Ever since I’ve lived in Britain or Canada, I’ve liked the custom of wearing a poppy. I was quite surprised to read this week that the first person to sell poppies in honor of veterans, in 1918, was actually American. Veterans Day was Armistice Day to begin with, and at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns of World War I fell silent.
For this reason, at 11:00 today we have the two-minute silence. Being silent, it is not coercive. It does not require everybody to agree about this or that conflict, or the best way of supporting our troops now. It is simply in honor of those whose sacrifices have been considerably greater than mine.
I’ve always tried to buy my poppies from an old guy, someone who might have been a veteran of World War II, but it gets harder every year. It has been my privilege to meet many people who survived the Second World War, the conflict of conflicts that must never be forgotten.
I am thinking of veterans—both my grandfathers, for example—but also of the woman I heard speak last week. A self-described German-Jewish Brit, she was one of the children saved from Nazi Germany who came to live in Britain, and never left. I went to see her because I thought it was important to witness, in the flesh, people who saw Hitler and his madness and lived to tell about it. As it turned out, she was a delight to hear.
I am also thinking of a survivor I met when I was sixteen years old. When she was sixteen, her apparently lifeless body was pulled from a pile in a Nazi concentration camp, by a U.S. soldier. She might have been expected to be a bitter person, but instead, she radiated hope and joy.
I am thinking of a lady I knew who was a child during the bombing of British industrial cities. Her house was blown to smithereens, on a day when she and her family happened to be out at the movies. She has been a big fan of going to the movies ever since.
And I’m thinking of another Holocaust survivor, a member of the Order of Canada, the man who swore me in as a Canadian citizen. Like me, he was a citizen of more than one country. His Austrian citizenship had been revoked under Hitler, but in a democratic Europe, he made sure to get it back.
When the Second World War ended, the Allies took those most unimaginably criminal people, the Nazis, and put them on trial at Nuremberg. Someone told me this week that the only reason “we” did this was to one-up the Soviet Union, which just wanted to shoot them. Well, so what? It was the right thing to do, it was in our interest, and it paid dividends in the history of Europe and the world since.
Really, if you’re not sure how far to go in war, you could do worse than take the moral high ground against Stalin.
Remembrance Day dates from the end of the First World War and I think that’s important, because it honors what all must want, and that is the end of conflict. So, honor to veterans and a special thanks to those who served during World War II. Who not only helped save the world, but came home and built a nation. Who grew up in the Great Depression and saw the horrors of war, but did not allow the rest of their lives to be blighted by brutality.