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Has The Poppy Lost Its Meaning?

Posted: 11/09/2012 3:10 pm

Right after Halloween and just as every store is switching from its fall motif to Christmas-themed displays, most Canadians adorn the red poppy until November 11.

The poppy, crystallized as a symbol of war and remembrance from John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields, is worn by most Canadians for a few weeks leading up to November 11.
Most Canadians, except me.

Growing up, I was deeply involved in Remembrance Day ceremonies in my hometown. Twice, I went to Holland to sing at Remembrance Day ceremonies. I spoke at Legions on the importance of remembrance as being necessary to peace.

But, as the Canadian government has demonstrated its support for foreign wars, the symbol of the poppy has been hijacked. While it remains a symbol of peace and remembrance for many, it has also become a symbol of support of Canada's current war ambitions.

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Wrapped together with the yellow ribbon and a maple leaf, the poppy symbolizes a great myth: that there exists "just war" and that, through war, Canadians have been granted their freedom. Canada has been engaged in such a war for a decade, in Afghanistan.

When I see billions of dollars spent on fighter jets, the same amount of money that could eliminate tuition fees for all Canadian college and university students, I question what exactly we are remembering.

When I see veterans dying as a result of suicide, that Canadians are coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder and are being deserted by the government that sent them to Afghanistan, I question what exactly we are remembering.

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  • Ottawa

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with veterans following Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Friday November 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

  • Ottawa

    Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk salutes after laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Friday November 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

  • Quebec City

    Soldiers parade in front of the cenotaph during a Remembrance Day ceremony Friday, November 11, 2011 in Quebec City. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)

  • Toronto

    A man wraps a thermal blanket around a veteran to fight off the cold as they take part in a Remembrance Day ceremony at the war memorial at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, November 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

  • Kandahar

    Two Canadian soldiers comfort each other as they pay their respects to a fallen comrade at the war memorial after the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field.

  • Kandahar

    Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay lays a touches one of the plaques at the war memorial during the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field Friday, November 11, 2011 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

  • Kandahar

    A soldier pays his respects to fallen comrades at the war memorial after the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field Friday.

  • Kandahar

    Sgt, Renay Groves, from St. John's Nfld, 21 Elecrtonic Warfare Regiment, sheds a tear during the last Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Air Field Friday.

  • Melbourne, Australia

    People come to a halt to observe a minute's silence as a lone bugler plays the Last Post at an inner-city intersection on Remembrance Day, in Melbourne on Nov. 11, 2011.

  • Melbourne, Australia

    A lone bugler plays the Last Post at an inner-city intersection as cars and people come to a halt to observe a minute's silence on Remembrance Day, in Melbourne on November 11, 2011.

  • London

    Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh greets veterans during a service to mark Remembrance Day in the memorial garden at Westminster Abbey in London.

  • London

    Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, salutes during a service to mark Remembrance Day in the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in London.

  • London

    Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, notices the mascot of the 3rd and 4th battalions of The Mercian Regiment 'L/Col Watchman V', a staffordshire bull terrier, as he meets veterans during a service to mark Remembrance Day in the memorial garden at Westminster Abbey in London.

  • Alrewas, United Kingdom

    A veteran pays his respects as he takes part in the two minute silence at the National Memorial Arboretum on Armstice day on November 11, 2011 in Alrewas, United Kingdom. Sir James Hawley KCVO, Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, led the list of dignitaries at the Armed Forces Memorial during Armistice Day commemorations at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas.

  • Ottawa

When I see statistics of the quality of life in Afghanistan or the rise in civilian deaths since the invasion in 2001, I question what exactly we are remembering.
Because, if we truly meant that we supported an end to all wars when we wear our poppies, surely Canadians could prevent our government from marching toward war. If our desire to remember led to a stated political will to end war, Canadian troops would have never been sent to Afghanistan in the first place.

The red poppy has instead become so normalized that it's simply something that we wear. We leave them on our sun visors in our cars. We lose them. We buy others. We say we remember but we don't do what's next to turn our remembrance into action.

Remembrance isn't enough to stop war.

In 1933, in England, the Cooperative Women's Guild started to distribute white poppies as symbols of peace. Rather than glorify and honour the dead of one particular country, the white poppy commemorates all war dead and calls for and end to all war.

The Peace Pledge Union continues to distribute these white poppies and, in 2005, actually came to an agreement with the British Legion on distributing the white poppy. In Canada, many pacifist and anti-war organizations make their own white poppies and distribute them in time for Remembrance Day.

Remembrance Day remains a political public holiday that, for me, is an important time to talk about Canada's role in war today.

My white poppy has turned a little grey as I wear it on my jacket year-round. But wearing a poppy isn't enough. All Canadians who support peace, whether they wear a white poppy, a red poppy, a poppy with a fleur-de-lys in the centre or nothing, must actively oppose any government agenda that seeks to send more Canadians to participate in foreign conflict.

Otherwise, wearing a poppy is an empty gesture, a socialized custom that has become as normal as dressing up for Halloween.

 

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