Why Is the Gay Symbol of the Red Poppy Used on Veterans Day?

 

On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, in the year of Our Lord, One Thousand Nine Hundred Eighteen, the armistice which ended the killing of the First World War went into effect .

Ten million young men perished in that war, never to write the poetry of their lives.

 

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The Cenotaph on Whitehall, London, in November 2004 (with wreaths laid down on Remembrance Day). Photo Chris Nyborg.

The British Legion, a veterans organization created after World War One, known then as the ‘Great War’, began the tradition of selling red poppies once a year to assist veterans. The first British Legion Poppy Day was held in Great Britain on 11 November – Armistice Day – 1921. Several organizations for veterans in the US including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars quickly adopted the symbol as did veterans’ groups throughout the British Empire.

The red poppy came to symbolize youthful death in battle because of the haunting poem, In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by Surgeon-Major John McCrae, MD, First Field Artillery Brigade, Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

 

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Surgeon-Major John McCrae, 1st Brigade CFA, Canadian Field Artillery, Canadian Expeditionary Forces.  

McCrae had been operating on wounded soldiers for seventeen days in a row during the terrible slaughter of the Second Battle of Ypres, which took place between 22 April and 25 May 1915 near the Belgium city of Ypres in the province of West Flanders. This furious struggle, now long forgotten, was fought between the French Army, with their British allies, against their common enemy, Imperial Germany.

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German storm troopers, led by an officer, emerge from a thick cloud of phosgene poison gas laid by German forces as they attack British trench lines. Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis. Courtesy of the Guardian of London.

This battle was fought over control of the Belgium city of Ypres and lasted for thirty-three days. It merits a footnote in history because it was the first battle on the Western Front where the Germans used poison gas. The use of such gas is a war crime and had been forbidden by the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Asphyxiating Gases and the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare. Germany was a signatory to both treaties.

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Red poppies blew across the battlefield during the slaughter.

The poppy is a flower whose seed lies dormant in the ground. It only blooms in warm weather when the soil is rooted up. Because the ground of Flanders had been rooted up by days of artillery fire, there were red poppies blooming in profusion all over the battlefield. There were so many poppies that the wind would often catch the fragile flowers and blow them in waves over the blasted soil.

Hence the first line: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow…” (not ‘grow’ as many seem to write)

Major McCrae was deeply pained by the death of a young friend, killed the previous day by random artillery fire. Sitting outside his field dressing station the next day, McCrae was looking over the cemetery in which his young friend had been buried. He took a pad and wrote what became the most famous poem of the war. The poet himself died of pneumonia while on active duty in 1918 and is buried in France.

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Surgeon-Major John McCrae’s grave, Wimereux Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France

“In Flanders Fields”

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.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Because this poem is often thought to be an anti-war poem, expressing the futility of war, the third stanza is usually left out. You will understand the reason when you read it:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing 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.

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Paul Fussell, the distinguished American scholar and expert on the literature of World War One, writes about this poem in his magisterial work, The Great War and Modern Memory:

“Things fall apart two thirds of the way through…and we suddenly have a recruiting poster rhetoric…We finally see – and with a shock – what the last six lines really are: they are a propaganda argument – words like ‘vicious’ and ‘stupid’ would not seem to go too far – against a negotiated peace.”

Fussell also points out the symbolism in England long associated with the red poppy: homosexuality. In the Gilbert and Sullivan musical, Patience, which opened in 1881, he calls our attention to the following lyrics:

“…if you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your medieval hand,
everyone will say,
As you walk your flowery way,
…what a most particularly pure young man this pure young man must be!”

One need not be a gay man, such as myself, to immediately understand the symbolic reference.

Fussell’s erudition as a scholar of English literature is never more evident than in his parsing of Two Loves, a poem written in 1894 by Lord Alfred Douglas, one time lover of Oscar Wilde. In a dream, the poet discovers in his garden a beautiful naked youth who has lips, ‘red like poppies’. Desperate to know who this lad is, the poet beseeches the youth to tell his name and finally the youth says, “I am the love that dare not speak its name.” This last being the polite way of saying ‘homosexuality’ in decades past.

So decades before the red poppy became the symbol of youthful death in battle, it had long been associated with homosexual love. Professor Fussell suggests the poet unconsciously expresses a certain homoeroticism in connection with his young friend in the poem.

“…Short days ago…We lived…Loved and were loved, and now we lie…”

Professor Fussell was a combat veteran himself. He was drafted into the US Army in 1943, at age 19. In October 1944 he landed in France, as part of the 103rd Infantry Division. He was wounded while fighting in France as a second lieutenant in the infantry, and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and Veterans Day in the United States take place on 11 November because this is the yearly anniversary of the armistice which ended the actual shooting in World War One. The peace talks and the Controversial Treaty of Versailles came months later.

The armistice went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year of Our Lord, One Thousand Nine Hundred Eighteen.

Ten million young men had perished in the war, never to write the poetry of their lives.

As A Gay Man My Heart Sings Over These Photographs Celebrating the Supreme Court ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

 

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Truly magnificent photo of White House lighted in rainbow colors celebrating Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. (AP photo)

 

 

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And another awesome photo of White House lighted in rainbow colors celebrating Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. (Official White House photo)

As a gay man I can say I never believed this day would come, ever. And certainly not in my lifetime.

