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.
--Lt. Col. John McCrae (1915), Canadian Army
On this Veterans Day, 2008, the New York Times ran an op-ed noting the durability of the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance of "The Great War" that came to an end 90 years ago today. Strange as it sounds, I never connected the paper red poppies which, particularly in England, would sprout at this time every year with the real-life flowers that do indeed grow "In Flanders Fields"--Flanders being the historic land of the Dutch-speaking Flemish, now incorporated, along with French-speakers of Wallonia, into the dual-nation of modern Belgium. Then, last summer, I saw some honest-to-goodness red poppies growing in the fields of northern Europe--in Flanders, as it happened. And it all clicked.
As did my new appreciation for Flanders--bitter, bloody battleground of Europe so long ago. While the fields of Flanders of course lie peaceful, a state of non-violent war exists there on two grim fronts: a culture war between the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish as led by the Flemish secessionist party Vlaams Belang; and a culture war over Islamization, which is vehemently opposed also by Vlaams Belang. I have written a fair amount about Vlaams Belang and its leading figures, among them the intrepid Filip Dewinter and Frank Vanhecke (recently interviewed in Ha'aretz), and I remain convinced that it is they, who, along with a very few stalwart politicians and their supporters across the continent, are keeping the lights on in Europe.
As a culture with a thinning memory, we seem somehow to have retained a sense of the red poppy and what it symbolized about our past. As a culture with only a frail understanding of the threats before us, we need to discover not only what is worth fighting for, once again, in Flanders fields, but also the very brave allies there who are already in the fight.