Nov 11, 2011

Selective Remembrance Day

I'm not wearing a poppy today. It's not that I don't want to remember and lament the needless loss of life of the fallen young soldiers. It's that in this national day of wearing poppies and simultaneously mourning/glorifying their deaths, we narrow the focus exclusively to the soldiers and forget the many more victims of war.

According to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the civilian-to-soldier death ratio in wars fought since the mid-20th century has been 10:1, meaning ten civilian deaths for every soldier death.(1) So for every poppy I wear to mourn one soldier's death, I should wear another 10 flowers for the innocent lives lost.

And what flower should I wear for the innocent children who still pick up grenades hidden inside dolls? For the farmer who loses a leg to a mine in her own fields? For the women and girls who get raped and used as instruments of war? For the refugees who've lost their homes, their farms, everything they've ever built and relied upon to survive and fulfill their dreams?

And what plant would suffice as an emblem for the loss to society when so much money goes into the war machine instead of social services, destroying instead of building? For those children who grow educated in terror instead of in school? For the destroyed or never-developed infrastructure that the rural poor could have used to build a better life for their families?

But the poppy doesn't remember all this. According to "Help for Heroes," the poppy is "to show their support for the Armed Forces and their families." Even my beloved, progressive MP Jean Crowder has an online banner that spouts out the usual "Remembering the sacrifice and courage of veterans on November 11."

I guess Jean has to say that to stay in office, but I don't. As long as wearing a poppy is meant solely in honour of soldiers, I will not wear one. Instead, I'll wear a whole garden in remembrance of the loss to all of mankind through war, and weave a lifelong wreath of flowers that says Never Again.

# #

Last year I mused about remembering all soldiers, not just our country's - another facet of this selective memory.

(1) Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew W. Lehren, A Grim Portrait of Civilian Deaths in Iraq, New York Times 22-10-2010) Note that other sources show a lower proportion - World War II is estimated to have killed "only" 2 or 3 civilians for each combatant.

1 comment:

  1. Seriously? You really haven't thought this trough much have you? Remembrance Day is about recognizing the soldiers who were sent off to war to defend their country. Those who gave their lives so that people like you could sit around lamenting if a poppy should be worn or not.

    Had they not gone your life would be different - you certainly wouldn't be blogging your thoughts (flawed as they are) freely or have had the opportunity to lead your life as you see fit. These people gave their lives so that the 10:1 (whether it's actually accurate or not) ratio stayed a ratio and not a single civilian casualty count. Although I do think that the holocaust and random genocides did contribute to the somewhat skewed statistic.

    Had you lived during a time of mandatory conscription your views on this may have been altered. You may have thought differently when you were forced to leave your home and family to help fight a spreading war that threatened their eventual survival. The fear these soldiers had knowing that they may never see their families again is why we wear a poppy.

    The families who died under Stalin's or Pol Pot’s dictatorship’s, or those facing Hitler’s armies may also disagree with you; thinking that any kind of military support from the outside would have been preferable to being crushed with no chance of survival.

    A poppy is there to remind of us the people who helped fight against the oppression and not for the oppressors. When you wear a poppy you’re not supporting those who forced people into slavery, concentration camps or committed genocide but those who left their lives behind to help end the chaos that threatened everyone. Wear a poppy. Thank a soldier. Enjoy your life.