I don’t have anyone in my life and actually never dated a guy I wanted to marry. Yet that is insignificant before this victory and for my gay brothers and lesbian sisters everywhere in our great country who can now marry, my heart sings for you.

We remember those who went before us and suffered so much. Matthew Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither–both beaten to death. The legendary Frank Kamaney, father of the gay rights movement. Fired from his Federal job in the late 50s for being gay, he fought back, filing a motion with the Civil Service Hearing Board. Incredibly, several years later, they ruled that firing Federal employees because they were gay was illegal and ordered Kamaney reinstated with all of his years of back pay.

We remember the guys at Stonewall who battled the New York Police who were going to arrest them for being gay. That the first time gay men fought back. We remember Harvey Milk and the gay men and woman attacked in the Castro by the out of control SF police. And we remember all who died of AIDs.

We remember Australian diver Matthew Mitcham,​ the first out gay athlete at the Olympics and so many more. Sally Ride. My cousin, Nonie. Women and men expelled from the armed forces no matter how brave including several US Marines who lost limbs in Iraq. So many. We remember. We will always remember. Never again. Never again. And if somehow our basic human rights are somehow taken away, we will fight back with all the strength God will give us. I never thought I would live to see this day and I thank God that I have.

The one things that saddens this moment for gay men and women is the murder of nine African-Americans in Charleston, SC and the continued racism by whites against black Americans and other Americans and people of color. God made us all. God is perfect. Therefore all of us are perfect just as we are.

No one is truly free until we are all free to be who we are without retribution from those who hate us for whatever reason.

 

Royal Pardon Finally Given to Gay Code breaking Genius Alan Turing

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Alan Mathison Turing at the time of his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1951. (Photo courtesy of www.ieee.org)

 

Alan Turing figured out how to crack the German enciphering device known as the Enigma. This achievement gave the Allies an incalculable advantage in World War Two. In order to accomplish this monumental task, Alan Turing had to invent a fantastic machine which had never existed before. Today we call that machine the computer.

In 1974 the British government authorized the publication of a book simply titled, The Ultra Secret. What the book revealed was so shocking, so incredible, so unimaginable it changed everything we knew about the Second World War. It’s revelations continue to reverberate through the history and to-be-revised history of World War Two. And what The Ultra Secret revealed was this: during World War Two the British, and later the Americans, read almost 90% of all top secret German radio traffic – and the Germans used radio as their primary method of communication.

Because of gay activists in London we also learned something else: the key player in the Ultra Secret was a gay man named Alan Turing. And this is how it helped us: “During the great campaigns on land or in desperate phases of the war at sea, exact and utterly reliable information could thus be conveyed, regularly and often instantly, mint-fresh, to the Allied commanders.” wrote historian Ronald Lewin in Ultra Goes To War.

Often we decrypted Ultra messages as fast as the Germans did. And what did we learn? Almost everything: battle plans, dates of attack, the position of every ship, plane, U-Boat, soldier – we knew almost all. And we knew it all because of a homosexual named Alan Turing.

To prevent anyone from understanding the secret information they were broadcasting, the German armed forces used a coding machine so complex the British called it the Enigma. It was unbreakable. Completely and totally secure. Only it wasn’t. Why? Because in one of his many flashes of genius, mathematician Alan Turing, who was working for the British military, figured out how to crack messages coded by the Enigma.

There was a small hitch. In order to perform the actions required to crack the Enigma, Turing had to invent a machine of some sort – a machine which had never existed before. The Oxford Companion to World War Two gives this bland explanation: “Turing, Alan (1912-1954). British mathematician whose theories and work … resulted in the modern computer.”

The Association of Computer Manufacturers, ACM, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society for the learned members of this profession. The highest accolade a computer scientist can receive is the Turing Prize from this association. The following information on the Turing Prize is taken from their website: http://awards.acm.org/

“The A.M. Turing Award, the ACM’s most prestigious technical award, is given for major contributions of lasting importance to computing. Recipients are invited to give the annual A.M. Turing Award Lecture. The award is also accompanied by a cash prize of $250,000…The A.M. Turing Award, sometimes referred to as the “Nobel Prize” of Computing, was named in honor of Alan Mathison Turing (1912–1954), a British mathematician and computer scientist. He made fundamental advances in computer architecture, algorithms, formalization of computing, and artificial intelligence. Turing was also instrumental in British code-breaking work during World War II.”

Somehow gay people are left out when the ‘Greatest Generation’ is honored. Let all of us straight, gay and in between, insist, beginning from this very moment, that whenever the ‘Greatest Generation’ is remembered, we remember Alan Turing, the greatest of them all.

Reaction and comments from senior officials of the British Government, computer industry leaders and scholars who study the life of Alan Turing can be found at the link below along with information on how to buy the DVD of CODEBREAKER, a truly outstanding documentary about Turing’s discoveries produced by Washington, DC, gay activist and film maker, Patrick Sammon. I have seen the documentary several times and I can tell you that not only is it worth watching. As a gay man, I found it deeply painful to watch and learn the details of what was done to one of the greatest scientists of the modern era.

http://www.turingfilm.com/reaction-to-turings-pardon

Article from DailyKos is here: www.dailykos.com/story/2013/12/23/1265014/-Alan-Turning-Finally-Pardoned

Article from BBC is here:  www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25495315