Armistice Day

by John Quiggin on November 12, 2011

I spent the day in Canada (Toronto where I gave a talk on Zombie Economics last night). As in Australia, it’s now called Remembrance Day, but its a much bigger deal here, with lapel poppies de rigeur and two minutes silence observed in public venues.

If only we could mark 11/11/11 with a new armistice.

{ 67 comments }

1

Tehanu 11.12.11 at 4:45 am

Read a wonderful piece from Stars & Stripes on this:
http://www.stripes.com/what-we-lost-when-armistice-day-ended-1.160467

2

Meredith 11.12.11 at 5:33 am

Thank you for this link, Tehanu.

3

Hidari 11.12.11 at 12:56 pm

4

CSProf 11.12.11 at 1:30 pm

5

P O'Neill 11.12.11 at 1:47 pm

Even James Murdoch wore his poppy.

6

H.P. Loveshack 11.12.11 at 2:00 pm

When I got out of the Montreal subway yesterday, I was startled by loud detonations. Turns out the Canadian army where shooting blanks through some large field pieces installed in the campus fields. They did it in order to remember the poor idiots who got massacred by the handful during the Great War, I presume.

Funny that they should commemorated Great War veterans by shooting guns similar to those that killed, maimed and terrorized them. If they’re remembering veterans this way, they should do it properly: fill the guns with canister shot, level them at the crowd and then shoot at the crowd point blank.

I don’t remember them doing this kind of crap in previous years. I think this has something to do with the recent emphasis on militarism and patriotism of the Harper government.

As far as I’m concerned, on Remembrance day, we should brood over human stupidity. It shouldn’t be yet another commemoration of the so-called “military virtues”. The army shouldn’t be allowed at these things.

7

cian 11.12.11 at 2:14 pm

Given that people died just so that they could sign the armistice on 11/11 11:11 – I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable commemorating it.

8

christian_h 11.12.11 at 3:17 pm

I think having a day that honours, as that Stars and Stripes article Tehanu linked to (thanks!) says, peace – and reminds us of the folly of our rulers and the evil of imperialism is a good thing. I personally think the wearing of a poppy a good and dignified tradition.

So of course it’s used as an occasion to have a sale here in the US. Or to trumpet corporate support “for our brave soldiers” in TV commercials (“buy our soda, we support the US Army more than the other soda”). The commodification of everything continues apace.

9

Harry 11.12.11 at 3:22 pm

On cian’s point: I’ve been meaning to write something about “To End All Wars” which I don’t think even John has mentioned on CT yet; the utterly futile deaths between the agreement of armistice and the actual signing were in the thousands. (And then there was the horror that was just around the corner as the troops dispersed). I have commemorated it privately for many years (at 11 am central time which, even as I remember it, I think is faintly absurd); I was struck yesterday that Blain Neufeld wore a poppy while giving a talk in our department, something I have always wanted to do here but i) have never had an intact poppy and ii) have always wondered if it would seem odd. So, thanks to Blain, next year.

10

Harry 11.12.11 at 3:24 pm

If I’d read christianh’s comment before submitting, I’d have suggested a futile gesture of having those of us in the US who feel the same way as he/she does starting to wear poppies on the day; akin to the pacifist white poppies elsewhere (but I’m always happy to wear red, myself).

11

Andrew F. 11.12.11 at 3:35 pm

Worth noting that in the US, 11/11 is Veterans Day, on which all military veterans are honored.

Memorial Day, the practice of which has roots in the US Civil War, is the day in the US on which those who died in service are particularly honored.

12

christian_h 11.12.11 at 3:49 pm

Harry (9.), good idea. I might try it next year. My partner is from a military family and it strikes me that in this as so many things the disconnect between how something is perceived by those connected to the military and those not connected is huge; and the difference in perceptions is not in the direction one (<– meaning anti-militarist me as of a couple years ago for example) might believe.

