of inmate--you would likely not have a guy with a welding license doing this sort of work. But through CORCAN an inmate can actually get a welding apprenticeship while in jail.

It's not so easy to get a job these days even if you weren't in prison. It doesn't help that the low-skill jobs are given to prisoners because they're cheap.

This is apropos of nothing unless you're arguing that prisoners should not be able to work.
posted by Hoopo at 5:16 PM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


you're arguing that prisoners should not be able to work

...for practically nothing.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:22 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh, when I say "for some reason," I know the reason, I just meant that we Americans--at least ones in my part of the States--never bothered to do this.

Sorry.
posted by Kitteh at 5:24 PM on November 6, 2013


Britain was right to fight Imperial Germany in 1914.

The British war effort made sense, initially. Germany's invasion of Belgium was a huge escalation and German militarists had gotten pretty excited about redrawing the map of Europe. However, as stalemate settled in it should have been clear that a fair negotiated settlement was necessary. Everything after the Christmas Truce was an obscenity.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:13 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


In terms of remuneration, a lot of what CORCAN does is essentially job training for people who are incarcerated. These guys do not make a lot of money and the Conservatives are trying to claw back even more for "room and board", which I thought was already factored in and the basis for paying only 50 cents to $2.30 per hour. That's low but I don't think someone in prison should necessarily get market wages and I don't think putting convicts to work while they are incarcerated is necessarily "fucked up".

If it's rehabilitative, like the prison farms the Conservatives have tried to close, or some thing like woodworking training, then it seems compassionate.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:47 PM on November 6, 2013


I donate to the Legion and to a charity that works in war zones every year, but I don't wear a poppy, and I've always been disturbed by the fact that this inevitably invites questions and criticism. The red poppy may represent the darkness of war, but it was a romanticized and limited darkness that was presented to me growing up: noble sacrifice, and maybe lost youth, but certainly not boats of Jewish refugees turned away at Canadian ports, and Japanese-Canadians being sent to prison camps, and First Nations enlistees barred from the Navy and Air Force and denied veteran support at home. I respect those who chose to serve honourably, and I am angry for those who were lost needlessly, and I have pity for those who came back changed for the worse, but I have trouble viewing war as something that unites us as a country instead of something that divides us as people.
posted by northernish at 6:58 PM on November 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


My white poppy was made by a WWII vet.
posted by chapps at 7:08 PM on November 6, 2013


In all my schooling and life I have never met anyone who didn't see the red poppy as a symbol of the horror of what war can do. Surprised to hear it heard as glorification.

I think it just depends where you're from. At my high school (deep in Stockwell Day country, BC), they were definitely a glorification. The Remembrance Day ceremony speech was always repellently jingoistic, and doubled as a recruitment drive for the cadets.

We hadn't heard of the white poppy, so many of us would protest the speech each year by drawing a black line across a red poppy, like a No Smoking sign. It was bratty, for sure, and in a different town where the symbol read as somber instead of celebratory, it'd have been a nasty thing to do. But wearing the normal poppy at those particular events, where the message was so rah-rah-rah, seemed like complicity.
posted by Beardman at 7:12 PM on November 6, 2013


my awesome friend, who is in the Canadian military, sparked a debate with this fb comment today:

Several of my friends are offended by the white poppy movement. This surprises me because we, as soldiers, sailors and airmen and women, fight for the right to live in peace and with full freedoms. The white poppy has a long and honourable tradition of opposition to war in all its forms. The red poppy reminds us to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace and freedom. On Remembrance Day I will proudly wear the red poppy and recall my friends who died in Afghanistan and those of our forefathers who died in earlier wars....but I also wear the white poppy to show my desire for enduring peace. I wish for an end to war and take no offence to those who support peace. As a member of the military, I have a vested interest in peace... I don't want to leave my children orphaned or my husband a widower, and I don't want friends and colleagues to die. The white poppy movement takes nothing away from those who remember fallen comrades. I for one, would give anything if it would bring back friends who died in Afghanistan.

posted by chapps at 7:19 PM on November 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


Count me as another anti-war Canadian who nonetheless wears a red poppy this time of year without fail.
posted by modernnomad at 7:35 PM on November 6, 2013


That we think it's noble for our fellow humans to die in squalor in a muddy ditch, trying, themselves to kill a person in the other ditch, who--odds are--are essentially identical to them in deed and thought--is one of the most repellent things about human beings.
posted by maxwelton at 7:36 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm another conflicted one. When I was growing up the message was pretty much one of remembrance, and while In Flanders Fields was always read (Heck, I even memorized it and read it at the Remembrance Day assembly-- I still know almost all of it by heart), there were usually other poems read, and class discussion (Which is how I learned of Dulce et Decorum est, one of my favourite poems).

