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By: Michael Klimuntowski
The Royal Canadian Legion’s national poppy campaign begins every year on the last Friday of October and goes on to Nov. 11. I implore the McMaster community to wear the poppy on their left breast, just above our hearts.
Over the years there have been efforts championed by groups such as the Rideau Institute and campus clubs across Ontario that seek to provide what they portray as an alternative to the red poppy. These groups claim these white pacifist poppies signify peace and do not glorify war.
This campaign is reprehensible for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the white poppy campaign takes away resources and the focus from the Legion. The proceeds from the red poppy campaign go to help veterans and their families with the costs of food, medicine, heating costs, home repairs, transportation and valuable community services. When you buy a red poppy, you are helping the Legion care for the legacy of the veterans and those who have fallen on hard times. These few days before Remembrance Day are when the Legion is best able to reach the most number of people in order to help Canadian veterans and their families.
Secondly, the advocates of the white poppy campaign have distorted the meaning of the red poppy. Last year over 18 million Canadians wore a poppy to honour the hundreds of thousands who perished in conflicts that have defined our history. It has been remarked by historians that it was at Vimy Ridge when Canada was born as a nation. It was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian military collaborated and defeated the German Army without subordination to British Command. Canadians fought valiantly during the Second World War at the Battle of Normandy, liberating Belgium and the Netherlands with countless acts of heroism. In Korea, the Balkans, Afghanistan and other global hotspots Canadians responded to the challenges thrust upon the global community. Those who cannot see the heroism of such sacrifices don’t know where to look. The lives and actions of the Victoria Cross recipients, distinguished soldiers and those who paid the ultimate price are testament to the contrary.
The poppy is the internationally recognized symbol of Remembrance. Its symbolism has been immortalized by Canada’s Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. In Flanders Fields, McCrae’s final stanza describes the shared responsibility that towers over us:
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.
In remembering the human casualties, we do not glorify war. We commemorate the sacrifice of those who participated. No one who wears the poppy supports war over peace — this is a false dichotomy. There are times in the affairs of nations when war is justified, when the terms of peace are egregious, and the price is one we are not willing to pay.
The pacifist poppy smears our veterans; those from conflicts long ago and as recently as military action in Afghanistan. It attempts to make a political debate out of a simple act of commemoration and sign of respect. The question begs to be asked — is nothing sacred?