Friday, November 11, 2005


Stephen said...

I don't get it.

Tom said...

It's a poppy.

Mark said...

All About Poppies


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

greg said...

Great poem. I have my classes read it during our WWI unit every year. Nice touch.

Maple Sugar said...

(It's an old version of our poppy pin, though, with a green centre instead of a more accurate black one. Just on a trivial note, they bought the green felt stock when they first started producing them, and it only just ran out a couple of years ago, so they could switch finally to the black.)

Two other favourites this time of year:

. . . They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them.

(Laurence Binyon)

. . . If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(Wilfred Owen)

Tom said...

I don't think Owen's poem is appropriate for today.

I'll take Horace.

Mark said...

It must of been one hell of a lot of green felt, cause I don't remember at time when poppy centres weren't green. But the black ones are better and more realistic I guess.

Maple Sugar said...

The way we differently view the relevance of "dulce et decorum" is, I've always thought, similar to the fact that Canada has "Remembrance Day" while the U.S. has "Veterans' Day". The former seems to emphasize the idea that we remember not only those who fought in the wars, but also remember the cost of war, and that war, while occasionally being a necessary evil, is still an evil. On the other hand, the focus on the veterans themselves inherent in the American name for the day implies instead a (not undeserved) admiration for men and women in uniform, but one that inevitably seems to glorify that image. I don't begrudge people their admiration for soldiers or veterans, but Owen's poem is important in reminding us that war is NOT glorious. It is a dirty, horrific, sometimes unavoidable but always undesirable demonstration of the baser side of human nature.

Tom said...

War isn't pretty. But I don't think "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is a lie. The idea that it is a lie cheapens what the veterans fought for and what the fallen died for. Nice way to remember them.

Maple Sugar said...

I still think you're taking it out of context. In the poem, they die broken and tortured by a political machine that cares more for the sentiment of the words than for the reality of living through the trenches, and that manipulates the population into believing that sending half a generation of young man to brutal slaughter is justified by the promise of glory.

The veterans fought for an ideal, yes. And we can honour them for that. But the other half of that honour lies also in realizing that the realities of war encompass more than empty patriotic words, and so we honour the hardships the soldiers faced as much as we honour their ideals by facing them, not by sweeping them under a carpet of rhetoric.

The veterans themselves realize this, because they lived through it. The poem makes that reality tangible for those of us who didn't. In this way, I don't think it cheapens anything but political rhetoric.

Tom said...

A political machine manipulating the population? Once again, honoring veterans shouldn't involve pretending that they were so dumb they could be manipulated into fighting by some invisible conspiracy.

Patriotic words aren't empty because you say so--you have to prove that they are empty. In the case of the First World War veterans, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Wilfred Owen did not speak for them. Read The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson, this website by a researcher at the University of Sussex, and this article about her work (it begins "The soldiers of the first world war would not have been very impressed by Wilfred Owen").

Maple Sugar said...

Read . . . this website by a researcher at the University of Sussex.

You mean the one that says: "It's been an interesting week . . . in which I think a lot turned the corner from the 'we can't say it's bad because that's disrespectful'"?

I agree. We can certainly say that it's bad without being accused of being disrespectful.

And that also says: "And of course, the fact that they couldn't agree amongst themselves on a 'right' way was a real point of growth for them."

Thank you, Tom; I feel I've grown. :)

Tom said...

I never said the war wasn't bad (whatever that means), or that saying so was disrespectful. I said that that specific poem by Owen was not appropriate for Veterans Day (or Remembrance Day or Armistice Day). Then, to prove my case, I provided evidence related to the relevant scholarship on the soldiers' experience in World War I and the memory of the war--all of which goes well beyond Fussell's "The Great War and Modern Memory."

I hope that our readers go to the websites I linked and take a look at some of the material there. Also, if you are interested, here is an excerpt from a paper I gave at the 2005 Society for Military History Conference and at a symposium on the American soldier in World War II at the University of Kansas.