13

Adrian 11.12.11 at 4:09 pm

To reiterate loveshack. They had cannons firing blanks on McGill campus (I am a student there).

I find it galling even offensive to have these shows of militarism in public institutions. The only reason I am alive is because my grandparents didn’t go to ww2 (got in a motorcycle accident and hid from the nazis respectively). We are still killing people. Try calling it what it is, I don’t know: fasco-capitalist day.

Not to mention the night before riot cops beat up and tear gassed students protesting in front of the administration building at McGill.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2011/11/11/mtl-protestreaction.html

14

tomslee 11.12.11 at 5:13 pm

I don’t wear a poppy any more.

The campaign has taken an increasingly militaristic tone in Canada. From “remember the dead and the futility of war” it has moved to “honour the fallen” to “honour the returning troops” to “support the troops” to “support our military ventures in Afghanistan and elsewhere” with surprising smoothness. Initiatives like naming the Highway of Heroes fit seamlessly into this narrative. The current government has an explicit goal to rebuild Canadian identity around military and the monarchy.

15

cian 11.12.11 at 5:48 pm

Initiatives like naming the Highway of Heroes fit seamlessly into this narrative.

jesus. I’m not whether I should be more appaled by the militarism, or the tackiness.

16

novakant 11.12.11 at 5:48 pm

The campaign has taken an increasingly militaristic tone in Canada. From “remember the dead and the futility of war” it has moved to “honour the fallen” to “honour the returning troops” to “support the troops” to “support our military ventures in Afghanistan and elsewhere” with surprising smoothness.

Same in the UK – yikes.

17

cian 11.12.11 at 5:50 pm

Though in the UK supporting the troops doesn’t for the most seem to extend to supporting the war. Small mercies I guess.

18

cian 11.12.11 at 5:50 pm

“most” -> “most part”. Grr.

19

C. D. Ward 11.12.11 at 5:54 pm

The campaign has taken an increasingly militaristic tone in Canada. From “remember the dead and the futility of war” it has moved to “honour the fallen”…

When I was in school in the 90s it was presented as the first, but it always felt like the second. People looked at you a bit funny if you brought up the non-Canadian soldiers who died in our wars. Civilians were never mentioned, and the tragedy of the millions of dead belonging to enemy countries was right out.

Our school’s commemoration of Remembrance Day was lead by the local Legion, a small collection of WWII veterans. They seemed sad, and old, and that somehow made the whole occasion more sombre.

I imagine the experience is totally different now.

20

Red 11.12.11 at 6:12 pm

As noted above, this is Veterans Day in the US. As a transplanted continental European, I am always shocked by the contrast. In Europe, 11/11/11 stands for peace; in the US, for war. I gather Canada and the UK are now firmly in the US camp.

21

Uncle Kvetch 11.12.11 at 6:53 pm

People looked at you a bit funny if you brought up the non-Canadian soldiers who died in our wars. Civilians were never mentioned, and the tragedy of the millions of dead belonging to enemy countries was right out.

Welcome to our world. Here in the US, both Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day are simply celebrations of the United States military, and nothing more. And to the extent Memorial Day commemorates the war dead, it’s all about noble sacrifice and dulce et decorum est.

Yesterday, for every one of my Facebook friends who posted something along the lines of “Y’know, we’d do well to bear in mind just how 11/11 became a holiday in the first place,” there were five who posted “Thank you to our soldiers for protecting our freedoms and keeping us safe!” And there was no shortage of self-described “liberals” in the latter group.

Here’s a little something written by a veteran that provides a welcome counterpoint.

22

cian 11.12.11 at 7:06 pm

I gather Canada and the UK are now firmly in the US camp.

I think the UK always was in the US camp.

23

Anders 11.12.11 at 8:30 pm

In the UK, remembrance itself seems to be taking an increasingly back seat to glorification of the military. There is a poster of Helen Mirren in the Tube captioned “the troops are the real stars”.

