Written to express his grief at the death of a friend at Ypres in April 1915, ‘In Flanders Fields’ still resonates 112 years later. It has become an enduring anthem for peace, sung by the dead.
Originally specific to World War One, this poem and the poppies worn around the world now speak for the dead of two world wars and countless others who have died in the cause of freedom during the 20th Century.
Korea, Viet Nam, Bosnia, Rhodesia, too many to name, too many dead, hundreds of thousands, millions, of civilians killed, more than all the combatants combined; I fear we have dropped the torch. While we have tried to keep the peace, with Canada’s celebrated Peace Keeping initiatives adopted by the UN in the 1960s, war has changed. War is no longer politely hidden on battlefields in far off places where blue berets offer protection. It is all around us.
In the 21st Century, we are still at war, even if we don’t recognise the attacks from an enemy who often lives among us as being war. And brave young soldiers are still dying for freedom in far off lands. This is the War on Terror, which has been fought since 2001 on various fronts. Sixteen years of war against an enemy that doesn’t fight by the rules of war, an enemy that uses planes, vans and cars, knives, bombs made of every day things strapped around children. Some 10,000 young soldiers of the Coalition Forces have died – such a small number in comparison to those that died during the Great Wars. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, however, have died. Civilians are the targets of the enemy we must face, not armies lined up at the front line. Civilians.
The soldiers of our world are being called upon to fight for our Freedoms. And we must continue to fight for Freedom, for if we give up this fight, if we do not learn how to fight this new kind of war, if we leave behind one child, one family, in the regions central to the war on ISIL, if we stand by as vans are driven into pedestrians on sidewalks without acknowledging that we must continue to fight for Freedom, we will have broken faith with our dead. We must pick up the torch, for Freedom is why they died.
We are why they died.
Lest we forget.
In Flanders Fields
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.
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.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
— John McCrae