When I was around 16 or 17 I read Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" and I think I can quite definitively say that that book shaped my feelings and opinions on war. I could say it moved me; I could say it horrified me but actually what it did was leave me huddled on the floor, crying and rocking saying "I didn't know; I didn't understand" - for several hours. I don't think I've ever felt so guilty; so sick; so disgusted to be part of the human race - that we could kill each other; that we could kill our young. That we could have so little regard for each other that we would give in to such primitive emotions.
For many years after that I always wore a white poppy for Remembrance Day. And I can say that doing so brought me some unwelcome attention that you perhaps wouldn't expect. I wore that white poppy because I never wanted another young man or woman to die at the hands or intentions of another engaged in war. I did so because I felt so strongly that the loss of all those lives as the result of war was devastating; because I felt so distressed by the thought of all those children and wives and parents who lost sons in distant wars; because I felt so angry that these men had sacrificed themselves for those loved ones. Because in my mind they should have lived. I never wore it because I wanted to show disrespect for those who had died; or because I didn't value their sacrifice. I wore it because I wanted a better, a peaceful future - because I didn't want their sacrifice to be in vain.
But that disrespect; that lack of compassion; that was what other people seemed to see in my white poppy. In actual fact - even when I wore my white poppy I would still give money to the British Legion; and go to Remembrance Day parade services.
I haven't worn a white poppy for quite a few years now. And I've felt guilty every year that I haven't. Today I felt that wearing that red poppy had made me an accomplice to the deaths of all those Servicemen and Servicewomen in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. I haven't been setting the right example; I actually haven't been honouring those who have lost their lives for a better future, I've been letting their deaths become the status quo. I don't want men and women to go to war - I want us, the human race, to start learning and communicating and to start being one human race with regard and respect for life not just for lives lost.
And yes, that's a high ideal. But I think that I would rather we strove for high ideals than fulfilled lesser expectations. And whilst we don't strive for peace - we are resigning ourselves to wars.
If you have sons and daughters, wives and husbands, mothers and fathers involved in armed conflict - understand this: I want them to come home to you. I want them to live in a world where they are not asked to sacrifice themselves. I do not lack respect for what they do; I do not lack appreciation for what they do and have done and I certainly do think that we should remember all those who have died in past wars and current wars. And I have done so. But I want a different world for them, for you, for us, for me. One where we are all safe. One where it *is* quiet along the front; because there is no front. And certainly not a world where a young man sees his friends shot and blown up and hit by shrapnel and losing limbs and life.
Peace be with you, wherever you are.
So, today this blog wears what I did not today - the white poppy: