Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Recommended: Mark Steyn on the Meaning of the Red Poppy

For Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, we present this piece from the first 11 November after 11 September (as anthologized in Mark's book The Face of the Tiger). I can't precisely pinpoint the day when "the day that everything changed" changed again and consigned the post-9/11 era to history, but this is how it was in those first weeks of a new war:

On CNN the other day, Larry King asked Tony Blair what it was he had in his buttonhole. It was a poppy — not a real poppy, but a stylized, mass-produced thing of red paper and green plastic that, as the Prime Minister explained, is worn in Britain and other Commonwealth countries in the days before 11 November. They're sold in the street by aged members of the Royal British Legion to commemorate that moment 83 years ago today, when on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns fell silent on the battlefields of Europe.

The poppy is an indelible image of that "war to end all wars," summoned up by a Canadian, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, in a poem written in the trenches in May 1915:

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.

Row on row on row. And, in between, thousands of poppies, for they bloom in uprooted soil. Sacrifice on the scale McCrae witnessed is all but unimaginable in the west today — in Canada, in Britain, even apparently in America, which instead of sending in the cavalry is now dropping horse feed for the Northern Alliance, in the hope they might rouse themselves to seize an abandoned village or two, weather permitting.

Nonetheless, though we can scarce grasp what they symbolize, this year the poppies are hard to find. Three Canadian provinces had sold out by last Monday, and by the time you read this the rest of the Royal Canadian Legion's entire stock of 14.8 million will likely be gone. That's not bad for a population that barely touches 30 million and includes large numbers of terrorist cells plus those students at Montreal's Concordia University who openly celebrated the attacks on the World Trade Center. Evidently the public has made a connection between 11 September and 11 November, though no one seems quite sure what is: A general expression of solidarity with the victims? Or a renewed respect for the men who gave their lives so we could get fat and complacent and read celebrity features about Britney?

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Continue reading the essay here:


  1. I take issue with Mr Steyn, if for no other comment than this, "... the Americans and the British Empire win the Great War..." (next to last paragraph) Seems there were others who contributed as well. Perhaps someone should be reminded of the 'Bleut de France" vis-a-vis the poppy.

  2. I remember buying the lapel poppies outside of the grocery store on Sunday mornings. I was surprised how many just walked by without stopping to buy. If they only remembered the meaning of the red poppy!

  3. ... maybe they are so hard to find in the U.S. because so few are willing to serve. Where many say they will serve when 'they come over here...' My mother always bought one from the vet on the corner and as a third generation vet, I always wear one.