Given the strong linkage with the current military establishment, I struggle to see how a poppy wearer can avoid implicitly endorsing both (a) the unquestioning attitude of support for our next military deployment and associated tactics, and (b) the fairly strong pressure brought to bear on anyone who has the temerity not to want to wear one.

I’d love progressives to ‘take back’ the event – placing greater emphasis on the futility and tragedy of the lives lost in conflict. Owen and Sassoon should be in every newspaper. But sadly this would be rejected as compromising the bellicose agenda of the establishment. The white poppy movement also seems to have petered out somewhat.

24

Steve LaBonne 11.12.11 at 8:44 pm

Even Uncle Kvetch’s “other group” is composed mainly of people who are grateful to veterans for one day only, and the other 364 days of the year don’t give a rat’s ass if they return from fighting our pointless wars to “enjoy” the “gratitude” of unemployment, homelessness, and untreated combat-induced mental illness. (Romney wants to express his gratitude by abolishing the VA and giving them vouchers.)

25

Andrew F. 11.12.11 at 9:04 pm

Respectfully, some of the comments here miss the point.

Veterans Day simply has nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing with any decision to go to war.

Instead it is about honoring those who served and serve. Without agreeing with any past decisions to go to war, one can agree with the necessity of a military to the existence of a state, and therefore with the necessity of men and women who are willing to serve in the military, and therefore, in recognition of the sacrifices made in the course of that service, with the justice of honoring that service.

26

Anders 11.12.11 at 9:25 pm

@Andrew F – i’m in the UK so slightly talking past your Veterans’ Day reference, but what determines what a day is “about”?

Are you saying it is in some sense incoherent to accuse a country’s (military) establishment of co-opting the commemoration to help marginalize dissent the next time this country embarks on military action?

27

John Quiggin 11.12.11 at 9:27 pm

@Harry I read a commentator in The Globe and Mail making precisely that point and was going to talk about it, but ended up going for a short statement of forlorn hope. Apparently, the French military backdated deaths from the last day to the 10th, to hide the pointlessness of their final deaths.

28

John Quiggin 11.12.11 at 9:29 pm

I don’t think engaging with Andrew F is likely to prove very useful, so I’d ask commenters not to derail the discussion by doing so.

29

C. D. Ward 11.12.11 at 9:52 pm

Another note about Remembrance Day in Canada: we don’t have white poppies here, at least in part because the Royal Canadian Legion holds a trademark on the poppy that it is quite strict about.

Some group was distributing white dove pins this year, I doubt that will be very successful but it’s worth a try.

30

Piers 11.12.11 at 10:18 pm

Here’s another lovely Remembrance Day story from the UK / China:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2010/nov/10/david-cameron-poppy-china-michael-white

I’m no fan of the tradition of wearing poppies, but this had never crossed my mind.

31

harry b 11.12.11 at 11:42 pm

Wow, that story about Cameron is really bad. It would, indeed, have crossed my mind; maybe that’s the consequence of paying too much attention in A level History. What twits.

For me, the day is a day to remember, yes, people who fought and those who died in two wars, one of which was a horrendous waste of human life, the other of which was a terribly regrettable necessity. I do tend to think about the English. My grandfather joined up early in WWII. He was old enough that he would never have had to fight, and even when he joined up they tried to put him in the education corps, and then, when he wouldn’t, they tried to get him to be an officer. He believed that fascism had to be fought and that if you thought that you had to be willing to fight it. He was, at the time, wifeless and childless, so I suppose it was not irresponsible in any way of him to do that. He faced death often in the next six years for his commitment. I knew him long enough to know that he never recovered from the psychological toll it took, but also to know that he knew that he was right. I know I’ll never be called on to do that, and I don’t know if I could do it voluntarily.

