In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row...




Upon the occasion of Canada's Remembrance Day and America's Veteran's Day, I offer this tribute to two great nations and two great Canadians. John McCrae, the physician who wrote "In Flanders Fields," was among the thousands who died there. Leonard Cohen, the musician who read the poem, died yesterday. 

"In Flanders Fields" is one of the dozens of poems that it has been my privilege to memorize and to ponder when I am unable to sleep.

14 comments:

Emma Springfield said...

I think of the song No Man's Land by Eric Bogle. It is a song that makes me cry every time I hear it. In Flanders Fields was a poem we read in school this time of year. I also think of my father and brothers who all served in war zones. One brother gave his life for our country. I am grateful for all the military people from both our countries who work so hard to allow us to keep our way of life.

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

I loved Leonard Cohen's song/poem
Suzanne.

Elephant's Child said...

The world has been diminished. Again.

Stephen Hayes said...

That poem has always been one of my favorites.

PhilipH said...

I always try to attend the remembrance service at Wickenby Aerodrome, usually held in September and again in November. RAF Wickenby was home to 12 Squadron and 626 Squadron, both Lancaster bomber crews.

Tears I fail to hold back when the 'Last Post' sounds. Then this verse is recited, and reminds us of the 55,000 young airmen of Bomber Command who were snuffed out like candles in a gale:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.


More than 1,100 aircrew never returned to Wickenby after a mission to Germany. Over the years, rows of trees have been planted in memory of many of these valiant young men, average age 22.

Strayer said...

So many of the young go off and die in wars. It amazes me they are willing and march or fly into sure death. It has been this way as long as history exists. Songs and poems and books are written to remember them, and perhaps to flutter the hearts of the young as they listen and hope one day their courage will be recounted in heart wrenching lyric.

Snowbrush said...

“Songs and poems and books are written to remember them, and perhaps to flutter the hearts of the young as they listen and hope one day their courage will be recounted in heart wrenching lyric.”

No doubt, but, to really take in these words and pictures and voice, makes my hair stand on end. It’s like putting a foot into hell and seeing that even there, beauty exists. I remember it being said of the Civil War that those who fought regarded it as the one truly momentous thing they would ever do in life. There’s an excellent movie about the second Iraq war called “The Hurt Locker.” There’s a scene in that movie in which a returning bomb defuser is standing alone in the seemingly endless and sterile aisle of a supermarket late at night. Bland music is playing, and his wife has instructed him to pick out one breakfast cereal from among the seemingly limitless options. He looks left, and he looks right, and he finally picks up a box at random and throws it into his cart. I took the scene to represent what he regarded as the vast, empty, meaninglessness of his life from which, if nothing else, war was a distraction because, in defusing bombs, everything he did mattered.

Some men truly do love war, and I think that John McCrae might have been one of them. Although a doctor, he wanted to serve in the artillery, and only practiced medicine when forced to do so (you should Google his image). Those who become Navy Seals are that way. Many men—mostly men—think they will love war only to find that it’s far not what they expected or wanted, while others truly do love it. Of the two, I prefer the writings of the former, but McCrae’s poem is so powerful that I couldn’t resist memorizing it. For one thing, its immediacy completely erases the hundred years that have passed since his life ended and mine continues. There is the sense in me that he was a real man, and that I, who have never been to war, am somehow lacking, yet I would not for all the money in the world choose to go to war. But there remains a sense of a double draw in that what I want to know is the last on earth that I would choose to know, and that is what war is like. I really don’t know that anyone who has seen much of war who considers the experience to represent other than the loss of a part of his soul, and so it is that I have contented myself with occasionally reading about it.

Victor Frankl wrote of the Nazi camps that the best people died. I think he meant that those who were notably sensitive and caring simply couldn’t do what was necessary to survive an experience in which being sensitive and caring was a liability. Perhaps, war is that way. In any case, I would not anticipate being a survivor even if my body made it through.

Marion said...

I just saw the amazing movie, "Hacksaw Ridge" with my husband. It's the true story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during WWII on religious grounds. Doss was drafted and ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance but went on to earn respect and adoration for his bravery, serving as a Medic and single-handedly saving the lives of 75 men. I've never seen such a brutally realistic depiction of war. I highly recommend it even though I'm not a war movie type person. My husband is a Veteran and he said the movie was gut-wrenching to watch. Forget the bullshit about who made the movie...it's a masterpiece about a real American hero who most folks never even heard of!!

