Wearing the red poppy should consider wars fought for wrong reasons
Remembrance Day has come and gone, and with it the iconic red poppies. It is now worth reflecting on the choice to wear the poppy and observe Remembrance Day. The nature of war and our culture around it has changed significantly since Remembrance Day was first celebrated almost a century ago, which warrants consideration of what wearing the red poppy means today.
I write this not because I believe most Canadians wear the red poppy for the wrong reason, but because for the first time since moving to Canada three years ago, I decided to wear the red poppy this year. I encourage the reader to consider their decision to wear the poppy, or not to, with scrutiny. This simple act automatically engages us with a century of militarism and geopolitics, or how states maximize their foreign strategic interests based on geography and international politics.
Remembrance Day is an opportunity for Canadians to recognize the human toll of wars fought in the name of geopolitics and imperialism. From the world wars to ongoing involvement in Middle Eastern and African conflicts, Canada’s military has been a tool of maintaining geopolitical strategies and serving the interests of foreign powers and, increasingly, corporate interests. The popular notion of Canada’s military role as a “peacekeeper” is illusory, but this makes the human cost of its wars no less tragic. Observing Remembrance Day doesn’t necessarily support Canada’s dark military past and present, and doesn’t conflict with personally opposing Canadian militarism in all forms.
Wearing the red poppy may, however, directly support the Royal Canadian Legion, which distributes them annually. While this organization does use some troublesome language around war and remembrance, their focus appears to be on financially supporting veterans in need. Supporting veterans doesn’t equate to supporting the wars the fought in, as they didn’t make the decisions leading to conflicts fought for power, money and state interests. The fact that they need support beyond the government at all indicates the severity of the human toll war can take, and reflects where the interests of Canada’s decision makers really lie when it comes to war.
My reservations about wearing the poppy in previous years were due to concerns that it celebrated war, a practice all too common in the United States, where I lived before coming to Canada. I’m mostly convinced that Canadians recognize Remembrance Day more sombrely than most of our American counterparts on days of remembrance, but this is by no means unchangeable.
It’s no secret that our previous Conservative government was pro-war, and that it attempted to promote a culture of Canadian militarism through systemic media campaigns. I can’t speak to how effective this cultural campaigning was, but the fact that it occurred at all should raise serious concern. The new Liberal government will probably take a less zealous tone around war, but I doubt it will recognize the dark reality of Canada’s military history and confront the implications that lauding it has.
The choice to wear the red poppy should not come down to whether it’s something you’ve always done or whether everyone else is doing it. Consider what you know about Canada’s military history and what you may not be thinking about when you choose to wear it. It’s a symbolic act, but one which can convey a highly personal perspective on war, including one which entirely condemns Canada’s wars and remembers their terrible and ongoing legacy.