Friday, 14 November 2014

Remembrance and Hope

 My thoughts today are turning to Remembrance Day.  I had quite a full day on Tuesday as the chaplain of the local Legion Branch in Parkhill.  The various ceremonies – at the Parkhill Cenotaph, one at the Leury community in the country, the assembly at the local High School, a wreath laying at the cemetery, interspersed with a luncheon at the Legion.  It was most rewarding to be a participant and serve as chaplain and have the community come out to support the memory of those who have fallen in war serving Canada.  At the assembly as well as the cenotaph service I read the names of those who from this area gave their lives serving Canada in WW1, WW2, and the Korean War.  Fortunately no one from this area has lost their life in other conflicts since Korea.  I also added the names of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and W. O. Patrice Vincent to honour their recent sacrifice which was in the hearts and on the minds of so many recently. 

A new and controversial element has recently has begun to enter the Remembrance Day observances.  Recently the white poppy has started to enter the territory which has up to this point been the exclusive domain of the traditional red poppy.  I was first aware of the white poppy a couple of years ago.  It was developed as a focus on the hope for peace while the traditional red poppy is for the remembrance of those who make the supreme sacrifice while serving their country.  When I first heard about the white poppy it seemed to me that there was merit using this symbol in promoting peace as well as the remembrance of those who suffered the ultimate sacrifice because of the opposite – war.  At the time I checked with the Royal Canadian Legion’s national headquarters and received the rather terse response that the poppy was to be used only in the form prescribed by the Legion.  I was not surprized by this as I was aware that the Legion was and is very aggressive in protecting its control of the use of the poppy.  I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and did not pursue the matter further not wanted to cause any possible consternation or hurt to the Legion members that I was involved with as Chaplain and others.

The issue came to the fore again this year with an interview on CBC radio with a retired member of the Canadian military who was promoting the use of the white poppy.  He was fervent in his belief that the white poppy was appropriate as a symbol for the hope for peace – a peace which would mean that no more lives would be lost due to war.  He stated that he would be wearing a white poppy along with his red poppy for this Remembrance Day.  He also stated that he was being attacked by people because of this position.  I did not hear the whole interview so I was not aware what form these attacks took but the impression was that while hopefully not physical they were quite dramatic and difficult for his to deal with.  However, despite the reaction he was – admirably in my opinion – determined to continue.

I am rather torn by this issue.  I firmly support the desire and need for a symbol that will show the hope for peace in the world and encourage people to look for alternatives to war to solve conflict and problems.  However, I am not sure that the white poppy is the appropriate one.  The poppy has a long, honourable and honoured tradition of remembrance for those who gave their lives while serving their country in times of war and other conflicts.  I can understand that people may, rightly or wrongly, react strongly against something that they believe may dishonour that symbol. The red poppy does not glorify or war or promote militarism although it may be seen by some as doing that.  It honours those who are most deserving of honour.  As I noted, when I first became aware of the white poppy I thought that it was a good idea.  However, after consideration I believe that it would be more meaningful for someone or some group to develop a unique symbol for peace that does not utilize the powerful symbol that the poppy has become. I must confess that I don’t have any suggestions at this point.  However, I sincerely hope that someone more creative than I will.  In the meantime let us continue to remember and honour those who have made sacrifices – supreme or otherwise – to serve Canada in the armed forces and let us all pray for the peace that passes all understanding. 

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