Zeke (commodore_zeke) wrote,

Dulce et decorum erat

I just got back from the convenience store, where I bought a poppy. I don't know if this is just a Canadian thing or if it's done elsewhere, but the Royal Canadian Legion (our veterans' guild) raises money every year in November by distributing poppy pins. They ask for donations in return; when I was a kid, 25 cents was customary, but I think it's 50 now, and of course lots of people give more. The poppies are usually bought a few days before the 11th and worn until then. Since I haven't gone out much, I was late this year -- so much so that I can only wear this one for a few hours.

The poppy itself is a reference to "In Flanders Fields", a war poem famous around the world but especially here. It was written by a Canadian soldier, Lt. Col. John McCrae, and we're very proud of it. What makes it especially appropriate for Remembrance Day is that unlike many of its type, it's decidedly not an anti-war poem. The third stanza urges the living to "take up our quarrel with the foe" and warns that the dead will not rest easy otherwise. It's a little chilling, especially if you know it was written during World War I, a war that looks a lot uglier 90 years down the road. But "war is bad" is never the whole story either, and it would be very much the wrong sentiment for a day where we honour our soldiers' sacrifices.

"To you from failing hands we throw the torch -- be yours to hold it high." It's worked that way throughout most of human history. There was a fundamental, unwritten social contract that every generation knew. Their country would give them a place to live and start a family, and would protect them with the rule of law. In return, the able-bodied men had to be ready to fight for the country if the time came; the women had to be ready to lose their husbands, and the elderly their sons.

Nobody liked it, but it was the way of the world -- and on some level it always will be. There's always some chance that things will go very bad very fast. But over the last few decades, in North America, it's become less and less likely. I've never been seriously worried that I'll have to join the army. And it's so easy to forget what an incredible luxury that is. My generation is basically the first anywhere to have it.

That's why I went out and bought a poppy I'll only wear for a few hours. Because thanks to the people we commemorate today, nothing else is asked of me. That's a good thing, and it's not my fault -- but it still shames me.

- Z
Tags: life
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