World leaders gathered in Paris on Sunday under the Arc de Triomphe to mark the centennial anniversary ending World War I. In an absurd way, the Napoleon-era arc was a fitting venue – because the ceremony and the rhetoric from President Emmanuel Macron was a “triumph” of lies and platitudes.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
— From In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915
It was that time of year again, when sellers of poppies knock at the door and veterans line the streets of the local town with collecting tins and trays of fake red flowers sold in aid of the Royal British Legion; a time when, if you don’t buy or wear a poppy you would be made to feel ‘unpatriotic’. But times they are a-changing.
“Did you really believe, when they told you the cause,
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing and dying it was all done in vain
Oh Willy McBride it all happened again –
And again, and again, and again, and again.” — (The Green Fields of France, William Bogle, 1944 – )*
Across the world the fanfare commemorating the “day the guns fell silent” has been trumpeted (literally, in many places) as having special resonance: 11.11.11: a once in a century event.
“You fasten all the triggers for the others to fire,
Then you sit back and watch when the death count gets higher,
You hide in your mansion’s as young people’s blood flows,
Out of their bodies and in to the mud.” — Bob Dylan.
Today, is Remembrance Day, on both sides of the Atlantic. At the eleventh minute, of the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns of the First World War fell silent, leaving the estimated nine million who had died in battle, to the graves’ muteness across continents, and to France’s poppy fields. It remains the day when the deaths of subsequent tragedies and imperial follies are remembered. A day when even the cynical pause to read heartfelt notes on poppy wreaths, laid at the base of memorials, flowers refreshed on graves, stories of the lost, passed down and revisited, as more recent shared laughter, now also silenced..