Also, both my Great-Grandfather Brown & MacKinnon fought in WWI, for a lot of years, and as far as we can tell, both were at Vimy. My Great-Grandfather MacKinnon's paybook even as some poppies pressed into the pages. He also was the only one of 12+ men that he talked into going off to war with him to survive.

On the other hand, I've seen more and more connection with a support out troops mentality in the last decade or so; the highway of heroes, much stronger connections to current veterans rather then WWII ones, and so on.

Thus I'm conflicted. I've not bought one yet, and am still debating if I will buy one by Monday. I probably will if I see someone selling one, since the money does go towards helping veterans, which I think is a good thing.

Also: Am I the only one who finds it weird that BC has Nov 11th as a holiday? In Ontario it was brought up a few times, but they always decided they'd rather have it be a sombre occasion, rather then becoming yet another long weekend.
posted by Canageek at 8:35 PM on November 6, 2013


@Canageek, it's not just a holiday in BC. It's a holiday in several provinces. My grandfathers, who fought in WWII, and my grandmothers were very glad for it to become a holiday because they could take the day to pay their respects, watch the service on TV or in person, go visit friends or visit vets alone in the hospital, and so on. It was a very solemn occasion in my family and they really needed the day off. So did both my grandmothers, who appreciated the chance to have their husbands and children around them, as both had lived through the war, one being bombed out in her city and the other living through war time in Canada. Today, I am thankful that my more recent veteran relatives have a day when they can go to services, deal with the fallout of their PTSD, and not have to show up at work (if so lucky to have that kind of job).

I am not offended by people who want to wear white poppies. I just don't understand how a red poppy glorifies war or how it ignores the pain and suffering of all peoples. Many generations of my family have fought in or lived through wars. I was always taught that, while McCrae's poem popularized the poppy, it was about reflecting on how many people lay dead in graves around the world, with nothing more than the same little white crosses (or other markers, if they were so lucky as to even have a marker) to show they ever existed. And that we were to think of all the mothers and fathers who lost their children and all the people who were killed in friendly fire, in misguided bombings, in unrest in their own countries and so on. That we were to think very, very carefully about ever getting into a war, because of the amount of blood shed.

I was also taught that the Legion was a group that wanted peace. There was no recognition of PTSD, no support groups, no universal health care after the world wars. And the Legion, formed by veterans who knew what it was like, set up the Legions as safe havens, where you could get a cheap drink and be with people who would listen. My grandparents were involved in the Legion and they set about visiting vets who had shellshock, visiting vets who were in the hospital with no family to visit them or no one to talk to about the PTSD that had been retriggered, attending funerals to recognize the years and emotional health sacrificed and to make sure the family had support, and so on. The Legion helped send me on an international exchange with people from a culture with which Canada had once been at war, telling me they wanted me to learn about the other people and become friends with them. They also gave me money to go on a one week youth program when I was a teen. And they gave me money to go to university, with the idea that education could change the world and perhaps lead to peace. My grandfathers wanted nothing more for anyone than peace. One of my grandpas used to tell me how, at night, the Canadians and the Germans would come out of the trenches and trade stuff, like Canadian cigarettes for German chocolates, and how they were all just a bunch of scared kids who'd signed up because they needed to eat or because there was really no choice.

On Remembrance Day, I am always teary, thinking of war and the horrors of war and it's never been limited to remembering soldiers.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:50 PM on November 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


IMO, the Canadian (Harper) Government clearly doesn't give a flying fuck about its veterans. It is appalling and, oh, so angry-making. Spend a hundred million blowing smoke up our asses about some half-forgotten battle of 1812, but royally fuck over the vet just brought back from Afghanistan. Utterly despicable.

Harper. [spit]
posted by five fresh fish at 11:09 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It sounds like the Canadian and Australian experience of WW1, Remembrance Day, and the Red Poppy have quite a bit in common.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 12:31 AM on November 7, 2013


I think it is appalling how ignorant we (Americans) tend to be about the valor and losses of the Canadians in the war, and I think it's a fine custom to wear poppies to honor those dead. But these observances seem to always be assimilated into the contemporary culture of militaristic nationalism, the curse of mankind, and I do not think it is disrespectful in any way to resist that.
posted by thelonius at 3:35 AM on November 7, 2013


Yes, red poppies are (or at least were) a thing in the U.S.

Parts of the US. I can't recall having seen anyone wearing a poppy until I got involved with a Canadian, and I spent most of my childhood on military installations.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:38 AM on November 7, 2013


Julian Fantino calls white poppies 'offensive' to veterans.

I suspect the offense taken is Julian's own. I am tempted to make a special effort to wear a white poppy this year, but I'm not sure I could now without being a dick about it.
posted by scruss at 6:10 AM on November 7, 2013


Those would be fighting words in Belgium.

The reasons for fighting in the Great War are largely forgotten, but they were very real, halting German Imperialism was very much not pointless.


