These poppies sprout, not on the usual lapel, but in a field of grain.
Yesterday a neighbor came by collecting money to support military families, exchanging red paper poppies for a donation. This is an annual tradition here, beginning a couple of weeks before Remembrance Day, November 11, when red poppies sprout from lapels and new wreaths are laid at war memorials. When she heard my accent she assured me this was a world wide tradition, but I told her that no, Americans didn't generally honor the memories of their fallen in such a way. Instead, they slap yellow ribbons on their cars and SUVs and promptly forget about the whole concept of "support the troops."
When I mentioned that I didn't support the war in Iraq, she told me she was relieved to hear it. "I don't usually say anything, since you never know." She meant she keeps her mouth shut around Americans, of course. I've heard this before, this huge sigh of relief when Brits find out that despite my accent I never drank the Kool-Aid.
I told her I thought people here had stronger reservations about wars since they'd been affected to such a greater degree by the two great wars of the last century. Memories are much sharper here, honed by the danger of living in a city targeted for destruction by German Luftwaffe. I could go on, examining the differences in the two societies in how they honor the war dead, but I've been there before. The dead would probably prefer to be remembered by their country's honoring the living, who need more than yellow ribbons to bring them home safely.
That's why I was struck when I read this at Military.com, a website that normally posts items of interest to servicemembers, such as info for military spouses seeking work, and a sign-up for a monthly commissary shopping spree.
Joe Galloway, a veteran military affairs reporter, says:
The White House Office of Management and Budget rejected Army chief Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker's extraordinary plea by for the additional funds to pay for repairing and replacing thousands of worn out and blown up tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees.
Instead of the $25 billion that Schoomaker says the Army needs just to keep doing what it's been doing with spit, adhesive tape and baling wire for the last five years, the Pentagon says the Army can have $7 billion.
I wonder, will the military vote this year go, as in the past, to the Republicans? Will they finally come to their senses and realize that, unless they're major stockholders in Halliburton they haven't been aided by the massive spending in the Pentagon budget? Their needs just aren't on the Northrop-Grumman radar of Dick "Five Deferments" Cheney, Donald "You go to war with the Army you have" Rumsfeld, and George "AWOL" Bush. As for the Republicans in Congress, they too are more concerned about the military contractors their favorite lobbyists (i.e. Jack Abramoff, who contributed solely to Republicans) are employed by.
When the poppy lady was leaving, she apologized for the flimsiness of the poppies. "They used to be made of silk, in China or somewhere," she said, "but they got too expensive."
"No problem," I said. They are, after all, just a symbol. Supporting the troops— and honoring the fallen—involves more than pinning a poppy to your lapel, or a magnetic ribbon to your bumper. Or even accepting expensive gifts from military contractors, through their lobbyists.
I'll let Major John McCrae have the last word:
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.