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.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae, wrote these lines in May 1915 after presiding over the burial of his friend. He was a Canadian army surgeon and he himself died three years later, of pneumonia while still commanding the Canadian military hospital at Boulogne.
The bloodshed on Flanders fields is not new. In July 1693, 27,000 men were slaughtered in a single day at Landen. They included Patrick Sarsfield an iconic historical figure, with strong associations to this town. The Flemish soil is soaked with the blood of soldiers fighting on behalf of causes they barely comprehended. And the poppies sprang up then, just as they did in 1915.
Of the 210,000 Irishmen who enlisted in the First World War, at least 35,000 died, although the real death toll might be much larger. The number shown on the National War Memorial is 49,400. Many more came home broken, physically, mentally or both, and among them was an ancestor of my own. Every year on this day, I honour his memory because he is of me and I am of him, even though I never knew him..
Clouds are once again gathering over Europe, and we would do well to take note. Yet again, vast economic forces are tearing the great powers of the continent apart and although we no longer have dominant Kaisers, Czars and kings, we have the modern equivalent in the form of international financiers, hedge funds and currency speculators, some of whom have the leading politicians in their pockets.
The European Coal and Steel Community was set up to make sure that never again would neighbours tear at each others’ throats, yet now we see that same community, evolved into the EU, starting to display the sort of cracks and strains that could result in a highly dangerous polarisation of political views. Germany, the heartbeat of European civilisation at the start of the 20th century descended into heartless savagery under economic pressures and anyone who thinks it couldn’t happen again is a fool.
We’re not at that point yet, but the euro is now in danger of coming to pieces. Already, most commentators agree that Greece will have to leave, resulting in mass unemployment, hyper-inflation, social chaos and poverty. Portugal could go the same way and even Italy, if it fails to confront the systemic corruption that infects its body politic. Ireland, while not quite over the edge, is certainly peeping into the abyss, and perhaps Spain is too.
What does this mean?
Fascism. That’s what it means. Poverty and hardship are the best fertilisers for the invasive weed of nazism, and Europe is now actively spraying its fields with the stuff, as if to encourage the rise of uniformed, self-appointed thugs.
There was a time when Remembrance Sunday was a day for a rapidly-decreasing band of decrepit old comrades, but that day has passed. From now on, when we contemplate permitting a chaotic disintegration of the European Union, we should turn our eyes to the things these old men have seen and remember the consequences.
As they say in Germany, Nie Wieder!