You have to put the war in the context of British, French and Belgian colonialism too though.
posted by ersatz at 6:45 AM on November 7, 2013


"You have to put the war in the context of British, French and Belgian colonialism too though."

...And then contrast them with the Imperial German variety.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:50 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Air Force brat here, and I've lived in most regions of the US as one point or another, and I have never noticed anyone wearing poppy anywhere. I've heard of the tradition but I thought it was exclusively a British/Commonwealth thing. Mind blown.
posted by naoko at 7:39 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My mother lost 5 sisters during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong through starvation and capture by the Japanese troops. But she and my grandmother are forever grateful for the sacrifices these troops made in the face of hopeless odds to try to proctect Hong Kong and the families that lived there. It still breaks my mother's heart to think of kids that were sent halfway around the world, to a completely foreign country, and yet be willing to serve in the way they did.

We can argue the merits of colonialism, the British rule of Hong Kong and calling in the troops from far flung corners of the "Empire" - but I think its worth remembering the young men and women who came to the defense of my family.

Lots of Dutch families who remember WW2 feel exactly the same way about Canadian troops.

My 2 cents: anyone who's been to war know how horrible it is - no glorification there. Red for me.
posted by MILNEWSca at 8:51 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


...for practically nothing.

On the low end, yes, it's very low. 50 cents an hour. On the high end, it's also low. $2.30 per hour. But this is entirely discretionary income, and doing this work is a voluntary undertaking that inmates apply for. There's only 2000 positions available for inmates, and they are generally 6 months long, so only 4000 inmates at most get to participate in any given year. Out of something like 150,000 prisoners incarcerated in Canada at any given time. This program is part of the rehabilitation process that is the basis of their being incarcerated in the first place, and it has been effective in reducing recidivism among participants.

That said I have not been following closely what the Conservatives have been doing with the program. They always have had a boner about being tougher on criminals just because, and we've had such progressive leaders as Stockwell Day and Vic Toews to demonstrate their commitment to the philosophy of "corrections" and rehabilitation of criminals. It used to be CORCAN basically only supplied the government with its products. They built lots of office furniture used in the public service buildings and worked on vehicles etc. The poppy thing is admittedly pretty low-skill to be represented as teaching anything other than good work habits. But that's also important when you are trying to "rehabilitate" someone.

It's pretty disingenuous to call a program like this slavery, and I just don't see the need to pay someone who is incarcerated and undergoing rehabilitation a wage comparable to someone outside. It's not like they have rent and food to pay for. What wage do you think they should be getting, out of curiosity?
posted by Hoopo at 10:43 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am tempted to make a special effort to wear a white poppy this year, but I'm not sure I could now without being a dick about it.

Well, that's the thing. There is a real level of dickishness with the whole white poppy movement. Peace movements are great and appreciated by most, but not when they're focused on Remembrance Day in particular and using their symbols.
To me, it's like staging a pro-Palestine rally at a Holocaust memorial. It's just the wrong time and place.
posted by rocket88 at 10:56 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me, it's like staging a pro-Palestine rally at a Holocaust memorial. It's just the wrong time and place.

I don't know if I'd go this far, because the last thing we need is bitter conflict over who's wearing which poppy, but I'd be lying if I said this doesn't speak for me to some degree.

Choosing to politicize the wearing of poppies is wrong. It doesn't matter what side you're on. If you're doing it (wearing red) to play to the SUPPORT THE TROOPS sentiments, I sincerely believe you're wrong. That's not what it's about. If you're wearing white because you want to call out red for being a glorification of war, I also believe you're wrong. Doesn't mean I'm going to fight you about it, or even argue. It's just how I feel.

The red poppy says Lest We Forget.

If you need to know what that means, I'd suggest some research.
posted by philip-random at 11:07 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just don't understand how a red poppy glorifies war or how it ignores the pain and suffering of all peoples.

Both the red poppy and Remembrance Day itself only memorialise military personnel. Military personnel are not the victims of war, they're the perpetrators. Even the "good guys." Even the conscripted.

Don't even get me started on the "Highway of Martyrs Heroes."

It's pretty disingenuous to call a program like this slavery [...] It's not like they have rent and food to pay for.

Read that a few more times and think it over.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:28 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wilfred Owen's explicitly anti-war patriotism-skeptic poem Dulce et Decorum est

That was good. Thanks for linking to it, Bwithh.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:04 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Read that a few more times and think it over.

