The Red Poppy is the symbol of Remembrance Day, 11 November. Remembrance Day was started in 1919 as Armistice Day, to honor the end of The Great War. The War to End Wars.
Which came to be known as World War I.
After World War II, the name was changed to Remembrance Day to honor the dead of all wars.
This year is the 91st anniversary of the end of World War I. Did you realize that? I only know because last year - the 90th anniversary - was covered extensively by the BBC. They put up amazing content on the BBC website. Why don't US news organizations have similar content?
Possibly because in the US this is known as Veterans' Day, when we honor living veterans of war. The US has Memorial Day to honor its war dead.
Personally, I think we should nominate another day as Veterans' Day and return November 11 to Remembrance Day. Why? I am so glad you asked.....
We are traveling back in time to the final days of The Great War (this is great as in BIG HUGE GINORMOUS, not great as in cool). No one is winning and the cost in human lives has been enormous. It is agreed between the warring nations that an armistice should be called. An armistice is when countries just stop fighting. No one is the winner. No one is the loser. They just stop.
This cease-fire is signed at 5:00am on the 11th day of November, 1918.
But the war didn't end.
Because this had been The War To End All Wars. Millions of people had died.
Quoting from the Imperial War Museum:
"One in three families in Britain had a loved one killed, wounded or taken prisoner. In other warring nations, the figures were even higher; France lost nearly a million and a half men – double that of Britain – while nearly two million Germans and a similar number of Russians died."
They couldn't just end the war and walk away - not with all those dead. Their deaths had to mean something. There had to be something, something memorable, that people could point to and say, "This is when the last war ended."
They chose 11-11-11. War would end at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.
So they KEPT THE WAR GOING until 11:00 am. MEN DIED so that we would have the symbol 11-11-11.
Of course, we all know war didn't end. But what is even more tragic is the fact that soldiers died for a symbol that is no longer remembered in the US.
Quoting from the BBC:
"The respected American author Joseph E Persico has calculated a shocking figure that the final day of WWI would produce nearly 11,000 casualties, more than those killed, wounded or missing on D-Day, when Allied forces landed en masse on the shores of occupied France almost 27 years later."
Wrap your mind around that, if you can.
And if that didn't blow your mind, this will: Again quoting the same BBC article: "What is worse is that hundreds of these soldiers would lose their lives thrown into action by generals who knew that the Armistice had already been signed."
For example, the 89th American Division was sent to take the town of Stenay by a general who knew the Armistice had been signed, but he'd heard that Stenay had bathing facilities. And apparently he couldn't wait until 11am.
"That lunatic decision cost something like 300 casualties, many of them battle deaths, for an inconceivable reason," says Mr Persico.
Those were American casualties, did you notice? They died because of a "lunatic decision" and for a symbol of which most Americans aren't even aware.
In fact, the last soldier killed in action in World War I was an American boy from Baltimore. He was shot at 10:59am. His name was Henry Gunther.
Does he get a mention over here? Not that I'm aware of. We don't even have a moment of silence at 11:00am. Because it isn't Remembrance Day for us.
"No man surely has so short a memory as the American." - Rebecca H. Davis
Prove her wrong. Today, remember poor Henry and all the others who died for 11-11-11.