Almost every town in England (France too) has a memorial in the middle, remembering soldiers who died in those two wars. There are no similar memorials to those who died in coal mines, or industrial accidents, or early from emphysema, or to the hundreds of the thousands of soldiers who were crippled or driven insane by their experiences, or the marvelous people who stood against the first war, imprisoned, persecuted, and sometimes executed for their efforts. I’m not sure I could have done the latter either. I welcome a chance to think of them, knowing that others are thinking of at least some them simultaneously.

In response to Anders; sure, that is a danger of poppy-wearing. Wear your old ANL badge on the other lapel, or CND, or if you are as pacifist as JQ (I know you’re not a pacifist John) a PPU badge. It would not be hard for the left to devise a small, but noticeable, insignia, to wear alongside the poppy, the meaning of which could be well understood. Thus putting pressure on, eg, Labour Party politicians, to wear that too.

Of course, we could all wear badges displaying our unconditional support for the heroin trade. Maybe Cameron et. al. could be convinced to wear them. Twits.

Now I am returning to some sort of sanity, I’ll try to write a little piece about To End All Wars. I defy you, John, or any of you with any sensitivity, to read the last few pages without crying. I couldn’t.

32

Tom Hurka 11.12.11 at 11:43 pm

John Q:

Welcome to Toronto, if you’re still here. If I’d known about your talk I would have gone.

33

Downpuppy 11.13.11 at 12:40 am

Remembrance Day will always belong to Eric Bogle

34

novakant 11.13.11 at 12:54 am

show a day’s respect to the people who pay a large part of the price in those wars.

In WW2 civilian deaths have outnumbered military deaths, and since the ratio has steadily risen estimates being as high as 10:1. Focusing on military deaths and giving soldiers hero status, while ignoring the suffering of civilians is a sign of militarism. Focusing on “our boys” while neglecting others is a sign of nationalism and tends to reinforce the “us vs them” worldview. If there was a day commemorating all victims of war, I’d support that.

35

harry b 11.13.11 at 12:54 am

And while we’re at it; this is moving, and typical of the BBC’s approach to this, which is not at all militaristic; the story of an ordinary soldier, as told by that soldier (with help from John Hurt and the fabulous Thea Gilmore):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0171p6v/Victor/

If you can get hold if the BBC radio dramatisation of Len Deighton’s Bomber, well, it is stunning.

36

H.P. Loveshack 11.13.11 at 2:00 am

Here’s something to remember:

It’s May 1917, right after the dismal failure of the Second Battle of the Aisne, and French moral is at its lowest. At the end of April, during the Second Battle of the Aisne, the French Army threw everything they had at the Germans, expecting to deliver a blow massive enough to break their lines. Instead, the French Army failed to advance more than a few km. The German line held. The French Commander in chief resigned in disgrace. In four days, 120 000 French soldiers were killed and wounded. There were about 40 000 Germans casualties.

By this time, since the beginning of the war, the French had lost about one million soldiers, out of a male population of about twenty million.

After the battle, the French armies in the area reported a steadily growing number of desertions. These desertions turned to mutiny. Up to 30,000 soldiers left the front line and reserve trenches and returned to the rear. About 50 divisions were affected.

Of course, this couldn’t be allowed to continue! The French military authorities took swift action: they arrested thousands, and then they court martialed them. About 24 000 men were convicted of mutinous behaviour. 550 to 700 men were sentenced to death. No one is quite sure how many were actually convicted and executed: it seems that the French files covering the mutiny can’t be accessed before 2017.

37

nick s 11.13.11 at 2:07 am

I’m not best pleased with the apparent poppification of everything in the UK, particularly as it seems to have come about as the last veterans of the Great War finally pass away, and as such, the trenches disappear from living memory.

Instead it is about honoring those who served and serve.

And yet the US seems to clear a lot of space in the calendar to do that throughout the year — or at least, put on the appearance of doing it through grand symbolic whatnots. July 4? ‘Honor the troops who fight for what the Founding Fathers gave us.’ Thanksgiving? ‘Honor the troops who aren’t home for Thanksgiving.’ Sunday Night Football? ‘Here’s a live link to Camp Dronestrike in Afghanistan, where lots of troops are watching the game.’

