I feel like I am treading a very thin line.
Poppies are worn during November until the 11th to remember those who fell in wars, as a token of remembrance, said the person who gave me a poppy. To remember those who fought for freedom.
It’s always the last part that gets me. The part where you ask what it stands for.
I had a teacher in high school — one who had a great deal of compassion and humanity for others — who didn’t like how people often spoke about and wore poppies in a way that glorifies war. I’m afraid of this being a touchy point with many people who will disagree about it. I am not saying that people who disagree lack compassion; my point is, he didn’t. I remember at the time that I didn’t agree entirely with what he thought. You can wear a poppy with entire respect and regard for those who fell, while at the same time not agreeing that wars were fought in the name of freedom. That’s the part I couldn’t always accept — that people fell for freedom.
Individuals, I think, often fought for freedom. A lot of people went to war and fought thinking of what was important to them, wanting to go back to a normal life where the things they care about can live in peace.
But I find it hard to believe that any war is fought for purely ideological reasons. Wars are fought for economic and political reasons. The three things are all linked together, but I honestly don’t believe that the ideology plays as big a part as the economics part, or the power part, for the politicians who declared war on each other in the first place. But publicly talking about economics and politics as reasons for going to war just doesn’t make as good propaganda as ideology.
It’s always the winners who get to write history. If anyone else had won any other war, we wouldn’t be the ones remembering the fallen now. This is why I get so uncomfortable when people even verge on the “us” against “them”, which is often what I feel when people start talking about freedom. “We” fought for freedom. “They” fought against it. The individuals in those other countries quite probably didn’t want to go to war either, but they were fighting for what they perhaps thought was right. It’s easy to say they’re wrong when you’re the victor, but the Allies — talking specifically about WWI now — were not as all-round good as I thought when I was little. The first time I learned that they went back on their word to another party (China, in this case, and later on, countries in the Middle East), and made compromises that created trouble and oppression for other people — I think I stopped believing in the winners being the right ones from then on.
What about the people in the other countries who died as well? I used to ask. Why aren’t we remembering them as well? I don’t want to wear a poppy to remember only the dead of one side, but to remember all the dead who had to die. The ones who didn’t like war, who didn’t want to go, who did it anyway for whatever reason partly because they had to, and for whatever reasons they found to keep them going. And a lot of people don’t differentiate. A lot of people wear a poppy for everyone. But a lot of people don’t, and don’t agree with me.
War is war is war and every side commits atrocities. No one is clean, not even the ones who claim they had no other option. Sometimes, there isn’t any other option, but that doesn’t make it the “good” one. Everyone loses in war. Every single one. Countries winning or losing doesn’t bring the dead back. It doesn’t stop people from crying. It doesn’t matter where the dead came from. They died before they needed to and we are the ones who did it. The loss of lives in war is our collective loss, for the whole of humanity, and to think otherwise — to think that it doesn’t matter if someone in another country is dead because they’re the enemy and somehow less human — is to lose something of our own humanity.