I bought a poppy the other day, as I often do this time of year. A red one, not one of those anti-war white ones. I’m sort of peeved that this movement grabbed the very symbol of Remembrance Day and twisted it to their own political purpose.
It’s not that I love war, or accept it or even simply tolerate it. I don’t. But the poppy, to me, represents the people who have sacrificed, often everything, because of war. And that’s it. It’s not about politics to me. It’s about life. And often death.
My father served in World War II even though he considered himself a pacifist. His father, my Grandfather, as I found out very recently, was actually a draft dodger. The war he was refusing to participate in was World War I, and in those days the dodgers were referred to as “slackers”. He was in the U.S., having been sent over by his family in Denmark to be educated by his wealthier aunt and uncle in Montana. It didn’t work out too well between them, so my teenage Grandfather left and wandered around the northern states, hopping trains and getting work where he could.
I never could figure out what made him cross the border into Canada, until my cousin recently uncovered a U.S. document that showed he had been drafted. We more or less put two and two together; he came to Canada to avoid the draft! It actually made me chuckle to realize that my Grandfather had the guts to run. Some might see that as cowardice, but I believe it’s a lot more brazen to avoid being herded into a horrid war. I can imagine how he viewed it; he was not an American citizen, so why would he fight as one?
Not long after spending time in Canada, he went back to Denmark and married my Grandmother and they both came back to Canada to settle. My father, the first of four children, was born in Calgary.
I wonder how my Grandfather felt about my Dad enlisting when he did. Did he agree with it, or simply accept that there was not much that could be done? My Dad never saw any action in World War II, he was stationed in Alberta and here on Vancouver Island and basically just worked on fighter planes testing instrument panels. Although he was, as I said, a pacifist, I think he felt he had to do his duty, as much of a contradiction as that was. He was a history nut, and could tell you something about any and every war on the planet since the beginning of time. I might be exaggerating, but not by much! In that respect, he knew more than many what war was all about.
These many years later, his favourite grandson, my nephew has had five tours in Afghanistan and is now training troops elsewhere in the world.
I respect my Grandfather for not wanting to be in a war. I respect my Dad for enlisting. I respect my nephew for risking his life in Afghanistan not once, but five times. I’m never going to stop hating wars and the effects they have on so many. But every November, I’m going to wear a red poppy because I don’t ever want to forget what so many have done for all of us.