38

Dissent 11.13.11 at 4:32 am

The First World War was futile? Really? What about the Second? Was that futile, too?

Your verdicts are driven by a deep historical ignorance. An ignorance that is nothing more than the mirror ignorance of conservative historians like Niall Fergusson and John Charmley, who argue, respectively, that Britain should have never intervened in the First and Second World Wars because it was a futile and politically costly endeavor.

Go read your poetry. But Owens and Sassoons are no substitute for facts.

39

christian_h 11.13.11 at 4:41 am

Nick S, indeed – and “the troops” are, of course, not being “honoured” at all with these things – they’re being used. Used to sell shit to the proles; used to demonstrate political toughness; used to show support for the troops so we can move on and forget about the wars our rulers are waging with our tacit consent. In a strange way this embrace appears to me to be a method of othering the soldiers who fight those wars – the logical step to take as all the other victims of those wars have already been declared to be the Other.

40

Peter T 11.13.11 at 4:50 am

I must say the liberal blind spot with regard to war is well in evidence here (this is not to say that conservatives or the radical right are better – they more accept war than understand it).

41

christian_h 11.13.11 at 4:56 am

Jeez I hate this kind of drive-by commenting. If Peter T has something to say, say it. I’m not a liberal, but what exactly is it the leftists here are misunderstanding about war? Lack of reading Ernst Junger perhaps?

42

zrichellez 11.13.11 at 5:27 am

In elementary school jk-8 we always had history units on war leading up to November 11. On Nov 11, Rememberance Day, everyone wore a poppy..and we had to recite the following poem…which as a current resident of the US of A I can say is preferable to the shopping/school holiday observed here.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army
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.

43

NomadUK 11.13.11 at 9:51 am

H P Loveshack@6: As far as I’m concerned, on Remembrance day, we should brood over human stupidity. It shouldn’t be yet another commemoration of the so-called “military virtues”. The army shouldn’t be allowed at these things.

This is exactly right.

44

Philip 11.13.11 at 10:55 am

@ harry b ‘There are no similar memorials to those who died in coal mines…’. There are some memorials for mining disasters and they are still remembered. At this year’s Durham Miner’s Gala the Easington Banner was draped in black and at the front of the parade to commemorate 60 years since the disaster there. It is really becoming more popular again possibly more as a cultural/heritage thing than a political one, it’s a shame no big Labour MPs attend anymore.

45

ptl 11.13.11 at 12:17 pm

The “Last Tommy”, who lived for peace.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrBv_r_X4Gs&feature=related

46

John Quiggin 11.13.11 at 12:58 pm

The thread got derailed despite my efforts. So, here goes again

1. Meta-comment on my comment policies is never welcome. If you don’t like my judgements feel free to say so on your own blog, or Twitter or whatever. If you really feel impelled to raise a question, you can send me a polite email.

2. Requests like the one I made above reflect long experience, not snap assessments of individual comments.

3. I’m therefore going to delete all the meta-commentary and ask everyone to get back to the topic at hand.

47

Watson Ladd 11.13.11 at 3:01 pm

The First World War did what for the European people? It lead to the deaths of millions, with no substantive change in the government of any of them. Rosa Luxemburg had it exactly right: voting for war on the basis of nationalism was a betrayal of the trust placed in the social democrats for the voters.

48

novakant 11.13.11 at 3:19 pm

no substantive change in the government of any of them

Hmm, I would consider the dissolution of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires a substantive change.

49

Tom M 11.13.11 at 5:31 pm

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. In German, Russian or Turkish, it turned out pretty much the same.

