Wednesday, November 09, 2005


The Royal Canadian Legion has managed to combine astounding pettiness with an utter lack of political savvy by demanding that Bourque Newswatch remove the image of a poppy from that site--it's apparently viewed as a trademark infringement. Steven Clark, Secretary, Poppy and Remembrance Committee of the Royal Canadian Legion, wagged his finger and insisted that this could not be done without permission. Otherwise, said Bob Butt, Legion Director of Communications at Dominion Command, "it would be all over the place." Bourque is now displaying an image of the British poppy instead, which the Royal British Legion encourages all and sundry to download.

The right half of the blogosphere--the Legion's natural constituency, one might have thought--has erupted. When alleged property rights bang up against respect for fallen war veterans, the latter win hands down. But they aren't alone. I'm frankly gobsmacked by the pettifogging, incompetent, bureaucratic reaction of the RCL to having the poppy displayed on a blogsite without their permission. If it were being used for fundraising, or in a disrespectful manner, I could understand the reaction. But, come on, Steven Clark and Bob Butt, a little judgement is called for here, n'est-ce pas? Isn't the whole point respect? Shouldn't the poppy indeed be "all over the place" right about now?

Where am I coming from? My old man fought in World War Two, and that was a war that our side simply had to win. The Nazis damned near won it instead. I respect the people who died fighting the real Axis, not David Frum's fatuous rhetorical construction. (I wish the government would recognize the Spanish Civil War vets from the Mac-Paps as war vets too--there can't be more than half-a-dozen of them left, and every one of them was a hero. Let's hear it for "premature anti-fascism." But that's another thread.)

We live in a world where even the very stuff of life itself, DNA, is being grabbed up by multinationals. And we aren't talking just plants and animals here: there are human beings walking around today whose DNA has been patented. Nearly everything in the universe, it seems, is now subject to private ownership and commodification. When it comes to symbols, though, we are still to a large extent in the realm of the commons: even the Roman Catholic Church hasn't summoned up the chutzpah to try trademarking the cross.

The poppy is an ancient symbol, brought to fresh and lasting life in the popular mind by John McCrae's famous rondeau, In Flanders Fields. It doesn't, or shouldn't, belong to anyone, but to all of us. No organization allegedly promoting respect and remembrance should be embarking on this mean-spirited little piggy-trip.

We simply can't allow the Royal Canadian Legion to take such narrow proprietorship of what should be a common image that brings us all together, once a year, for a short period of solidarity between the dead and the living. Let's remember our veterans: indeed, let's remember the tens of millions, soldiers and civilians, who died at fascist hands. And let's stand up for them by displaying the poppy "all over the place." Lest we forget.

Note: I would be remiss if I did not offer a (belated) tail-wag to Bob Tarantino, who pointed out the distinction between "trademark" and "copyright" in his article on the poppy imbroglio here. I emended my article in consequence, but have been a little late in my acknowledgement.

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