Editorial: Meaning of Remembrance Day often lost in modern world

Publication YearIssue Date 

Controversy isn't what it used to be.

In 1960, founding Gauntlet editor Maurice Yacowar wrote a contentious editorial instructing the masses not to buy poppies for Remembrance Day. He stated that the money spent on a symbol of war--or peace, depending on how you look at it--supports the honouring of unneeded death and destruction, along with cheaply clearing one's conscience seemingly stemming from the simple act of dropping some coins into a box and pinning a piece of red plastic to oneself.

The response to Yacowar's divergence from the war-supporting party line was public outcry and accusations of pure immorality that, in part, resulted in his removal from the paper in the coming months. Some might have said he was ahead of his time when, 10 years later, various anti-war sentiments that were expressed over the Vietnam war had a stronger following. Yacowar citing the irrelevance of the World Wars to the masses of the '60s 47 years ago brings an important question of modern times to light: how relevant is Remembrance Day to us? More importantly, how relevant is war to us?

In this day and age, it seems to some that we are living in an oblivious war state.

Gone are the days of intrusive war that affects how much food you can provide for your family, bombards one through all available media outlets with disabling propaganda and tells you who the enemies are. With the proliferation of endless multimedia and the burgeoning ability to make one's own opinion about the political and military decisions of their country, there's never been a more confusing time to be at war.

The passing of another Remembrance Day hits the confusion nail on the head, as plastic poppies grace the lapels of coats everywhere yet again and many blindly and reluctantly observe their requisite minutes of silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, not really seeming to recognize what the whole thing is actually about.

The poppy is a representation taken from John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields," written after the World War I lieutenant colonel saw his friend die in battle the day before. This poem is still taught to many children in schools all over Canada and while taken from a relevant context at the time of this battle's conclusion, examination of our current world conflicts shows that the poppy could be taking on a whole new meaning.

In a recent opinions piece published in the Victoria Times Colonist, Don Martin mentioned a curious point about our common viewpoints of war and current battles we are waging in Afghanistan. The poppy, while a proclaimed symbol of our victories and triumphs during wars of past, is also the source of opiate drugs like heroin and is, consequently, the economic lifeblood of many "terror-makers" we are trying to fight. Poppies sucked of their opium-rich content are strewn all over the fields of Kandahar, where we battle today.

Symbols are very dependent on context. People strap poppies to wreathes, adhere them to their jackets and post pictures of them on their various social-networking pages and blogs. Not only are many muddying up the message if we take the modern context into consideration, but Yacowar wasn't far off when he said "people should not have the opportunity of prying themselves off the moral hook merely by buying a red artificial poppy." Instances of people stealing poppy boxes--such as the thief who was caught on camera with $80 in donations from a northeast McDonald's on Sun.--hit the point home: many don't care or value the sacrifices people made 80 years ago and they don't notice the sacrifices people are making today in Afghanistan.

Whether or not people buy poppies to support veterans or peace or social habit, our current representation of war is confusing. "Lest we forget" is becoming an obsolete idea when we're all too young to have anything to remember. Mainstream media still tries to tell the public who the bad guys are and why we should fight them but with other, subversive media giving you a different take and, some might argue, a bigger picture, it's hard to decide what we're fighting for anymore, resulting in an overall apathetic attitude towards most causes. Had Yacowar written his editorial in 2007, he likely would have met an un-unified, scattered and overall, listless response.

The issue isn't whether or not we should stop or continue celebrating Remembrance Day. It's deciding what to remember, and why.