If you’ve ever been to England this time of year, a touching nationwide memorial can be seen everywhere. Red paper poppies adorn lapels, shirts, and dresses in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day. All across the Commonwealth nations, citizens show their respect by sporting a red and black poppy. Then on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, moments of silence are observed across Britain in remembrance of the war dead.
You cannot overstate how pervasive the wearing of the red poppy is across British culture. Newscasters, game show hosts, and politicians all sport it. So do barkeeps in pubs and ticket takers at the football pitch. You can buy them everywhere.
All the poppies are made by the Royal British Legion Poppy Factory. The proceeds are used to help disabled veterans. The red paper poppies are charitable symbols as well symbols of remembrance.
In America, we have no equivalent. Indeed, modern America is characterized by the loss of shared experience, shared culture. Common experiences as simple as a massive television audience for a sitcom or a space shot are gone. Even something unifying from a scant 15 years ago, such as a song which everyone knows, are lost. There will never be another Beatles.
Our cultural fragmentation extends to politics, where a polarized base is as useful as a persuasive argument to the middle.
Wouldn’t it be grand if America could adopt a counterpart to the Remembrance Day poppy? Perhaps in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, Americans could, for a dollar, purchase a similar symbol to wear. How about an evergreen, as was Washington’s symbol on the Washington Cruisers?
Or better still, perhaps a lilac, as Whitman gave us as a symbol of annual remembrance for Lincoln’s sacrifice and also a generation of war dead?
Debris and debris of all the dead soldiers of the war
But I saw they were not as was thought
They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer’d not.
America, even with ongoing wars against Islamic terror, has lost sight of the tragic price in lives in other eras, in other nations. In just the single battle of Passchedaele in 1917, the British lost 300,000 men. Casualties in a single day sometimes were 15,000. The bodies of 42,000 were never recovered. Such losses are unknown in American history.
No wonder the poppies of Flanders still echo through the British memory.
But Americans, I believe, would embrace a more meaningful Memorial Day. Instead of just mattress sales and cookouts, Memorial Day (and Veterans Day) should mean more. Regardless of political persuasion, Americans have a deep reverence for the history of sacrifice in this nation. Why not borrow an idea from the British, and pay tribute to fallen servicemembers in a new and more visible way?
Alas I am no organizer. Few things bother me more than when I hear “someone should write an article about” such and such — but they don’t write it themselves. Maybe someone with sharper business instincts will see an opportunity here. Maybe not.
If you are intrigued, may I suggest a weekend in London this time of year? You will see a nation sharing a common history, a common reverence, and a deep respect for the sacrifices of the past. You can’t help but wonder why we couldn’t do the same here in America.