My dad had a whole collection of poppies. Mom kept the ones that we bought every year and pinned them on the top of a wallhanging in the dining room. Every November, Dad would just take one off the hanging and pin it to his jacket. When I commented that annual poppy sale money supported the Legion, he said “I was in the war, I don’t need to give my money every year to those old farts.”
He had a point. And since then, I’ve looked carefully at the poppies worn by people old enough to be WWII veterans. Are they, like Dad, wearing poppies with green centres, years after black-centred ones replaced the green? Do their poppies look like they themselves had been through the wars, as some of Dad’s did? When I do see a battered old poppy on an old fella, I smile, happy to think there’s someone who shares Dad’s philosophy.
But for the rest of us who haven’t paid for poppies with the currency of our lives, we owe it to those who have, and are, to put money in the collection boxes every year. If, like me, you lose your poppy or wear a different jacket – well, buy another one!
A white poppy movement started a few years after the red poppies appeared – so that people could honour war casualties, civilian and soldier, without honouring the act of war. I suppose that’s ok. I had a time in my life when I was conflicted about buying or wearing a poppy. It seemed like it was giving positive sanction to war to do so. I even lectured a couple young cadets once when they were selling apples to raise money. “I won’t buy your apple because I don’t support the war machine” I told them. Oh, how absolutely pretentious was I!
I’d read soldiers saying that in war their primary concern was with the survival of each other, that they were fighting for their own and their comrades’ lives. Hooey, I thought back then, you wouldn’t have to worry about that if you’d just said “no to war” and not enlisted or accepted your draft call.
But after getting to know some soldiers, I realized that there are many reasons why people end up in the Armed Forces and few of those reasons involve wanting to fight. But that possibility is real, and is accepted as part of the job. When it happens, whether in war or peace-keeping missions, the danger is faced and bravery kicks in. They do, every day, put their lives on the line. They want to do their jobs well, stay alive and keep their buddies unharmed.
War itself may be a vicious response to international problems, but when it happens, it’s good that there are men and women who do the job that’s necessary to end it. And they may well pay with their blood. And it’s their blood that is honoured by the red of the poppy.