If you knew I was a science fiction writer, you might assume it’s because I’m eagerly awaiting floating cities or nanotech implants. But actually, it’s the year I figure that all the World War II veterans will be dead.
On November 11th, 2020, we’ll be able to have a discussion that seems ungrateful or spiteful now: were the veterans of World War II heroes, or survivors? Is Remembrance Day actually about thinking about the specific soldiers who died, or about keeping the idea of soldiering alive?
But today, talking critically about Remembrance Day feels like spitting in the faces of the old men who sell poppy pins. These guys have every reason to believe: they have seen and sometimes done horrific things that are only redeemed by the idea that war is necessary and honourable. And for those of us who buy and wear the poppies, it’s a way to participate in history — a history that we don’t understand, but are grateful for.
I grew up feeling like that. I recited “In Flanders’ Fields” for my elementary school ceremony, and to this day it’s the only poem I know off by heart. And as a teenager the glamour and allure of soldiering hooked in deeper. The idea of being given a gun and told to kill Nazis? Exciting isn’t the word. Ecstatic is closer. To be able to unleash my rage against a clear-cut evil? Too good to be true.
Because it isn’t true, I realized as an adult. Most wars are not like the Good War: armies are weapons that often fall into the wrong hands. And even World War II, an anomaly of moral clarity, can’t be viewed in a vacuum. The Germans were primed for it, vulnerable to Hitler’s charismatic insanity, from the humiliation and punishment they received as the losers of World War I. People seem to forget that WWI was fought for relatively stupid reasons. Poppies induce forgetfulness, after all.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to draw out the opiate metaphor. I’ll leave that for the broader and more divisive debates of 2020 when we can take off the kid gloves. Today, as you go around town, squint a little and see what I see whenever I see a poppy on someone’s chest: not a flower, but a bullet wound. Because more than anything else, wars are about red holes blooming in the chests of average, well-intentioned people.