After last week's Whole Foods poppy debacle, I found myself unable to participate in yet another installment of the Canadian culture war Kabuki theatre that is Remembrance Day.
We all know the drill – someone does something, anything connected to poppies, and Conservative politicians briefly remind everyone that virtue signalling and cancel culture are not the sole domain of the “Tumblr left”.
Following this comes the ritual denunciations of Remembrance Day from the left, where we are all reminded that Canada is a colonial settler culture, and that Remembrance Day has been effectively co-opted by the right to gin up patriotic fervour for whatever imperial adventures we’ve decided the tag along with.
The thing is, the specific history of Remembrance Day concerns an unpayable debt that we owe to our ancestors – 106 years ago, this country began to send its young over to die for what was, in hindsight, perhaps the most absurd and pointless war in human history – nearly 60,000 Canadians died so that the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha could remain the most powerful royal house in Europe. Thanks to this war, the Italians invented fascism, Rosa Luxemburg was murdered and many of the political formations that we find ourselves dealing with today find their genesis in the shadow of this insane expression of nihilism.
So this debt remains, and it seems to me that so much of why we undergo this culture war every year has to do with the fact that, as time has passed, Remembrance Day shifted away from reminding ourselves of this unpayable debt, and towards celebrating those who live, those for whom the debt can, in some ways, be repaid.
It is difficult to argue with this, as the bombers fly over our house today, that despite its seeming solemnity, Remembrance Day has become more of a celebration of military power and glory than an acknowledgement of the emptiness of the vast majority of armed conflicts in which Canadians have engaged. I think we can now safely include Afghanistan in this calculus - the 200 odd people who died there really died for nothing, and no elegant flight formations, or poppy wearing, can change that.
Like many people on the left, I was outraged and horrified by the jingoistic celebration of “our troops” who we sent off on an errand of revenge after September 11, and that the invasion of Afghanistan was somehow a noble and just war (history has shown us that it wasn’t).
That being said, there is something to be said for affirming this debt on Remembrance Day, this throwing away of life for nothing, in part because many of those who insist that one must wear a poppy are those who also believe that there’s no need to shut the country down right and pay everyone to stay home.
That is, the current conditions we live under are akin to a time of war, and instead of the left being in denial of this reality, it is the right who seems to ever increasingly demand that we forget all those who have died for nothing over the past 6 months. Perhaps if there is value in Remembrance Day, in this Remembrance Day, it’s that if one believes there is value to life, then today is a time to acknowledge that, to acknowledge that we do indeed live in a society, and perhaps expand the scope of Remembrance Day to include all those who have died for nothing, as a result of the neglect of our governments, and our society, and a reminder that we can do better than this.