World War I and poppies


This video is called Poppy – Papaver rhoeas.

From Peter Frost in Britain:

The flower of sacrifice

Thursday 21st August 2014

PETER FROST traces the history and symbolism of the poppy

The poppy, Britain’s most colourful weed, is much in the news lately as we mark the centenary of WWI that didn’t end all wars. Over the century that simple flower came to mean all kinds of things to all kinds of people and not always for the best.

We are talking about the corn poppy, (Papaver rhoeas) also known as the corn rose, field poppy, Flanders poppy, red poppy, red weed, coquelicot, and even, due to the strange effect of its curious smell — the headache poppy.

Cascading down the walls of the Tower of London are thousands of ceramic red poppies and they are promised to fill the moat before November 11, Armistice Day.

Members of the public are invited to pay 25 quid to acquire a poppy for themselves. Some of the money goes to a coalition of military charities. The poppies will stay in the Tower until November and then be despatched to those who have purchased them.

There are plenty of poppies to buy — 888,246 in fact — one for each of the brave British tommies who laid down their lives in the blood and gore of the first world war.

The poppies at the Tower are an amazing sight — the thought behind it a noble one. But as you would expect every dodgy politician from the prime minister down, every gung-ho blood and thunder Colonel Blimp is getting in on the PR act.

Even junior royals like Prince Harry, this time not wearing his Gestapo uniform,

Actually, it was an uniform of Adolf Hitler’s Afrika Korps.

and William and Kate are trooping along to the Tower to plant a poppy to ensure a spot on the six o’clock TV news.

It’s too good an opportunity to miss. Wrap a bit of the glorious dead’s glory round you.

Commercial sponsors haven’t been slow to get in on the act either. There’s a Spanish sounding bank, a big city insurance firm and millionaire’s law firm …

Let’s leave this whole pathetic story and take a look at the amazing plant itself.

The poppy has evolved and found itself a unique evolutionary niche. We don’t really know where it originated. North Africa probably, or perhaps ancient Persia.

We do know how it travelled. It hitched a lift in the clay jars of seed corn that ancient traders trafficked all over the known world.

Ancient farmers in Britain, Flanders and just about everywhere else would buy a bushel or so of seed from a passing Phoenician and the free gift would be a bunch of colourful scarlet weeds.

They soon discovered that the poppy seed had plenty of uses in bread and cakes and boiled up in a tea it even possessed magical curative powers.

It had developed its tiny rock hard seed to last a long time before it landed up somewhere it could grow.

Did you know that some poppy seeds found in funereal jars in ancient tombs have been successfully germinated?

That of course is the explanation of the huge flowering of poppies in Flanders. As shells, bombs and trench digging disturbed the soil, poppy seeds that had lain dormant so long got warmth, moisture and sunlight and burst into scarlet flower.

Up to 10 million soldiers were killed in WWI. Estimates of civilian deaths top 1.4m.

As the men returned home, many of them with shell-shock, or what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they had stories to tell.

Those who had seen such horrors in Belgium and northern France also would tell a much brighter story of the extraordinary beauty, persistence and profusion of the fragile but defiant flower — the blood red corn poppy.

Strangely, it was returning north American soldiers who first adopted the red poppy as an emblem.

Canadian doctor John McCrae had captured the beauty, symbolism and pathos of the poppy in a poem: 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…

This music video by British punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees is the song Poppy Day, based on McCrae’s poem.

US organisations arranged for artificial poppies to be made by women in war-torn France. The money raised went to children who had been orphaned by the war.

British soldiers too came back from the grimness of war to find that life wasn’t “fit for heroes” as they had been promised. Just like today returning heroes found the government off hand and tardy dealing with their problems.

Some organised themselves into ex-servicemen’s societies of various political opinions and of varying degrees of militancy. In 1921 many of these organisations united to form the British Legion.

Its purpose was to provide support and to fight for the rights of ex-servicemen, especially the disabled, and their families. In fact what actually happened was it became one of the richest British charities ever.

In 1921 it bought one-and-a-half million of those French made artificial poppies and sold them to the British public raising over ten thousand pounds. Poppy day had been invented.

Soon it set up its own poppy factory, with disabled ex-servicemen making the poppies. Today they produce and sell over 45m lapel poppies, 120,000 wreaths and one million small wooden remembrance crosses.

