“Qui peut dire où vont les fleurs?” or, I Still Hate “In Flanders Fields”

When I was a child in the early ’70s we always gathered in the school gym for a Remembrance Day assembly (not on Remembrance Day, BTW, since that, my Ontarian friends, is a statutory holiday in Saskatchewan).  And as cheesy as it was then, to my 7 or 8 year old way of thinking, as an adult, in the world as it is, I’m feeling sentimental about those assemblies.

And since Mary Travers died this year, I’m giving into a naïve peacenik sentimentality of a long time ago.

And also since –  as I’ve suggested in the past – so much of the discourse of war and remembrance in my country consists of sacrificial satisfaction, I’d catch the torch from the failing hands of Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson, Mary Travers and Marlene Dietrich, and so many others, hold it high and take up the quarrel with their foe.

From the CBC yesterday:

Canada’s top commander says he will withdraw all of the country’s soldiers from the region by 2011.

“The parliamentary motion directs that it will be the end of the military mission in July of 2011. I mean those are the words that are there …. And for me it’s pretty clear. What we do for the Canadian Forces are military missions.”


The government has insisted Canada’s military mission will end in 2011. But its ministers and staff — including Defence Minister Peter MacKay — have suggested Canadian soldiers could remain in Afghanistan beyond that deadline, though perhaps not in combat.

Speaking before a parliamentary committee last month, MacKay said they would shift to a role that focuses on more development, reconstruction, training and helping Afghans enhance their own security.


But Natynczyk said he couldn’t see a role for any soldiers in Kandahar that would respect parliament’s declaration.

“We provide protection, we provide security, we enable governance, we enable development, we enable training. But our function is security and protection. That’s the military mission.”

Asked if there’s any role for Canadian soldiers in a non-military deployment, Natynczyk said there will be some representatives in Kabul as part of the embassy staff.

“But right now, everything else we do is a security mission, is providing protection and security.”

And all of that is to say, this mission is far from over.  (You know I heard a townie on TV actually refer to it as peacekeeping.)  Now all we need is a change in government – and it doesn’t really matter what sort of change – to cinch the continuation of this rudderless misadventure.

I hate “In Flanders Fields” because it’s evoked with such maudlinist dedication on this day, in this age.  Really, the poppy fields to which we ought to give unvarnished consideration – especially on this day – lie in the valleys of a god-forsaken country on the margins of two civilizations, shot up by zealots, gangsters and several species of foreign interloper.

Ironic that the pious in our country recite a psalm from a century ago whose governing imagery, where it grows in a warzone of ours at present, is responsible for untold deaths among the zealots, gangsters and foreigners who fight over it as a resource.

And more importantly, that it kills 10s of 1000s every year around the world, despite our attempts to destroy it so that the gangsters and zealots can’t profit from it. 

Where have all the flowers gone?  Into the veins of the lowest of the low of almost every country on earth.  Lest we forget?  I can’t see how we’re better off by remembering.


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