Done. The comparison is ludicrous and that is cheap rhetoric with misleading selective quoting. There is a reason these people are incarcerated that has nothing to do with the existence of or creation of a slave class. We are not forcing people into servitude based on some arbitrary criteria. There are issues with aboriginal over-representation in prison, true, but we do not have the same prison-industrial complex that they have in the US (we have 117 per 100,000 in jail vs their 743 per 100,000 in jail), and the labor we are talking about is voluntary in any event. If your problem is with the very idea of incarcerating people, that's fine. If you think people in prison are entitled to the same wages as people outside prison and should not have to contribute to the costs of their incarceration (approx $88,000 per year) while earning and receiving training, that's also fine. I don't agree but I happen to think this year's 30% gouge of prisoners' salaries by the government was bullshit too.
posted by Hoopo at 3:52 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


> There is a real level of dickishness with the whole white poppy movement

I was meaning wearing a white poppy because Fantino hates them was being the dickishness, not the white poppy itself. The PPU movement is not a new appropriation of the image; now we have little questioning of what it is that we're exhorted not to forget.

Although the corrosive sarcasm of Owen's Dulce et Decorum est springs easily to mind right now (along with Sassoon's glibly cynical The General), it's Owen's own poem to the waste of war that speaks to me, Strange Meeting:
                           … I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.

posted by scruss at 4:06 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Poppy wearing in the run up to armistice day is such a big thing here in Scotland. I never wear one, not because of any great opposition to what they stand for, just because I think they're kind of dumb. The vast majority of wearers do it out of genuine remembrance for the war dead and I think there's a great acceptance of the futility of their sacrifice these days, not a whole lot of pro-war feeling at all. But there's definitely an undercurrent of For Queen And Country, British nationalism and a whole lot of pride in the plucky brave Tommy who died fighting the bad guys for the sake of our country and our freedoms. Which is obviously bollocks, brave they might have been but they died because they were told to. On the other hand white poppy wearering is even dumber and I'm surprised those people who feel compelled to make such a douchebag 'fuck you’ statement while the rest of their fellow citizens are being all solemn and mournful don't get punched in the mouth more often.
posted by Caskeum at 6:26 PM on November 7, 2013


When it is practically compulsory (see comments above about the UK, and I would say Australia is going down the same route) and is actually compulsory for military members (and you don't choose which poppy you wear - you have to wear the cheap, tacky looking red British Legion one) I would say it has gone past being a meaningful symbol of something and a compulsory 'well, I just have to do it, right' thing like flag pins in the US.

I've never worn one. And I am married to an Army Officer and could one day benefit from the charities that sell them, but frankly I am happy to give to charities without needing to wear a symbol of how awesome I am for supporting them, or wear a symbol because that is what 'good' people in society do.
posted by Megami at 11:02 PM on November 7, 2013


"You have to put the war in the context of British, French and Belgian colonialism too though."

>...And then contrast them with the Imperial German variety.

No need to comment on the British or French empire, but Belgians must have been shocked indeed.

As a consequence, the rubber quotas were in part paid off in chopped-off hands. Sometimes the hands were collected by the soldiers of the Force Publique, sometimes by the villages themselves. There were even small wars where villages attacked neighbouring villages to gather hands, since their rubber quotas were too unrealistic to fill.

A reduction of the population of the Congo is noted by all who have compared the country at the beginning of Leopold's control with the beginning of Belgian state rule in 1908, but estimates of the deaths toll vary considerably. Estimates of contemporary observers, as well as some modern scholars (such as Jan Vansina, professor emeritus of history and anthropology at the University of Wisconsin), suggest that the population decreased by half during this period.[14] Others dispute this; the scholars at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, find a decrease of 15% over the first forty years of colonial rule (up to the census of 1924).

In the absence of a census (the first was taken in 1924) to provide even an opening figure,[17] it is impossible to quantify population changes in the period. Despite this, Forbath claimed the loss was at least 5 million;[18] Adam Hochschild, and Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem, 10 million;[19][20] However no verifiable records exist. Louis and Stengers state that population figures at the start of Leopold's control are only "wild guesses", while calling E.D. Morel's attempt and others at coming to a figure for population losses as "but figments of the imagination".[21] To put these population changes in context sourced references state that in 1900, Africa had between 90 million[22] and 133 million people.[23]

posted by ersatz at 6:44 AM on November 8, 2013


This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time.

"I will remember friends and comrades in private next year, as the solemnity of remembrance has been twisted into a justification for conflict"
posted by beau jackson at 6:54 AM on November 8, 2013


white poppy wearering is even dumber and I'm surprised those people who feel compelled to make such a douchebag 'fuck you’ statement while the rest of their fellow citizens are being all solemn and mournful don't get punched in the mouth more often

Yeah, let's beat up everyone who wants peace. That'll show 'em who the real solemn mourners are!
posted by Sys Rq at 1:04 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mmm, it contains the lyric "I'm really still in prison, and my love she holds the key". So no, not so much veteran as convict.

An exhaustive article on the many facets of the yellow ribbon thing can be found here. Well worth the reading.
posted by BWA at 6:46 PM on November 8, 2013


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