If you were brave enough to click on this post, then please stay with me for a couple of minutes. Remember, I don’t make fun of people who wear red poppies. After all, my father was wounded for “king and country” in WWI and my namesake uncle perished in WWII. So I have solid reasons for wearing a poppy. But hear me out first before you condemn my personal action of not wearing a red poppy, an adornment Robert Fisk calls “obscene fashion appendage – inspired by a pro-war poem.”
November 11 is Remembrance Day. In Canada it is a federal statutory holiday (except in the provinces of Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, and three Territories). Wikipedia says it is
a Commonwealth holiday (observed in all Commonwealth countries except Mozambique) to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice).
Canadian Conrad Stoesz of the Mennonite religious persuasion writes why he doesn’t wear a red poppy. Instead, he wears a red pin made by Mennonite Central Committee that says, “To Remember is to Work for Peace.” He also promotes a website about conscientious objectors (COs).
Too often remembering is used to glorify war. When we speak of those who died in war, we often say “hero,” “buried with full military honours,” “he believed in the mission,” “died fighting for her country,” or “died for our freedom.” If we didn’t use such language, fewer would probably join the army. Remembrance Day services make me uneasy because they focus too much on those who died on “our side,” and, by implication, on God’s side. How often do we recall the larger picture – the loss of hopes and dreams, loss of innocence, psychological torment, and broken bodies regardless of allegiance? In WWII Canada lost some 45,000 soldiers. Germany lost 4 million soldiers and 2 million civilians. In total, more than 50 million people died as a result of the war.
Many people link their yearly commemoration of Canadian soldiers with support for current military missions. Take for example the classic and oft-cited Canadian poem, “In Flanders Fields.” Even though author John McCrae witnessed the horrific events of WWI, in part his poem is a call to continue the fight – to “take up our quarrel with the foe . . . ”
I believe it’s possible to acknowledge the sincerity of those who served but also question the use of force to achieve political goals. I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones but not in order to “take up our quarrel with the foe.” For me, the poppy carries too much of this baggage.
The Mennonite Brethren church stands firmly in the Anabaptist peace tradition. Our confession states, “We view violence in its many different forms as contradictory to the new nature of the Christian. We believe that the evil and inhumane nature of violence is contrary to the gospel of love and peace. In times of national conscription or war, we believe we are called to give alternative service where possible. Alleviating suffering, reducing strife, and promoting justice are ways of demonstrating Christ’s love.”
In WWII nearly 11,000 men of various backgrounds and faiths chose not to participate in violence but to serve in other ways. Mennonite Brethren leaders were instrumental in securing alternative options to carrying a gun designed to kill other humans. Over 7,500 of these COs were of Mennonite faith. The contribution they made was significant and still ongoing. It’s a part of Canadian history that needs attention in Canadian schools.
The CO story is vastly overshadowed. We are shelled everyday with images, stories, and glorification of war and violence. We need to hear our church’s viewpoint on this issue more than ever because the voices of the world are loud and penetrating with little thought of collateral damage.
U.S. president John F. Kennedy is quoted as saying, “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” Even if J.F.K. is only half right, we whose history is rich in promotion of peace need to take every opportunity to tell the conscientious objector story for the good of our church and the world.
That’s why I don’t wear a poppy.
Is conscientious objector Conrad unpatriotic for not wearing a poppy? In my opinion, he is more patriotic than radical Christian Zionists who actually pray for war. If you like praying for war, here is a real war prayer: watch it.
Much of the Remembrance Day celebration becomes somewhat of an industry. Take for example the Royal Canadian Legion—an outfit that claims to remember the soldiers “who gave their lives that freedom might prevail.” ‘Donations’ are fixed retail prices if you want a red poppy or wreath at the Legion’s booth before Remembrance Day. But more than that, the Legion actually opposes freedom when it cuts into their profits. It claims to own the red war poppy and sues even war veterans who use it without the Legion’s “permission”. The Legion scoffs at the patriotic folks who wear the white peace poppy. For example, the Canadian Legion threatened to sue a distributor of white poppies! And the threats still continue. Did your loved ones die in the Great War for this kind of “freedom”? My father was shot in the head by a sniper and now I have to pay to wear a red war poppy? No thanks.
Some of us wear red poppies today to remember the dead soldiers of World War I, but we are never taught to remember those who start wars and profit from them. You’ll be surprised and you ought to be outraged that our history books are merely propaganda by the “winners” of wars. Just a quick example about WWII: How many students know that Churchill’s great wartime speech “We shall fight them on the beaches” was given by a stand-in actor? Now, pick up the coffee mug you just dropped. Another mouth-dropper is the planned starvation of over 1 million German POWs, documented by Canadian historian, James Bacque, in Crimes and Mercies. We now know that Churchill was one of the greatest war criminals that ever lived, who “thrilled the uneducated masses” with his rhetoric and feasted on their cheers. Churchill mockingly admitted: “They cheered me as if I had given them a victory, instead of getting their houses bombed to bits.” Now award-winning British historian Peter Padfield exposes the big lie of WWII and confirms Churchill’s guilt. Read it if you dare. I get tired of hearing that our soldiers fought for our freedoms. The truth is, soldiers were duped by their own governments. And those behind the scenes were laughing all the way to their banks.
On Remembrance Day, let’s remember the greatest killing machine of all time: our own governments. Professor Richard Ebeling says in a review of Professor Rummel’s book Death by Government:
The megamurdering states of the 20th century have been: the U.S.S.R. (1917-1987), 61,911,000 [mostly Christian]; Communist China (1949-1987), 35,236,000; Nazi Germany (1933-1945), 20,946,000; and Nationalist (or Kuomintang) China (1928-1949), 10,076,000. These are followed by the “lesser” megamurdering states: Japan (1936-1945), 5,964,000; Cambodia (1975-1979), 2,035,000; Turkey (1909-1918), 1,883,000; Vietnam (1945-1987), 1,678,000; North Korea (1948-1987), 1,663,000; Poland (1945-1948), 1,585,000; Pakistan (1958-1987), 1,503,000; Mexico (1900-1920), 1,417,000; Yugoslavia (1944-1987), 1,072,000; Czarist Russia (1900-1917), 1,066,000.
I think rather than fighting over who wears a red or white poppy, we would benefit more from remembering the holocausts endured by other peoples: for example, the Cambodians, Ukrainians, Russians, the many nations of Europe, Laotians, Chinese, Africans, Latin Americans, Armenians, and Native Indians of Canada.
The Noble Prize-winning Russian Christian and Gulag survivor, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offered practical advice. After living through the horrors of the Zionist Bolshevik Revolution which tortured and murdered 62,00,000 Christians (double the population of Canada), he said those responsible for war should repent. Amen.
Canada, once known for its peacekeeping worldwide, is today an aggressive war-mongering nation like the USA. The pro-Zionists in Canada’s Parliament voted to allow Canada to lead the NATO-bombing of Libya to destabilize the richest country in Africa, while at the same time it has only 33 military personnel in peacekeeping activities. And not one word of protest came from the Canadian Legion or militant Christian Zionists. Does such hypocrisy alarm you?
Some things never change. Over 200 years ago, the Christian historian Edward Gibbon observed that “The courage of a soldier is found to be the cheapest and most common quality of human nature.” And, “[A]s long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters.”
This is why, today, we continue to glorify killing in war by “honoring” “fallen heroes,” “who died for our country,” even in far away Afghanistan. And which is why, I too, do not wear a red poppy.