Following is an essay written by student Katia (Kaz) Bannister and presented during an assembly at Chemainus Secondary School Wednesday afternoon:
“We wear our hearts on our sleeves during the month of November, or rather our poppies on our breasts. But why the poppy? It was spotlighted in the poem “In Flanders Fields,” but there are surely symbols of remembrance that represent war and its grizzly horrors more accurately. It is my belief that the poppy is our symbol of remembrance and by default, war, because we do not want to understand how truly devastating war is.
Traditionally, the flower represents beauty and birth, and while it is a beautiful sentiment that our loved ones fought for us, to give us a life that they could never have hoped to have, beauty and birth do not embody war in the slightest, so why the poppy? It is my thought that the poppy is used to distract us from the savagery of war, to bring some beauty to a time cloaked by atrocities and horror. They chose a flower, the epitome of rebirth, but this flower is somewhat of a horror story on its own. The poppies amongst the crosses were red with the blood of fallen soldiers.
We of western culture do not see disturbing and gut-wrenching horrors in everyday life, not unless we choose to expose ourselves to them on the internet. We could not possibly understand what it is like to have bombs dropped on the homes of our neighbours, see dead bodies littered in the streets or have to ration our food because we didn’t know how long it would last. Why are these not our symbols of remembrance?
As a tribute to the sacrifices made for us, why should we not try to understand what our forefathers went through on the bloody battlefields. Are we too sensitive? No, we subject ourselves to a great many horrors daily, how we suffocate our planet and by default, ourselves, little by little each day; how we have destroyed countless forests and the precious ecosystems within them; how we use our ocean as if it is a black hole, dumping trash into it and then pretending it just goes away. We listen to the news daily, hear about terrible people doing worse things, but can we not face our history?
World Wars I and II were the wars to end all others. But they have not, we cannot pretend they have. We need to delve deep into history, explore the trauma and terror, hear it straight from the mouths of our veterans before they are all gone. We can’t let their stories die with them and we need to see that war is not the answer, we need to make it blatantly clear. It is my opinion that the poppy is not clear enough.
We try to cover up something horrible with something beautiful. Like perhaps it will go away if we bury it deep enough. While we buried the bodies of our loved ones, both the named and nameless, we cannot bury history, nor can we change it. Writing poems about flowers growing amongst the crosses doesn’t accurately represent our history unless we, too, write poems about the men who had their limbs severed in action, men who saw their beloved war horses slaughtered before their eyes, men who saw their comrades fall, bleeding and broken never to rise again. Men who would have to live with those memories for the rest of their lives. And men who would never live to see anything else.
But we, too, must remember the women who saw their husbands and sons leave in tears, and how they, too, shed tears when a letter would arrive home, informing them that their loved one was missing in action, mothers who had to tell their children that “father will not be coming home.” Those women and their children could not have been consoled by even the most beautiful of flowers.
Is the poppy symbol enough? That is not my decision to make, I try only to question what I know to be set in stone. The poppy will always be our symbol of remembrance, somehow it rings true to us. We want to see beauty arise from the darkness, we want to see life spring up from under a cloak of death. It is a human desire and we are all too human. And as the blood of the fallen was steeped into the petals of the poppies that grew in Flanders Fields, a nation was reborn. But does one birth justify those thousands upon thousands of deaths? It depends on what we want to remember, a valiant fight for freedom or a travesty which resulted in trauma that will never escape us.”