“Don’t get me started,” said a friend when the topic of Remembrance Day poppies came up. But why? Remembrance Day seems very much like a good time to talk about war and its effects.
To my friend, who had served in the military in earlier days, the little red poppy was not the right image to represent the harrowing hell that was war. But cloying emotionalism isn’t either, said my friend, who has shed his own tears over war’s death and destruction.
In this day of drones and sending soldiers overseas for peacekeeping missions, veterans of relatively clear cut conflicts are dwindling in numbers, and perhaps also dwindling is a clear understanding of how the poppy campaign is relevant.
Unlike the “Great” wars of the past, conflict these days are more complex, less seemingly straightforward – although the idea of a monolithic terrorist threat attacking from outside our country is very simplistic. Now when we see veterans returning from missions overseas, it is in the name of “peacekeeping,” which is a vague and often unexplained term. Unlike WWI, the arena where the image of the poppy originated, contemporary missions and how they affect Canada’s sovereignty are unclear.
The subtleties of global politics aside, the reality is that troops overseas, young men and women in the military, do become casualties of conflict. They are veterans, having experienced armed disputes in the name of Canada. Whether or not they are getting the support they need to be able to be everyday citizens once they return is up for debate.
Although the Conservative government has said they are staunchly behind of military personnel, critics say they are not doing enough to support veterans once they are done service. Access to post-secondary education is restricted, say the critics, and pay, benefits and treatment that veterans receive is difficult to access and not enough to sustain them.
So much for the simple romance of the poppy. Still, the poppy campaign itself funds Legions across the country where servicemen and women can find community and individuals who do understand what they have experienced, which is critical to people who might be feeling estranged from everyday life. This chance to reconnect with each other is made one poppy at a time.