Kathy T. sends us the Freerice.com site. Test your knowledge of English words while donating rice to the hungry of the world. Go. Now.
Nasty Nicky B. has been asking me about classic science fiction stories. Spurred by his questions, I recalled one of my childhood favourites, written by one of my boyhood heroes, Isaac Asimov, before the microcomputing revolution. The story is called The Last Question and you can read it in its entirety here.
By the way, for a safe and comfortable introduction to “hard” sci-fi, I recommend any of Asimov’s short story collections from the so-called Golden Era of the 1950s. I believe those books contributed significantly to the evolution of my own thinking and philosophy.
Now today’s Controversial Topic of the Day (TM) comes from Brother Bhash, who sends us this story about a Judge chastising a police officer for wearing a red poppy into his courtroom. The judge’s argument was that the poppy is a political statement that has no place in a court of law.
For those of you outside this country, the red poppy has, since the end of WWI, been a symbol of remembrance of war veterans in Canada, and indeed across most of the Commonwealth. It is typically worn around the time of Remembrance Day, which is Nov 11th of each year, and its symbolism is the result of a poem by Canadian battlefield physician John McCrae.
For generations, we have worn the poppy to remember the war fallen. I was taught in school that we wear the poppy to remind us of the horror and sacrifice of war, lest we repeat those mistakes. All of this is a good and fine sentiment. Here’s a nice story about the wearing of poppies.
But a funny thing has happened in very recent years. Much like the “Support The Troops” meme, much discussed in this blog here and here, many people now feel that the red poppy’s symbolism has been co-opted by the pro-war set.
This article summarizes that argument, though I think a little irrationally at times. The deeper philosophical thrust of the argument, however, is in this excerpt:
“Sadly, the poppy acts more as a rallying cry to support military solutions to the world’s problems, instead of a heart-felt and genuine plea for an end to the suffering of war.”
How does it do this? Pro-war politicians use Remembrance Day as an opportunity to sing paeans to the current military efforts, and to more vociferously deny anti-war voices. The result is that pro-war faces are always seen brandishing poppies, while anyone opposed to the war must remain silent, lest they be (illogically) seen as not honouring the sacrifices of soldiers.
In times of war, a large number of people would rather rally around their soldiers than to look at the policies that have put their soldiers in harm’s way in the first place. A more cynical view is that discussion of the current war around the time of Remembrance Day intentionally conflates the heroic sacrifices of WWI and WWII fallen –killed in defensive struggles– with the sacrifices in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are less defensible conflicts. A sacrifice is a sacrifice, true. But the result is a blurring of moralities, a calculated attempt to enhance the ethical platform of the war in Afghanistan by painting it in the colours of the great defensive and defensible struggles of the previous generations.
The result, sadly, is that for a growing number of people, the poppy is becoming a symbol of militarism, not of peace. Of course, this statement will make many of you angry. I fully expect the regular stream of hate mail to accelerate briefly, along the lines of, “These soldiers died for your right to have your f*cking blog. How dare you say that remembering them is wrong…” Blah blah, yadda yadda.
So I remind you: I am not saying anything. I’m merely reporting on what a growing proportion of the population is expressing. I ma continue to wear a poppy, or I may not. I don’t know. But I do know that a symbol means only what the people agree that it means. And meanings change over time. Just ask the poor Hindu shmuck who invented the swastika.
The greater tragedy here is that Remembrance Day is not serving its purpose. It should be a time when we intestinally appreciate the horror and idiocy of war, when we cast angry glances at politicians for playing with men’s lives as if they were cards dealt on a playing field. On such days, support for war efforts should decline as people come to their senses. Instead, often folks find seasonal “resolve” and learn the wrong lesson: that soldiers dying and killing made the world a better place back then, so soldiers dying and killing should have the same effect today.