Every year in London, in the leadup to Remembrance Sunday, streets are dotted red. Pinned paper poppies help the city remember the veterans of World War I+ on Armistice Day, as it’s called in France, Belgium, Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Polynesia and French Guiana, Veterans Day, as it’s called in the US and Puerto Rico, and Remembrance Day, as it’s called in Australia, Canada and the UK.
The day for remembering veterans lost to World War I+ stirs up complicated emotions. In Australia, Remembrance Day is coupled with Anzac Day, a day that commemorates the veterans of World War I and specifically the quarter of a million lost to the year-long Gallipoli Campaign that took place in what is Gelibolu in Turkey today. In the UK, the artificial poppy, selected as an emblem to remember veterans in past wars because it grows robustly in the disturbed grounds of battlefields, has itself been called out for virtue signalling. In a time when likeability is commodified, critics say the artificial poppy is another form of clickbaiting for fake patriotism.
Still, on Remembrance Sunday when the artificial poppies are taken off outerwear and laid to rest on veterans’ tombstones, the 11am silence can be seen to hold space, the way it probably does on the same day for German Remembrance Sunday, Volkstrauertag, or literally, People Grief Day. Conceivably, Volkstrauertag is a functional way to use the past to inform the present – to remember our veterans, yes, but also as a way forward on how to live alongside others.