11th November 2008

In Flanders' fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
John McCrea

On the day when France celebrates the 90th anniversary of the end of WW1, a government-commissioned report says France should cut back on the number of official memorial days. As you can imagine, this statement has created conflict all on its own!
On the one side are war veterans everywhere, horrified at the very thought that the world should forget all those who fell during both world wars.
On the other side are those who say there are already 11 other national days in France. "It is not healthy that within half a century, the number of commemorations has doubled," said historian Andre Kaspi. So, the report recommends retaining Armistice Day, the May 8 celebration to mark the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the Bastille Day celebration on July 14, relegating all the others. I, of course, agree to keep the May 8 day. But to forget 11 Nov and keep July 14? It's as if they're saying 'let's forget all those brave WW1 soldiers who gave their lives for their country, but (rather like the UK on 5 Nov) let's celebrate those lawless people who stormed the Bastille all those years ago and beheaded the monarchy via Madame Guillotine!'
In contrast, a $500,000 memorial has just been unveiled in Normandy in honour of the forgotten US Navy servicemen who took part in the D-Day landings. And WW1, fought in large part on French soil, cost more than 1.4 million French lives and remains firmly anchored in the country's memory even after the death this year of Lazare Ponticelli, its last surviving veteran.
And for the future? All those poppies will symbolically lie in the soil undisturbed for years, in the hope that no future battlefield will force us to look fully at all that 'red' blood again. Amen.

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