50

Adrian Kelleher 11.13.11 at 7:39 pm

@christian_h

Ernst Junger should not be underestimated and teaches something fundamental about human nature: that the experience of violence can be pleasant, a form of self-expression so fulfilling as to make any risk worthwhile. The phrase ‘the experience’ is pivotal; victimisation is just sadism, but for Junger an opponent of merit was essential if satisfaction was to be achieved.

This seems strange today, but was a core neurosis of European civilisation for centuries. After all, for as long as Christianity existed Europe institutionalised (and limited) warfare. By contrast, in China the emperor was expected to foster harmony and balance but whenever the empire was divided it was an all-out, no-holds-barred deathmatch until only one contender remained.

What made Junger stand out was not the content of his ideology but its explicit expression. When you spelled it out like that, it rather made western civilisation seem as if it were populated entirely by dangerous maniacs.

Anybody who thinks war can be banished forever should read Junger, as should anyone baffled by cultural phenomena like los Zetas.

People like Junger frighten us because, like heroin adicts or suicides, though they may string concepts together with the sort of logical connectives we use ourselves their fundamental axioms are strange. They can never be refuted as such, however. In the end they’re just different choices.

Junger’s choices will never be for most people; they would make social stability impossible if they were. It is a mistake, however, and if you think about it a conceit seeing as it flatters us, to assume that people like him are somehow defective emotionally or biologically.

There’s no hint of repressed traumas or unexplored anxieties in his persona — no excuse if you prefer. He wasn’t fixated on power or money or even, I think, on glory in the normal sense of the word, and didn’t identify with some larger group identity to a degree that might be considered abnormal. He just enjoyed it.

51

christian_h 11.13.11 at 9:35 pm

Oh yes I wasn’t trying to suggest Junger wasn’t on to… something. Or shouldn’t be taken seriously.

52

Peter T 11.14.11 at 12:38 am

Response to christian h at 41. The short expansion is that liberalism (not the left generally – Marxists have had probably the best developed and most acute sense of the uses and limits of organised violence of any political philosophy) revolves around the idea that we are/should be reasonable individuals. Since war is mostly not reasonable (although often calculating in very sophisticated ways), and not individual (its about collective survival or triumph, not individual welfare), it’s very hard to fit in. Common liberal responses are to

– ignore it (I have read major accounts of, eg the industrial revolution which simply leave out the fact that war was central to major sectors of the British economy of the time);

– assume that everyone involved was either deranged/evil, coerced, ignorant or mistaken (hard to square with us being reasonable);

– following this, deny that any good can ever come of organised violence. This last despite the fact that all current liberal societies are built on piles of wealth amassed through successful war, and all owe their liberalism to the use or threat of violence. Still, improbable counter-factual narratives of this kind are not hard to manufacture.

As liberally-minded student of war, I can understand these responses. Insofar as they advance us towards being more reasonable, they are useful, and certainly do less harm than either glorifying or accepting war. After all, when the choice is inescapable, liberal societies have often been better at war than most others, and much better at making peace. It’s just that the conversation is sometimes irritating.

53

bob mcmanus 11.14.11 at 12:56 am

50-52: Wilfred Owen, who I read every Armistice Day. He deserves better than his reputation as an “anti-war” poet. Maybe he hated nationalism, patriotism, civilians but…

Apologia pro Poemate Meo

I, too, saw God through mud—
The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.

Merry it was to laugh there—
Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

I, too, have dropped off fear—
Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon,
And sailed my spirit surging, light and clear
Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;

And witnessed exultation—
Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.

I have made fellowships—
Untold of happy lovers in old song.
For love is not the binding of fair lips
With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,

By Joy, whose ribbon slips,—
But wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong;
Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
Knit in the welding of the rifle-thong.

I have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears: You are not worth their merriment.

54

Melissa 11.14.11 at 3:25 am

Canada went to war long before the US (1914). As I understand it, that created jobs for men to come up from the States. The saying at the time: If you can’t get a man, get an American.

