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In Commonwealth countries around the globe, November 11th is a day to remember those who died in war, specifically the First World War.
In Canada, the country's oldest veteran is 103 years old and actually fought in that conflict, although he is one of a fast-dwindling number. Even veterans of the Second World War are in shorter supply as time and illness takes more and more every year.
The poppy has been a symbol of the ultimate sacrifice, the image of poppies blowing in the wind on graves marked by simple crosses immortalized in the famous poem by Canadian military physician John McCrae, himself a casualty of war.
Like the traditional red coats of the British military, which could still be reused even if bloodstained, the color of the poppy brings to mind the bloodshed of war. White poppies, worn on this day by some, symbolize instead a commitment to the end of warfare.
Poppies are an interesting symbol for peace, the irony inherent in the choice probably best iconized by Sting in his song, "Children's Crusade," where he places the poppies commemorating the end of world war in context with the ones used to make opium and its derivative, heroin.
A further irony is that the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan has meant an even greater reliance of that country on illegal opium cultivation. Since 9/11, poppy production has doubled, and it's estimated that 3.3 million Afghanis rely on the opium trade for their living.
Another sad legacy for the flower that many of us were introduced to in another frightening context - as the lovely and lethal weapon of the Wicked Witch of the West against an unsuspecting Dorothy.