Hauerwas, Havel, the Pope and the Poppy

This time last year I annoyed my friend Richie who is training to be a Presbyterian minister and my friend Monty who is a Presbyterian minister by declaring that the use of the poppy to commemorate fallen British soldiers is a mistake Christians shouldn’t make.

In the last year, the wars initiated by the Western powers have continued and expanded. On a weekly basis the NATO partners are involved in extra-judicial killings in contexts outside of the battlefield. On a daily basis, drones, those tools spewed from the pits of hell, are deployed to kill people so dangerous we can’t even find out who they are.

Let me be clear: we live in an Empire. It may well be a failing Empire and judging from its desire to spill unheeded blood, it will certainly be a judged Empire.

If we want to remember the fallen men of World War I, who died for no reason any of us can remember then doing so in a fashion that supports the ongoing murder in the name of the West is a pretty poor show.

If we want to honour the fallen men of World War II, who died in the good war that we fought by dropping fire bombs on the civilians of Dresden and atomic nightmares on the children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki while simultaneously leaving the train-lines to Birkenau and Auschwitz untouched, then doing so in a fashion that doesn’t protest our current practice of outsourcing torture to hidden, shadowy places far away is a pretty poor show.

I realise that I am unlikely to puncture the rhetoric so excellently spun by television shows and glorified propaganda passed off as movies and history books that breathlessly tell of heroism while never once reflecting on the ubiquitous use of rape as a genocidal weapon or the massively increased likelihood of committing suicide if you enlist in Western armies. But I must try.

Christians are called to peace. I don’t need you to embrace non-violence today. I just need you to stop embracing violence. Any symbol of remembrance that in any way supports the ongoing excursions of destruction we call war is a symbol we must repudiate. If we want to honour our brother-in-law who fought and was injured or our great-grand uncle who died then we can do that as families and friends. You don’t need a public symbol. Why do you think you need a public symbol? You don’t need a public symbol.

Stanley Hauerwas wrote once about how the Czech president Vaclev Havel argued that:

truth and non-violence are the power of the powerless, for only through truth can we resist the lies that are the source of violence. Such truth may be as simple as that of a greengrocer in a socialist society who refuses to display in his or her shop window the sign “Workers of the World unite.” As Havel points out, to display such a sign seems harmless in and of itself, but the greengrocer knows it to be a lie that confirms the surrounding presumption that socialism is a worker’s paradise. Exactly because so little seems to be at stake in such a display, those who put the sign in their window lose their hold on the truth and submit to the order of violence. Similarly, John Paul II, through his narrative of Eastern Europe, invites us to become part of God’s people by refusing to submit to violent narratives that capture our souls by asking us to submit to false economic and political orders through seemingly meaningless and insignificant acts – acts like putting yellow ribbons on Church doors.

– Stanley Hauerwas, “In Praise of Centesimus Annus” in In Good Company: The Church as Polis, p. 139.

Or, we may add, acts like putting poppies on our coats. Exactly because so little seems to be at stake in such a display, those who put the sign on their lapel lose their hold on the truth and submit to the order of violence.

Your Correspondent, In Flanders fields the poppies blow; leave them there.

2 Replies to “Hauerwas, Havel, the Pope and the Poppy”

  1. My comment the other day is a simple reality. Extricating peoples right to remember those who have died in wars from the horrorS of war and the horror OF war is a messy business.

    I cant wear the poppy because it is unable to communicate that separation between the later and the former.

    My comments of yesterday where brought about by conversations ive been having up here. We talked about remembrance Sunday flags anthems etc in class. It turns out (as in cookstown the other day where most of the chief mourners – if not all wore poppies) poppies and remembrance Sunday has morphed from being about WW1 to being about “all wars” (read-all that the British army has lost soldiers in) and particularly the troubles. I asked if remembrance Sunday was also for Catholics that the British army killed. Whilst actually most of the responses where favourable to what you have expressed here, when they weren’t favourable they were full of emotion. and i’ve been here 5 months and that was the first time ive seen any emotion…

    I will go after this when i’m up here- i am already. But man you need to prepare for a force 5 hurricane of shit.

    Should you or i ever make it to being ministers in a church we will never get into churches where Remembrance sunday is politicised in the way it is- why? because blogs like this which are public and questions like i raised in class make our views known by conveners and kirk sessions who would feel (rightly!) that hiring us will create severe problems come the next November we are there. So we will end up in congregations favourable to your views expressed here. But i want to know how to challenge the behaviour as well. And seeing as we will have to challenge it from a distance our job will that bit harder.
    I have been surprised by the depth of feeling surrounding this.. i suppose i was naive.

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