I’m a US immigrant to Canada and Remembrance Day confused me at first (as opposed to Memorial Day). It did make me read more Canadian history. Last year I attend a ceremony and discussion with Cree elders (vets from the Korean war), Very moving.

55

Adrian Kelleher 11.14.11 at 4:09 am

@Bob McManus

I’d never have found that on my own. It’s very much appreciated.

If life has taught me one thing it’s that I’m temperamentally unsuited to poetry criticism, but seemingly it hasn’t taught me well enough so I’ll note how the final stanzas layer ernestness over irony, with both readings maybe being equally valid. There’s the egotism of someone transported into novel plane of experience, but tempered by awareness of the irony the implicit brutalisation entails. There’s much more than style there — integrity, and universal or potentially universal truths about human beings.

Why is poetry of such importance not written today? It must be possible.

On a prosaic note, I’m fairly certain “whose world is but the trembling of a flare” refers to a participant in a nocturnal trench raid, probably Owen himself, being lit up in the middle of no man’s land. I can honestly say I can’t imagine what such a moment might be like. RIP Wilfred Owen.

56

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.14.11 at 8:15 am

@25, there are countries without a standing army. They train the general population to mobilize it in case they are attacked. This seems to be a more civilized approach. So, no, one can’t agree with the necessity of a military to the existence of a state.

Now, those ordinary citizens who got mobilized (or, especially, volunteered) to defend their communities against an invasion certainly do deserve recognition, honoring, all that, but military professionals? They are paid for their services, so what are these sacrifices? And if they are not paid enough, don’t ask for sacrifices, just pay more.

57

Hidari 11.14.11 at 8:58 am

Since we are on the subject of WW1 and poetry:

‘These fought in any case,
and some believing,
pro domo, in any case . . .

Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later . . .
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some, pro patria,
non “dulce” non “et decor” . . .
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

fortitude as never before

frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.

V

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.’

Does anything more really need to be said?

58

Hektor Bim 11.14.11 at 1:25 pm

Harper pushes Armistice Day to make sure no one notices that he is an American in every other way. I imagine a large part of the brouhaha around Armistice Day comes from trying desperately to make sure people don’t think Anglophone Canadians are Americans.

59

John 11.14.11 at 3:12 pm

A letter home from Owen to his family:

For 14 hours yesterday I was at work –
teaching Christ to lift his cross by numbers,
and how to adjust his crown;
and not to imagine he thirst until after the last halt;
I attended his supper to see that there were no complaints;
and I inspected his feet to see that they should be worthy of the nails.
I see to it that he is dumb and stands to attention before his accusers.
With a piece of silver I buy him every day,
and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.

60

ajay 11.14.11 at 6:40 pm

I find it galling even offensive to have these shows of militarism in public institutions. The only reason I am alive is because my grandparents didn’t go to ww2

The only reason I am alive is, probably, that my grandparents (and lots of other people’s grandparents) did go to WW2, and won it. Foreign slave labourers in Germany tended not to leave children. Neither did camp inmates.

61

Sam C 11.15.11 at 2:32 pm

Remembrance Day certainly has changed in the UK. 10 years ago we didn’t really have the “poppy fascists” (the “he’s not wearing a poppy? he disrespects our gallant troops, he’s evil!” folk).

My mother told me of her experiences growing up in the 1930s in southern England. Her family used to go to the usual Sunday church service and parade to the war memorial, but afterwards her father (who was a medical orderly at the front in WW1 and lost many close relatives) quietly took his children up to the local war cemetery for German dead (presumably they were PoWs and sailors, otherwise I can’t explain why there would be a cemetery in southern England).

He did this to remind his sons and daughters that the tragedy of war was experienced by families on both sides. That thread of humanity remained with her through her life. I am amazed and impressed at the generosity of spirit of my grandfather, even though he had lost many friends and close relatives in WW1.

