Poppy sales have been recovering — I refer only to the artificial kind — for so violent has been the history of the last century, that we can count on fresh reminders to wear them. Today, once again, at eleven o’clock, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month — before our War Memorial in Ottawa, where a Canadian soldier was recently slain in the name of Allah — we will again observe a moment of silence. And once again the first verses of a rondeau will be read, which ends: “Take up our quarrel with the foe, / To you with dying 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.”

I like to supply that last stanza, because by omitting it our politically-correct masters of ceremony break faith with those who died.

Outside an old high school, there was a long plaque (since removed) listing the names of students who’d gone off to Europe, 1914–18, and not come home: a few dozen boys, and a couple of nursing sisters. My grandfather showed it to me, when I was young. He said, “Those are just names, but I can put a face to every goddam one of them.”

War is not nice, and “niceness” is our current religion. I’m against both, myself — against war, and against saccharine sentimentality — if they can be avoided. Often they cannot. I have some considerable respect for pacifists who will put their beliefs on the line: who will serve in the ambulances and so forth. And, nothing but contempt for the rest. I am also against nationalism and jingoism and populism — the very ingredients of the Great War, and through the Wilsonian idiocies of Versailles, the cause of many wars, later; and all of them “total wars,” as the consequence of modern demagoguery.

Men are sinful; and while frightful technology and mass mobilization have increased the scale of the carnage, barbarism is nothing new. Armed with modern equipment, acolytes of Power from the distant past might have equalled our accomplishments. There will always be quarrels to take up with such foes.

My grandfather danced across France, and up Vimy Ridge. I keep his side satchel on my closet shelf: “H.R. Warren, #340976, 25th B’t’y, C.F.A.” This is so I may read that each time I reach for a jacket, to go outside. Inside the little satchel I have stuffed my father’s leather and canvas flyboy helmet, lettered, under a cartoon, “J.F. Warren, Ape-Shape.” He flew Spitfires, “for his late majesty King George VI,” against the German Modernists.

Both had to lie about their age, to get to the front quicker. Their recruiters winked: wars are for fighting.