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Thursday, November 04, 2010

A matter of offense

This seems to be a crazy time of year, doesn't it?  The same things seem to get rehashed every year, too.

I did see a new variation go by.  Immediately after Halloween, one of my "gamer friends" on facebook (people I've gotten to know through the one online game I play there) put up one of those "if you agree with this, change your status, too!" things.  Most of them, I ignore.  Especially the ones that say "97% won't have the courage to put this on their facebook," or some similar phrasing attempting to shame people into cutting and pasting the blurb into their own facebook status.  Once in a while I will share a status on my own, but as soon as I see that "challenge" at the end, I reject it immediately, even if I do agree with the original statement.  It's like those emails people share with this wonderful, inspiring story, only to find a paragraph at the end telling people to forward it to X number of friends and their wish will come true or, worse, admonitions of how, if you really believe in God, Jesus, or a particular cause, you will share it with everyone in your address book, but it you don't, you're just an awful, heartless beast.

For me, that's the fastest way to get something trashed.

This particular status update was saying no to Christmas decorations and sales displays before Remembrance Day out of respect for our veterans, because Christmas is all about commercialism and materialism and it is therefore offensive to our vets.  It ended with saying something along the lines of  "I refuse to shop anywhere that has a Christmas display before Remembrance Day."

They're not going to get much shopping done in the next while.  I suppose they never go to craft supply stores at all, either, since those have year round Christmas displays.

Aside from the fact that Christmas displays started coming up at about the same time as the Halloween ones, whoever came up with this particular meme is displaying a few revealing things.  First, the idea that Christmas is all about commercialization and materialism.  Now, I happen to agree that there's too much commercialization surrounding Christmas, but that's secular Christmas.  As we celebrate religious Christmas, we simply ignore the crassness of it all and do our own thing.  That's a matter of choice.  Don't like the commercialism of Christmas?  Don't buy into it.  On the other hand, as weird as it is to see the displays coming out so early, I actually kind of like them.  It's cheering.  Plus, as a crafter, I'm always looking for inspiration and materials for all those hand-made gifts and decorations I make every year, and it can take weeks, if not months, to complete these.

But this call for activism wasn't about Christmas, exactly.  It was about Remembrance Day.  Whoever made this up is claiming that these displays are offensive to our veterans.  Which is ridiculous.  Has any vet ever said they found it offensive?  Even if they did, what vet would go so far as to tell retailers what they should sell and when?  They wouldn't, and they don't.  Someone, ticked at seeing Christmas displays so early in the year, is using Remembrance Day and veterans to push their anti-commercialism.

It's not the early Christmas displays that's offensive to veterans.  It's this person using the vets to push their own snark. 

I never saw this particular status meme show up again, thankfully.

evening update: after posting this, I remembered another repeated attempt to use veterans and Remembrance Day under the guise of not offending them.  There have been calls to have Nov. 11 turned into a statutory holiday because everyone going to work like normal is somehow offensive to veterans.  This seems to come up every year, even though veterans have repeatedly said they are not offended by this, and don't want to have Nov. 11 made into a statutory holiday.

Nov. 10 updateLink

Another controversy that seems to come up every now and then has reared its head.  In this case, someone I know was defending the white poppy and was rather upset with the Legion, as quoted in this article. She was actually offended by the quote from the Legion representative.

I admit from the start that the white poppy issue is a sore spot with me, and her comments and those of her readers exemplified to me just why that is.

Like so many of their ilk, the first thing they do is misrepresent what the red poppy represents.  There's a lot of talk about how the red poppy is a symbol of war, and that they and other Remembrance Day ceremonies "celebrate" and "romanticize" war, which is, to be blunt, pure bullshit.  The red poppy represents peace, and the price paid to achieve it.  Remembrance Day reminds us of the horrors of war, and shows gratitude to those who were willing to fight and die, giving us the peace and freedom we have since enjoyed.  "Lest We Forget" is a call to vigilance, in hopes of preventing the rise of another Hitler.  White poppy supporters reject this notion.  Their white poppy, we're told, represents peace, while the red celebrates violence and advocates war.  Their twisting of the meaning of the red poppy is offensive all on its own.

While I would never try to stop someone from wearing the white poppy, I do not hesitate to tell people that I find it offensive and why.  These "pacifists" tell me that they are against war (as if wearing the red poppy and Remembrance Day were somehow in favour of war) and that there is no justification for war, ever.  What they are telling me is that I should not exist.  Were it not for people willing to go to war, my parents would never have survived, never have met and I would never have been born.  The same it true for a great many others.  

