Monday, May 25, 2015

Flanders is in Belgium, for one.

Purple poppies at the Chicago Botanic Garden, May 22, 2015. 

     We went shopping Saturday. It was a tiny bit chilly, so my wife put on her light black jacket.
      "I bought a poppy," my wife said, fingering a small red paper flower at her collar. "They were selling them downtown."
     I nodded.
     "It's ironic," she continued, "that they'd sell poppies to benefit vets, considering the drug problem."
      Poppies are made into heroin. 
      I paused.  It's bad enough to be pedantic—to be always dredging up minutia to afflict your friends and loved ones with. But worse to be a repeat offender. I tiptoed gingerly.
      "There's a reason they use poppies," I said. "I may have told you."
      "Maybe you did," she said. "But I don't recall."
      That was encouragement enough, for me.
     "There is an cemetery in Flanders ... in France," I continued. "Where thousands of American servicemen are buried. After World War I, someone wrote a poem."
      "In Flanders field, the poppies grow, upon the crosses, row on row...." I began. But that was as much as I remembered. Back at home, I checked. 
      As blowhards often do, I had a few key details wrong. The poem wasn't written after the war, but in May, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, by a Canadian military doctor and artillery commander, Major John McCrae. And Flanders isn't in France; it's in Belgium. 
       Details now, I suppose. It's a short, powerful poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. 
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

     A lot to think about. What does it mean to "break faith" with the dead? To forget them, perhaps? And who is the foe? A century ago, it was the Germans. Now...not as easy.  Those last two lines are certainly a lie: I don't believe the military dead rest lightly or uneasily depending on the diligence of our military policy.  Perhaps he meant we have a responsibility to them, to act in a better fashion than we usually seem inclined to. 
      We forget the past without frequent reminders. So Memorial Day is important, to reflect on all the soldiers who fell trying to keep our country free, and remember the responsibility that we as free citizens have to sort through it all, and to remember, and to elect leaders who won't squander the precious gift that service men and women so willingly gave, and give.




        

21 comments:

  1. Advocate of the Anti-ChristMay 25, 2015 at 4:09 AM

    This isn't "our" country. It belongs to the rich. And there is no freedom here. And the soldiers ere fight in unjust wars to kill people fighting for freedom. That flag is a symbol of tyranny and death.

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    1. Why don't you move to Iraq, asshole!

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    2. However, I would say that Republicans want to get involved in endless wars so that
      their armament corp buddies can make $. Yet their sons usually are hiding out in colleges or in high paying jobs.

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  2. Ah, yes, the poppies of Flanders field. A tip of the cap to our service people.

    And what a mess that Treaty of Versailles would be after WWI.

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  3. As to your newspaper column on Mon. in the paper-ironic indeed about where that Honda is made. I called corporate in Detroit when our Chevy Impala had to be recalled for switches that could turn themselves off. Believe me I got ushered into the dealer immediately. I said are we to wait until we get killed or maimed? That's corporate for you. It amazes me that conservatives thik the govt should have less oversight on corporations, oh sure.

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    1. (typo, that should be think)

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  4. Reading A Subaltern on the Somme, which reminds me of Tolstoy's Sevastopol Journal, distinctly less sentimental than the poppy poem, but no less evocative.

    John

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    Replies
    1. I love "All Quiet on the Western Front and Farewell to Arms" which covers this period.

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    2. Tate, the Word Sevastopol always reminds me of reading Massey's , Nicholas and Alexandra.

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  5. A moving poem. I bought my poppy from a veteran at the Arlington Hts. Jewel yesterday. Proud to wear it and glad to learn the story about the poppies. @Advocate -- I'm flying my flag today in honor of those veterans and the country I love. Hope you don't mind. On second thought, I couldn't care less if you do.
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  6. Do you break faith with the dead by continuing to run up the body count for no good reason? Millions more would die in the first world war after the poem was written thanks to the stupidity on the part of the leaders both political and military. Those same idiots would set the stage for an even worse tragedy a few decades later. You honor our troops by making sure that their deaths counted for something, taking care of the wounded warriors, giving them the tools they need to get the job done and by wisely employing them only when necessary.

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    Replies
    1. Those who died following the publication and popularity of this poem included its author, Dr. John McRae, who died of an illness at his field hospital in January 1918.

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  7. What if the Germans had won? Shouldn't be unimaginable, given that they could be said to have been winning right up to the time they collapsed. Would they have made a worse peace than the Allies did?

    John

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    1. Whoa to France, is all I could say if that was the case.

      Mr. S, with all due respect to the bright Mrs. S, (you said she's an attorney) most in law have a History or Poli Sci. background (except for Business law or such). I 'm surprised thus, that she wouldn't know about the poppy symbol origin.

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  8. Back during my CPS days, during 7th and 8th grades, we were required to memorize a poem a week. This is the only one that's sick with me. A reminder that all those lying at Arlington and listed on the Vietnam Memorial were humans, had lives, had loved ones. My brother, a career military officer who wasn't even born at the time I memorized the poem, made me remember it during his years of deployment. True for all the armies, all the countries.

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    1. Stupid Autocorrect. Sick s/b stuck.

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    2. Visiting Arlington is a moving experience indeed.

      Happy Memorial Day to dad, now passed, who served in Korea. Now resting at
      Queen of Heaven cemetery in Hillside. Even as an immigrant, he did his duty.

      (I'm always amazed at how the Cheney's of the world get deferrments. Dad was drafted with only a year off to learn English better & fast and had only been in this nation a few years. His dad's being a citizen made him a dual one {long story}. Yet, even as an only CHILD and only son, he got drafted. Thus I think latter day immigrants from south of the border are catered to with bilinqualism. Notice how east. euro immig. learn English fast. No incentive to learn for those south of border. Mom went to a local community class to learn a few years later when she came and if she wanted to watch TV , deal with her kids school teachers and deal with the phone and stores, she had to learn English.)

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  9. A day or 2 back, there was info in the ST that said that Will County is the fastest growing county in IL. Yes, get away from high costs in Crook County or DuPage.

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  10. The Cheney's of the world and the like get away with it cause their dad isn't a mere factory worker. Just ask Bushie Jr.

    Or just ask M. Sneed when you see her Memorial Day column with her dad in real service.

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  11. I visited Ypres in April. After seeing several cemeteries, I was moved to learn more about WWI than the brief bits I received during my schooling. The battles of WWI are terribly grim and depressing. Acknowledging those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country with the poppy is a small way to remember the horrors of that war - and to hopefully never forget.

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