‘If ye break faith with us, who die/We shall not sleep’
today at 9:11 am
I’m not going to be able to forget the autumn of 2018, when I was asked to read the poem “In Flanders Fields” as part of a concert at my home church. I had practiced for a long time before I found the attached video of Dame Helen Mirren reading it for the centennial of the battle of Passchendaele, which was observed in 2017. (You may recognize Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the audience. Beside them are Phillipe and Mathilde, king and queen of the Belgians. That’s where Passchendaele and Flanders are.) I ended my practice by reading along with Dame Helen.
I silently dedicated my recitation to two of my uncles — my great uncles, actually, but when I met their sisters, I greeted them as aunts, just as my dad did. My uncles died in World War I, one of them in November 1918 — the month that the war ended.
So when the controversy erupted over the president’s cancellation of a trip to a World War I cemetery in France during his visit for the centennial, I was already sickened, two years ago. I hadn’t forgotten that feeling when The Atlantic magazine story broke recently about the president’s disparaging comments about the American soldiers buried at the cemetery he did not visit. Whether it was because the weather was bad and he didn’t want to risk either the helicopters or his hair — as all sorts of stories-about-the-story mention — seem very weak to me. Life and death in the trenches were so much worse than a rainstorm. He could have found another way to get to the cemetery, if it had mattered to him.
What sickens me even further are the arguments between sources who say the president either insulted the troops, calling them losers and suckers, or didn’t even know who the good guys were in that war. It all makes me look at the picture of my grandmother and her sisters and brothers, where I still keep little paper poppies I received that night in 2018, and think of
“If ye break faith with us, who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
in Flanders fields.”
Has the president ever even noticed this poem? I’ve had to tell people my own age about it, which is sad enough — but for the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, i.e, the president, to have no idea of who the good guys were or what sacrificing for one’s country is like, that’s so far beyond sad that I feel sick.
To have this controversy recur in the week that holds Sept. 11 is just going to make Friday even harder to handle.
Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.
Words Worth Defending