November 11th, 2002

last unicorn

In Flanders Fields

So it's Remembrance Day. And I intended to go up to the cenotaph to watch the ceremony, but between lethargy and an inability to keep track of time, I didn't make it. I have, however, been pondering war stuff. And thinking about "In Flanders Fields". Particularly the last bit:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

And I've been thinking about the "quarrel". I suppose McRae probably quite literally meant the ongoing war; it was an exhortation to the soldiers, a call to arms. But as we all know, poetry belongs at least as much to the reader as to the writer, and I've long read this bit in a slightly different way.

What were they fighting for, after all? Countless petty nationalist concerns, of course. But also for ideals. For things like freedom, and justice, and the safety of places and people they loved. And maybe that's the torch. Hold high the torch of justice. Of freedom. Most of all, of peace. Keep faith with the dead by making sure it never happens again.

It's the same feeling I bring to the poppy. For me, "Lest we forget" is transmuted into "Never again". An important statement, these days. A too-often-ignored sentiment. So what can we do to make it real? How can we make peace and justice a reality in this world?

Maybe we can't. But we have to try. Don't we?
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