I pointed this out to the white poppy supporters, then asked if they really thought sitting around and talking would have stopped Hitler and his Nazis from trying to wipe out Jews, Poles and Roma, or the Japanese Imperialists from torturing and killing their prisoners, sometimes in the name of "science."  How many millions more would have been killed?  Not wanting war is laudible, but the reality is that the world produces madmen, and sometimes those madmen want nothing more than to destroy their percieved enemies.  How is talking to them going to stop them? 

About the closest thing to an answer I got was someone sharing a link to an article about non-violence.  The article did make some good points - in fact, it gave a real world example that was exactly the sort of victim to victor scenario I'd written about before.  Ironically, the advice it gave for ways to deflect potential violence is right in line with what is taught by any good martial arts teacher.  It drew some rather strange correlations to Nazi Germany and the Khmer Rouge that made no sense to me.  It actually seemed to imply that, if ordinary people had just stood up and said something at the early stages, these regimes would never have reached the heights of power they did.  It was a bizarre sort of "blame the victim" twist that was not only illogical but showed a complete ignorance of history. 

Part of what irritates me about supporters of the white poppy is their claim to pacifism and non-violence (and the moral superiority that comes with it).  I actually don't have a problem with pacifists.  Aside from my usual live and let live philosophy, I have a great deal of respect for some pacifists.  Let me give you a few examples.

The Quakers are a pacifist group.  They hold to their beliefs with remarkable strength, even through imprisonment, torture and death.  In the US, the Quakers played a significant role in running the Underground Railway, helping blacks escape slavery, at great personal risk.  Whether or not one agrees with their views, there is much to respect about them and their great courage.

During WWII, conscientious objectors who refused to take up arms, instead took part in the Ancel Keys starvation study.  As their physical health deteriorated, they were given the option of stopping, but they refused, knowing that the knowledge gathered would be used to help thousands.  Decades later, the surviving participants still say they would do it again.

Another example is from a story told by a Vietnam vet.  While many draft dodgers fled to Canada, some chose instead to serve in non-violent ways.  Some who refused to fight worked as medics.  The vet recounted how, on the battlefield, these pacifists who wouldn't even touch a gun would risk their lives, crawling onto the battlefield under live fire to get to a wounded soldier, then drag him back to where he could be treated.  In recounting what he saw, the vet spoke of how much he admired these men.

Being a pacifist isn't for cowards!

Which is why I don't like hearing these white poppy supporters call themselves pacifists.  These are the kind of people who, living their soft, privileged lives, will go out with signs and shout slogans, pen caustic and insulting articles attacking those who don't agree, then go back to their safe warm houses and jobs and lives, after insulting the very people who gave them the ability to have those lives in the first place.

Because, unlike the facebook status meme I mentioned earlier, vets have said outright that they find the white poppy insulting.  Supporters of the white poppy, however, are not only okay with that, but are offended by their offense!

In a PC culture where people are told not to say "Merry Christmas" and schools are having "Winter Festivals" instead of "Christmas concerts" because of the risk of offending other religions (who, by the way, have stated they aren't offended and think it's ridiculous to make these changes), here we have a "pacifist" group that has been told outright that they are being offensive, yet refusing to change.  They could choose another flower.  They could choose another date.  There are many ways they could show their beliefs without offending veterans.  They refuse to.

There's a reason for this, of course.  If it weren't for Veterans and Remembrance Days, they would have nothing.  Their activism is a direct attack on Remembrance Day, and on veterans.  Their offense is intentional.

They are also rather ignorant, not only of the true meaning of the red poppy and what Remembrance and Veterans Day is all about, but of their own symbol.

Red poppies were chosen because of how they would suddenly appear over battlefields.  Where no poppies grew before, suddenly there were fields of them.  Over the years, these fields of poppies have gone away, and they have gone back to their previous scarcity.

The white poppy, however, is the Asian Opium Poppy.  There are fields of them, all right, but they are grown for the heroin trade.  A rather poor choice to symbolize "peace."  Better, perhaps, to represent the violence of the drug wars and the pain of addiction.

Then there's the use of white.  Historically the colour white symbolized purity in death.  This goes back to ancient Greece, but white flowers are still traditionally used for funerals.  Hence the white lily associated with Easter and the death of Christ.  There are still cultures today that find our use of white for brides rather strange and morbid because of the colour's association with death and funeral garb.

Hmmm... perhaps their use of white is more appropriate than they think.

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