Of course, one key difference between WW1/WW2 and the current military adventurism of the UK is that WW1/2 were fought by the general population of the country mobilised into the armed forces because the standing army was quickly wiped out near the commencement of each conflict. Nowadays, I find I can’t care much if professional soldiers (professional? mercenary?) who chose a life of adventure going over to other people’s countries to shoot the locals find that those locals don’t like being attacked and fight back. It’s not my war, they’re the government’s army, not the people’s army. Not in my name!

As I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, we wouldn’t dream of mocking Remembrance Day, but there was none of the “poppy fascism” that demeans it now. And that was when there were many people alive with direct experience of the suffering and sacrifice of WW1/2. Few of those are left now, and I find the current Princess Dianaish hype both maudlin and slightly nauseating, a crying into their beer gesture. Wearing a poppy is the same sort of activism as clicking on an online poll; yeah, well done mate, why should I respect you for that huge gesture?

62

Watson Ladd 11.15.11 at 2:34 pm

Henri, military professionals are those who volunteer to defend their country. No one expects the fireman to not be payed, and few consider any pay enough for the mortal risk he takes.

63

ajay 11.15.11 at 2:38 pm

As I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, we wouldn’t dream of mocking Remembrance Day, but there was none of the “poppy fascism” that demeans it now

Worth noting that this certainly wasn’t true in the 1920s and 1930s. For a pretty good sense of the meaning of Armistice Day then, have a look at Dorothy Sayers’ “The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club”. Drivers who failed to shut off their engines during the two minutes’ silence were regularly beaten up.

64

kidneystones 11.15.11 at 2:54 pm

My grandfather was machine-gunned and nearly decapitated in 1816. He was patched up and sent back to the front. He had very little say in the matter.

Armistice Day can be used for any number of reasons. I like John’s sentiment here very much. We’re given fresh opportunities to say “no” to war each year. It’s good to take a few minutes to recall those who fell/fall and those they leave behind.

65

Stephen B 11.15.11 at 7:16 pm

Remembrance Day has a very long history in Canada and its observance shouldn’t be confused with support for militarism or the policies of the Harper government. I think it is quite appropriate for the community to take time to reflect on the wars of the 20th century and all the lost young men who didn’t live to grow old.

66

Adrian Kelleher 11.15.11 at 10:45 pm

I think the problem arises when it becomes reduced to the lowest common denominator uniting otherwise irreconcilable political forces and can only fulfill this purpose so long as wearers conspire to remain vague about what it is that’s being commemorated. I believe that in the UK it still evokes most strongly the national tragedy of the Somme but there are some for whom it means something quite different: the glory of the nation under arms.

In the modern age it is, I think, the nearest thing that exists to a holy icon. To question it is to risk condemnation of religious ferocity. However there’s a trap implicit in its differing interpretations that must be considered alongside its unifying effect.

67

Sam C 11.16.11 at 11:30 am

Ajay (63):
Worth noting that this [poppy fascism] certainly wasn’t true in the 1920s and 1930s. For a pretty good sense of the meaning of Armistice Day then, have a look at Dorothy Sayers’ “The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club”. Drivers who failed to shut off their engines during the two minutes’ silence were regularly beaten up.

Thanks, I’ll look it up. Without in any way wishing to condone violence against those who ignore the silence, I think that reaction would be more understandable then – imagine you lost fathers, uncles, brothers in the slaughter in trenches, or even fought in the mud and horror yourself, only a decade before, and you find others treating this small gesture as an irrelevant annoyance. But few people in the UK now have that direct experience now, for themselves or in their family, so they don’t have that personal hurt as an excuse; it’s unearnt selfish sentimentality.

A few years ago, there was a fashion for white “peace poppies”, against a perceived militarism of the red poppy. It was an interesting idea, but I felt it was inappropriate attempt to hijack someone else’s gesture, especially when many folk viewed it as a “war is horrible” remembrance rather than a “thank you troops!” thing. Any thoughts?

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