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.
These words were written by a Canadian surgeon on the Western Front in 1915. Since then the poppy, at least in the UK, has become a key symbol for warriors fallen in battle.
As we approached the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we saw poppies everywhere. On the 11th hour we had two minutes of silence nationwide whilst we remembered our war dead. We remembered those who laid down their lives for us.
Over the years, the character of this event has changed. When I was a kid, it was all about those who died in World War 1 and 2. In World War 2, at least, had a clear and evil enemy. We felt it was quite right to oppose Hitler with maximum force. Indeed we changed the entire nature of the country in our efforts to defeat him.
Today the event is dominated by current conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan. On the TV, Bryan Adams, the Canadian rock star, is promoting a new book of photographs of our wounded warriors. He quite rightly points out that they have suffered too. Are still suffering in fact. They are heroes.
There has been a sorrowful toll of our young men. Every week we hear of another fatality.
But there is another group who we tend to forget about. The civilians who died. In Iraq the toll so far is around 1 million. That's right. 1 million.
If a soldier who dies in a war is a hero, then what is a child?
I know that many felt we were doing the right thing in invading Iraq and Afghanistan. But did we really take enough time and care to consider the consequences of what we are doing?
These days in the UK there seems to be almost universal support for our armed forces. The displays of public solidarity that occur spontaneously in towns such as Wooten Bassett whenever war dead are returned home shows this only too well. We are very proud of those that are prepared to give everything for us in such a way.
But there is also a significant part of the population that opposes going to war. More than two million publicly protested that the Iraq war was “Not in my name”.
It is all too easy to call for war. And when we do these young men and women willing go.
But we should take great care that we make such a call with good reason.