Not everyone is happy to wear the red poppy. Some see them as glorifying war and militaristic thinking. In many people’s eyes they have become a badge of jingoism and a justification of recent wars.

The British Legion adopted as its slogan: “Honour the dead, care for the living” but even in the week David Cameron and Nick Clegg and various other ministers paraded themselves at the British Legion commemorative church service it was announced that claims for compensation from recently serving military personnel, often wounded in battle, were taking 10 times as long as before the latest Con-Dem round of spending cuts.

The idea of detaching the poppy from a militaristic culture dates back as far as 1926.

The No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion should be asked to imprint “No More War” in the centre of the red poppies instead of “Haig Fund” and failing this pacifists should make their own flowers.

Douglas “Butcher” Haig was the British general who had ordered so many of his troops to their deaths at the Battle of the Somme — one of the worst bloodbaths in British military history.

When it came to lions led by donkeys, Haig was certainly our biggest donkey — two million brave lions died under his orders.

The Legion choose to keep Haig’s name on their poppies until 1994.

In 1933 the first white poppies appeared on Armistice Day, mostly home-made and worn mainly by members of the Co-operative Women’s Guild.

Just a year later the Peace Pledge Union was formed and it began widespread distribution of white peace poppies in November each year.

Just as today, it took real courage and real commitment to wear the white peace poppy.

So which will you wear? My wife Ann always wears a red poppy. She wears it in proud memory of her dad Fred who always wore his red poppy in memory of his own father, another Fred, Ann’s grandfather.

Grandfather Fred died in France in 1917. He had been in France just days and his body was never found. He left a widow and four children including young Fred then aged just six. Fred’s red poppy was the only memorial to his dad he ever had. No wonder he wore it with pride.

This year our 14-year-old grandson, who also has the middle name Frederick, was at Tyne Cot cemetery with his dad and his family to pay tribute to his namesake, five generations before, who made the ultimate sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme.

So wear your poppy, red or white or both with pride. They aren’t about glorifying war and militaristic thinking. They are about the respect each of us feels for those who paid the greatest price in the futility of war.

Japanese government honours war criminals again


This video from Australia says about itself:

Australian comfort woman Jan Ruff-O’Herne

02/04/2007

Jan Ruff-O’Herne told her shocking story on Australian Story in 2001 – a secret that took her 50 years to come to terms with before finally, she revealed it in a letter to her two daughters.

An idyllic childhood in Java was brought to an abrupt end by the Japanese occupation during Word War Two. Aged 21, she was taken from her family and repeatedly abused, beaten and raped – forced to be a sex slave for the Japanese military.

The term coined for this brutal sex slavery was ‘comfort woman‘.

But since revealing her ‘uncomfortable truth’ Jan Ruff-O’Herne’s suffering has been transformed into something affirmative.

In February this year, this 84-year-old Adelaide grandmother made the long journey to testify before Congress in Washington DC. The Congressional hearing was the pinnacle in her 15-year global campaign to seek justice for ‘comfort women’.

Now six years since Australian Story first aired her story, Jan Ruff-O’Herne feels she is one step closer to finally achieving her ultimate goal.

By Ben McGrath:

Japanese lawmakers visit notorious Yasukuni war shrine

19 August 2014

A large group of 80 Japanese lawmakers and three cabinet ministers visited the infamous Yasukuni Shrine to the war dead last Friday—the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II. The visit was part and parcel of the revival of Japanese militarism being pursued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government, which includes whitewashing the war crimes of the Japanese military during the 1930s and 1940s.

While the government claims that the Yasukuni Shrine is like other war memorials around the world, it symbolically inters 14 convicted, class-A war criminals and its associated museum denies or minimises atrocities such as the 1937 Nanjing massacre. The three cabinet members were National Public Safety Commission chairman Keiji Furuya, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo and Administrative Reform Minister Tomomi Inada.

Last December, Abe became the first sitting prime minister to visit the shrine since Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. He did not join his ministers this time, but sent a cash offering with one of his aides, signing as head of the ruling Liberal Democrat Party and not as prime minister. Abe appeared at a government ceremony and claimed that Japan “will contribute to a lasting peace in the world with all our might.”