I loved Leonard Cohen. He was one of our greatest poets/songwriters. xo

rhymeswithplague said...

A very moving post, Snowy, but November 11th is Veterans Day (the living) Memorial Day, which honors those who are dead, is the last week in May. The confusion over the two is that originally November 11th was Armistice Day, celebrating the end of World War I in 1918 and "In Flanders Field" is about the dead of that war. I think LBJ, whom I don't miss, helped cause the confusion. What I do miss is everybody wearing red poppies and the moment of silence at 11:00 a.m.

Snowbrush said...

“Tears I fail to hold back when the 'Last Post' sounds. Then this verse is recited, and reminds us of the 55,000 young airmen of Bomber Command who were snuffed out like candles in a gale”

It is said of WWII that if ever there was a necessary war, it was that war, and maybe it was so. 55,000 would have been an incredible number of lost fliers in this country, but given that yours is a smaller nation, and assuming that they were all, or nearly all, from your nation (I know that escaped Polish airmen, for one, served with other forces), I can’t imagine. I had thought that the American bomber crews had it rough—and indeed they did—but then I read about how many more missions the British airmen were expected to fly and how devoid of armaments those invincible looking Lancasters were, and it seemed to me that what was asked of those men was in reality suicidal. And, of course, the ones who broke were officially labeled “Lacking in Moral Fibre” no matter whether they called it quits after their first mission or their thirtieth. This surely meant that a lot of those who died heroes would have been labeled as cowards had they survived the mission on which they were killed, making it partially a matter of luck whether or not a man was deemed a coward. I think it also true that, for many people, it takes more courage to face the condemnation of one’s fellows than to put one’s life at risk day after day after day. I know that I can’t stand in condemnation of those who did that I can’t know but what I might have done.

Snowbrush said...

"Hacksaw Ridge”…the true story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss”

I’m glad you brought it up (I’ll put a hold on the movie at the library), and I’m honored and grateful that you’re not letting our political differences discourage you from coming here, one reason being that I actually like it when people disagree with me. No matter how passionate our feelings, the last thing I want is to exclude everyone from my blog who holds different beliefs and values. Even during WWII, most men in the military never had a shot fired at them, so most COs could have avoided having to kill or be killed even had they elected to be drafted like everyone else, but they either couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. Instead, some became medics, while others volunteered to be guinea pigs in medical experiments, or worked at dangerous jobs, or else went to prison. Nurses also fail to receive the credit they deserve, as do women plane ferriers, and doubtless many others were surely wounded in their hearts though never shot at. I remember an account of two WWI nurses who were sisters, and who survived the entire war in field combat hospitals only to throw themselves into the ocean on their way home. I recall reading about a study in which it was found—assuming the study was correct, it being too long ago for me to remember the details of how it was conducted—that most combat veterans never fired their guns but what they tried to miss their target. I know this sounds incredible, so I just mention it for what it’s worth.

More recently—a few months ago, in fact, when I was writing posts about lynchings in my hometown of Brookhaven, MS, I read of a lynching in Georgia which a returning WWI black combat veteran was killed for refusing to put away his uniform, and there was another WWI account in which a white peddler was threatened with being lynched if he didn’t stop selling postcards that showed black Americans fighting the Germans, because even though the Germans were the enemy, they were still white. Then there was the famous WWII letter—to Yank magazine magazine—in which a black soldier complained that German POWs were being treated better than the black American soldiers.

“A very moving post, Snowy, but November 11th is Veterans Day”

I appear to have misspoke, so I’ll make the correction. For anyone who doesn’t know, here in the US, Memorial Day honors those who died in war, and Veteran’s Day honors all war veterans. When I was a teenager, I got a job at Woolworths, and that was the first time that I gave any thought to the grievous disrespect that Americans show to their veterans by turning the holidays that are supposed to honor those veterans into occasion to increase sales.

All Consuming said...

The video has gone sweetie. I'll pop back again to see if you can get it workingonce more. Much like Philip, 'The Last Post' has me well up for those lost in so many horrendous, often senseless wars, that and the poem he quotes by Robert Laurence Binyon. Humanity.

Snowbrush said...

“The video has gone sweetie”

Thank you for letting me know. I got it back up. It seems that “Legion” edited it slightly, which, I assume, is why it went missing.

E. Rosewater said...

one of these years i'll have to re-read war and peace. when i read it in my youth, i didn't pick up on tolstoy's anti-war message.