Sunday, June 03, 2007

In Afghan Fields the Poppies Blow

Poppies. Memorial Day, 2007. New Bern, NC.
On May 3rd, 1915, Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote one of the most famous poems of WW I to commemorate the death of a friend the day before. The poem starts like this:
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.

For the rest of the poem and more information, see the Wikipedia article here.)

It is because of the popularity of this poem that for many years veterans organizations would hand out paper poppies on Memorial Day -- a tradition that seems to be passing in the US but is still widely observed in Canada where the peom is still strongly associated with their memorial observances.

Thinking of poppies and memories of war makes we wonder how future generations will connect the two in the history of the western powers. In WW I poppies were a pastoral image summoned to contrast with the horrors of war in a poem. But poppies are playing a bigger role in one of our current wars. The US has declared war on poppies in Afghanistan and it currently seems likely that the poppies will win.

Opium poppies are the third-largest source of income for the country of Afghanistan and are, far and away, the most important cash crop in the southern regions along the Pakistani border where the UN forces are trying to win the "hearts and minds" of the local populace away from the Taliban. The US may be winning the war in Iraq but we are not doing nearly as well in Afghanistan where we have cleverly placed ourselves in opposition to the local economy.

Just a bit of post-Memorial Day pondering of the imponderables -- and a story to go with my Memorial Day photos of poppies in a garden in New Bern. For more on poppy eradication in Afghanistan see this recent story from MSNBC or this excellent story by Michael Yon in National Review.

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