If you're like me, Remembrance Day makes you a bit uneasy.
You want to identify with the ever-dwindling numbers of soldiers who've survived the war trauma of their youth. But all that pro-army pageantry seems to romanticize war when we should be spending the day assessing the damage of military conflict, not celebrating it.
I'm especially bummed by the way Remembrance Day activities are being exploited as a means of promoting Canada's current campaign in Afghanistan. That, I say, was never the point of November 11. Remembrance Day began as a celebration of the Armistice - the brokering of peace after World War I. There has to be a way to honour the soldiers without throwing a bouquet to our ongoing contentious mission.
Fortunately, I'm not alone. Many activists plan to wear white poppies on Remembrance Day, believing that the best way to show respect for those who died in war is to ensure that no one ever again has to go into battle.
Naturally, members of the military establishment are not happy. Bob Butt, director of communications for the Royal Canadian Legion, is one of them.
"The white poppy stands for peace, the red poppy is for remembrance," he says on the phone from Ottawa. "Remembrance recalls those who have died in military service for this country. Peace is peace, and they're not the same thing. Anyone who sells or uses a poppy that isn't the red poppy is infringing trademark."
AIDS activists, on the other hand, did not flip out when other groups took up their own ribbon campaigns. First there were red ribbons to end AIDS, then along came breast cancer awareness groups' pink ribbons. Then men against violence against women sold white ribbons. Did AIDS activists scream, "Hands off our brand?" No way.
Peace activist Jan Slakov has been making white poppies and handing them out for free. She says the campaign is designed to promote the power of non-violence.
"There is so much we forget on Remembrance Day," she says, on the phone from Saltspring Island in BC. "We only remember the soldiers who were wearing our uniforms. But there's no black-and-white in war. Atrocities are committed on all sides. And many of the people who save lives in wartime aren't in uniform."
The white poppy activists remind me of an action Women Against Violence Against Women took decades ago on Remembrance Day. We followed the official ceremonies at City Hall by putting up our own cenotaph, which read, For Every Woman Raped In Every War. Ours was the message that war has other victims.
I say it's time for a new ceremony taking into account all those who suffer in war: the rape victims, the civilians who are bombed, displaced or murdered, as well as those men and woman in uniform sent into the fray by our governments.
As it is, if you question Remembrance Day you're showered with verbal flak on message boards and online forums. Last year when I posted on the subject of my red poppy squeamishness, the response was swift and vicious. I get how the deaths of more than 150 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan is a sensitive issue for their families and the military in general.
During my weekly radio spot on Talk 640 last Thursday, the subject of the white poppy garnered the usual knee-jerk response. When I commented that the best way to honour the brave men and women who have fallen is to make sure no one ever again gets sent into battle, one of my co-panelists, Mark Bonokoski of the Toronto Sun, jeered, "Next thing you know you'll be protesting the Santa Claus Parade."
I actually appreciated the parallel.
"A protest against the commercialization of Christmas would be a perfect follow-up to Santa's parade appearance," I replied. "The Santa Claus Parade began as a marketing tool for Eaton's."
The switchboard had already lit up. "You should be ashamed to let that woman talk," growled one caller, forgetting that freedom to express dissent is one of the things Canadian soldiers are supposed to be fighting for in every war.
But then, all the way from Scotland, a caller reminded us that Armistice Day, the precursor of Remembrance Day, was established to remember the horrors of the First World War, that campaign that traumatized a whole generation and redefined the demographics of the entire Western world.
"Remembrance Day was never intended to glorify war," the caller insisted, "but to recall the truth about war's devastation."
"That's a British viewpoint," complained Legion rep Butt.
But it's a legitimate one, I think.
War is hell, and we know it. Honour the fallen by fighting for peace.