In Flanders Fields
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.
By Dr John McCrae, 1915
Major John McCrae, MD, penned this poem while he sat on the rear tailgate of an ambulance during a quiet time waiting for the next wave of wounded soldiers to arrive at his field hospital near Ypres, Belgium in 1915. McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada – not forty-five minutes from my home in Waterloo, Ontario.
As a writer, I admire the literary quality that seems to jump off the page (or screen), but to me, it cries out about the criminality of warfare. I’m reminded of this quote:
“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”
War is a crime. This is my truth and I will not minimize or excuse the decision to resort to this behavior. To my mind, there is no ‘justified’ war. The circumstance of declaring war is the declaration of failure. No two wars are exactly alike – whether they be local/regional conflicts or mayhem on the global scale. War is the failure of the application of reason to solve a conflict. It is the ultimate disrespect for human rights and human life.
The third stanza breaks my heart. It is a desperate plea for meaning. These millions of young men slaughtered in the flower of their youth beg their comrades to make their own death mean something. Many will have no wives to mourn them nor children to carry forth their legacy – their lives forfeit in the killing grounds of Belgium. This is true of every war in human history.
What of the civilians who are caught up in the quarrels of the rich and powerful? Farmers, tradesmen, office workers, etc. do not start wars, but they are called upon to fight them. They are either cajoled by the promise of fame and glory and eternal reward as a martyr, or they are forced by legislation to kill the ‘enemy’. If they lose, it will be their wives and daughters who will suffer sexual violence and worse at the hands of crazed victors.
Since 1945, we have been spared a third World War simply because of the nuclear deterrent. Albert Einstein, whose work allowed for the development of atomic weapons had this to say:
“The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one.”
This is an interesting observation. The United Nations was created to assist humanity in its quest for peace. The UN failed to make any meaningful progress toward that goal. I don’t blame the UN, I blame the rich and the powerful throughout the world who have used the UN to promote their own agendas. Local wars continued to rage under the watchful eyes of the United States and the Soviet Union – the two superpowers of the Cold War era. The local wars and terrorism continue to rage because the hope of Albert Einstein has not been realized.
Wars will come to an abrupt end when the rich and powerful decision-makers are forced “into the trenches” to fight it out with their enemies. Or, we the people must find a way to convince our leaders that violence is never a valid and justified course of action.
We in Canada call this day, Remembrance Day. At 11:00 am on this day, we stop for a moment of silence as we commemorate the fallen. It is known as 11/11/11. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the moment the warring generals signed the Armistice that ended the fighting of World War I in 1918. We wear poppies at this time each year for the same reason and in recognition of John McCrae’s famous poem.
Lest we forget… the cost of failure and the true nature of this crime.