Abe’s decision not to visit the shrine was apparently a conciliatory gesture to China and President Xi Jinping, whom Abe is attempting to meet later this year. Since coming to office in December 2012, Abe has not met with Xi or South Korean President Park Geun-hye, both of whom came to office around the same time.

Abe’s claim to be seeking “lasting peace” is belied by his government’s actions. Over the past year and a half, the government has increased the military budget, established a US-style National Security Council and revised the interpretation of the country’s constitution to allow for “collective self-defence”—that is, Japanese participation in US-led wars of aggression.

The Abe government, with Washington’s backing, has ramped up tensions with China over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea in order to justify Japan’s remilitarisation. Abe has closely aligned Japan with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” and military build-up against China.

Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine last year signaled an intensification of the ideological campaign to cover up past war crimes. The government is seeking to overcome deep-seated antiwar sentiment, particularly in the Japanese working class, which suffered police-state repression and deprivation in the 1930s and 1940s.

That sentiment was reflected in the critical remarks of some of those who fought in World War II. Tokuro Inokuma, a soldier in the Japanese Imperial Army, now 85, drew parallels between the current political atmosphere and that before World War II. “I find it quite dangerous … This is the path we once took,” he warned. “We have neither killed nor been killed [in war] for almost 70 years. That’s unprecedented. It’s important that we think hard about that.”

Former Kamikaze pilot Yutaka Kanbe, 91, who was saved from a suicide mission by Japan’s surrender, said he was worried about the rightward shift under Abe and the recent glorification of kamikaze pilots. “Japan could go to war again if our leaders are all like Abe. I’m going to die soon, but I worry about Japan’s future,” he said.

The Chinese and South Korean governments condemned the latest visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. The two countries were both subject to Japan’s brutal colonial rule in the 1930s and 1940s, leaving a legacy of resentment and anger. However, Beijing and Seoul exploit these memories to whip up anti-Japanese chauvinism to divert attention from the worsening economic and social crisis at home.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declared: “Sino-Japanese relations can develop in a healthy and stable way only if Japan can face up to and reflect on the history of invasion and make a clear break with militarism.” A Xinhua news agency article went further, denouncing Japan’s militarization and warning: “By doing this, Japan is sowing the seeds of another war.”

South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman No Gwang-il said: “Only when Japanese politicians abandon their historical revisionism and repent for Japan’s wartime atrocities sincerely, the relations between Seoul and Japan could be developed in a stable manner, as people in both nations hope.”

The Abe government’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and efforts to revive Japanese militarism reflect a broader shift within the Japanese media and political establishment. The previous Democratic Party-led government deliberately stirred up tensions with China by “nationalizing” the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, which are under Japanese administration.

Another sign of this rightward lurch was the decision of Japan’s main liberal newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, to retract a series of articles dealing with one of Japan’s most notorious wartime abuses—the kidnapping and coercion of as many as 200,000 women in Asia, mostly from Korea, to be used as sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army.

On August 5, the Asahi Shimbun published a formal retraction of more than a dozen articles dating back to 1982 dealing with the abduction of women in South Korea during World War II. Japanese right-wing leaders welcomed the decision as proof of their allegation that these “comfort women,” the euphemistic term for those forced into sexual slavery, were not coerced. Abe has previously made similar claims.

The articles concerned the accounts of Seiji Yoshida, a soldier in the Japanese army who was stationed in South Korea during the war. After the war, Yoshida, a member of the Stalinist Communist Party, authored a 1983 memoir recounting how he participated in rounding up as many as 200 women on South Korea’s Jeju Island to be forced into military brothels. The Asahi Shimbun now claims that Yoshida’s account was false.

Yoshida, who died in 2000, admitted to making some changes in his description of what took place, but did not retract his account. His work played a role in bringing the issue to light in the 1980s and encouraged others to step forward with their own experiences. Japan issued a limited apology in 1993, known as the Kono Statement. For this reason, Yoshida has long been the subject of attacks from the Japanese right.

The timing of the Asahi Shimbun’s retraction is not coincidental. Just a few weeks ago, the Japanese government released a report by supposed experts, questioning the validity of the testimonies of Korean comfort women and claiming that there was no definitive evidence of coercion. This falsification of history is part of the ideological preparations for Japanese imperialism’s involvement in new wars.