(Photo: The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes)
Remember that today marks the culmination of a militarist, nationalist ritual organized by a reactionary state-backed group.
Every year the Royal Canadian Legion sells about 20 million red poppies in the lead-up to Remembrance Day. Remember that red poppies were inspired by the 1915 poem "In Flanders Fields" by Canadian army officer John McCrae. The pro-war poem calls on Canadians to "take up our quarrel with the foe" and was used to promote war bonds and recruit soldiers during the First World War.
Remember that today, red poppies commemorate Canadians who have died at war. Not being commemorated are the Afghans or Libyans killed by Canadians in the 2000s, nor the Iraqis and Serbians killed in the 1990s, nor the Koreans killed in the 1950s or the Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that. By focusing exclusively on "our" side, Remembrance Day poppies reinforce a sense that Canada's cause is righteous. But Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: the Second World War.
The organization sponsoring the red poppy campaign receives little critical attention.
While there's some criticism of the nationalism and militarism driving Remembrance Day, the organization sponsoring the red poppy campaign receives little critical attention. Incorporated by an act of Parliament, the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League was formed in 1926.
Renamed the Royal Canadian Legion in 1960, from the get-go it was designed to counter more critical veteran organizations. In The Vimy Trap: or, How We Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift write, "benefiting from government recognition, the Legion slowly supplanted its rivals. It was consciously designed as [a] body that would soothe the veterans temper and moderate their demands."
In 1927 the federal government granted the Legion a monopoly over poppy distribution and the Veterans Affairs-run Vetcraft made the Legion's poppies for 75 years. The Legion has benefited from various other forms of government support. Its branches have received public funds and the Governor General, head of the Canadian Forces, is the Legion's Grand Patron, and numerous prime ministers and defence ministers have addressed its conventions.
Poppies are placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier following a Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Nov. 11, 2010. (Photo: REUTERS/Blair Gable)
While its core political mandate is improving veterans' services, the Legion has long advocated militarism and a reactionary worldview. In the early 1930s it pushed for military build-up and its 1950 convention called for "total preparedness." In 1983 its president, Dave Capperauld, supported U.S. cruise missiles tests in Alberta, and into the early 1990s the Legion, reports Branching Out: the story of the Royal Canadian Legion, took "an uncompromising stand on the importance of maintaining a strong Canadian military presence in Europe through NATO, and by supporting the United States build-up of advanced nuclear weapons."
The Legion has also espoused a racist, paranoid and pro-Empire worldview. In the years after the Second World War, it called for the expulsion of Canadians of Japanese origin and ideological screening for German immigrants. A decade before then, notes Branching Out, "Manitoba Command unanimously endorsed a resolution to ban communist activities, and provincial president Ralph Webb ... warned that children were being taught to spit on the Union Jack in Manitoba schools."
The veterans group has sought to suppress critical understanding of military history.
Long after the end of the Cold War the organization remains concerned about "subversives." Today, Legion members have to sign a statement that begins: "I hereby solemnly declare that I am not a member of, nor affiliated with, any group, party or sect whose interests conflict with the avowed purposes of the Legion, and I do not, and will not, support any organization advocating the overthrow of our government by force or which advocates, encourages or participates in subversive action or propaganda."
The veterans group has sought to suppress critical understanding of military history. In the mid-2000s the Legion battled Canadian War Museum historians over an exhibition about the Second World War Allied bomber offensive. After shaping its development, the Legion objected to a small part of a multifaceted exhibit, which questioned "the efficacy and the morality of the ... massive bombing of Germany's industrial and civilian targets."
White poppies representing peace in a bouquet of red poppies. (Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville)
With the museum refusing to give the veterans an effective veto over its exhibit, Legion Magazine called for a boycott. The Legion's campaign led to hearings by the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs and a new display that glossed over a bombing campaign explicitly designed to destroy German cities. It also led to the director of the museum, Joe Guerts, resigning.
A decade earlier the Legion participated in a campaign to block the three-part series The Valour and the Horror from being rebroadcast or distributed to schools. The 1992 CBC series claimed Canadian soldiers committed unprosecuted war crimes during the Second World War and that the British-led bomber command killed 600,000 German civilians. The veterans groups' campaign led to a Senate inquiry, CRTC hearing and lawsuit, as well as a commitment from CBC to not rebroadcast The Valour and the Horror without amendments.
Rather than supporting the militaristic, jingoistic, nationalism of the Legion, Canadians of good conscience should support peace organizations' white poppy campaign to remember all victims of war.
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On Friday's The Graham Norton Show, the 33-year-old actress caused a stir after viewers spotted that her outfit was missing one key garment - a red poppy. The missing commemorative flower was particularly noticeable as those who appear on the BBC are rarely seen without a poppy. Ms Miller appeared alongside co-star Bradley Cooper, who did wear a poppy, as the pair promoted their new film, Burnt. A source close to Ms Miller told The Sun she that was wearing the poppy "but it was taken off as she went on air as it was pulling on the clothes". Many people reacted angrily, with some people labelling her "disrespectful" and others telling her "shame on you". Others leapt to Ms Miller's defence, saying they could not understand the "rage" being directed at the star.
The Channel 4 journalist and presenter has been criticised in the past for not wearing a poppy. Yet Jon Snow has hit out at the "poppy fascism" which sees public figures being lambasted for not wearing the red symbol when appearing on television. Pointing at his "abstract" choice of ties, the 68-year-old said that he does not believe in "wearing anything which represents any kind of statement". In a blog, Mr Snow wrote: "I am begged to wear an Aids Ribbon, a breast cancer ribbon, a Marie Curie flower… You name it, from the Red Cross to the RNIB, they send me stuff to wear to raise awareness, and I don’t. And in those terms, and those terms alone, I do not and will not wear a poppy. "Additionally there is a rather unpleasant breed of poppy fascism out there – ‘he damned well must wear a poppy!’. Well I do, in my private life, but I am not going to wear it or any other symbol on air."
Footballer, James McClean, has again sparked controversy after he said that he will not be wearing a Remembrance Day poppy on his West Brom shirt. The 26-year-old winger will not wear a red poppy because it "stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in". The Irish footballer said that he would "wear it every day of the year" if the symbol only represented World War One and World War Two victims, adding: "[But] because of the history where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that [British conflicts]." McClean has received death threats in the past for refusing to wear a red poppy.
ITV News presenter, Charlene White, has been the target of a torrent of abuse following her decision to shun the poppy. The 35-year-old said that she chooses not to wear a poppy on screen because she feels uncomfortable "supporting just one charity above all others". The presenter said last year that she is not allowed to visually support charities while presenting due to impartiality rules, this includes symbols such as red ribbon for World Aids Day and a purple band for Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. As a result, she does not wear a poppy on air because she believes it to be unfair on other charities.
Questions have been circulating on Twitter about why the Newsnight presenter has not been wearing a red poppy over the last few days. While some congratulated Davis, saying they warmed to him because of it, others told him to "show some respect". In the past, the 53-year-old presenter said he "approve[d]' of poppies, but questioned the length of time they are worn for.