Anyone traveling in England or viewing news reports on the country will notice just about everyone wearing a little red thing on his or her lapel. Some are of cheap paper; some are jewel-encrusted. This phenomenon occurs each year and has for almost a century.
What people are wearing is supposed to symbolise a poppy and they are used to commemorate suffering of World War I. The English have vowed never to forget and make a great show of this effort. Anyone not wearing a poppy is criticised. I have found this somewhat admirable, having grown up in a country that easily forgets, yet touts patriotism as its unique national characteristic. I recall how my service in Vietnam was honoured and celebrated.
I bring up the poppy phenomenon, because I notice a change this year. For the first time, I have spotted articles and opinion pieces in the media critical of the glorification of war. After all, World War I was one of the dumber conflicts, absolutely needless and fought to placate the egos of distant rulers. Millions suffered at the hands of incompetent leaders.
A few years ago, I traveled with an Australian friend to Ypres in Belgium to see where his grandfather had died and was buried. We studied the memorials and displays; I had read a bit of history. Standing on the ground almost 100 years later (and having been to a “more comfortable” war) one cannot imagine the horror, even with the aid of photographs. One cannot put oneself into the place of the generals, who sent me to suffer insufferable conditions and to die needlessly, while they dined in comfort far to the rear or back at home. (If you want example of the incompetence, read Gallipoli, by L.A. Carlyon.)
The red of the poppy should symbolise rage, as well as sorrow. But, it does not. People still permit their “leaders” to send poor souls off to war, maybe not as stupid, but often as needless. As long as nations glorify the military, politicians will find a way to waste lives and resources.
I frequently patronize a fruit and vegetable shop owned by a small Turk. He's one of the friendliest and nicest people I know. I consider him a friend. His face lights up each time I enter his shop and not because he knows that his daily turnover will soar.
He knows my likes and dislikes. He refuses to sell me bad quality, even if something is on display. He knows that I demand to know origins of anything I buy and is proud to source the best products. He will often lower the price, if I wince at the cost of some exotic fruit flown in from afar. If I mention dissatisfaction with something that I have previously bought (occasionally an avocado will be over-ripe), he is clearly pained. He does not charge for the next one or throws in one for free. He gives me only the freshest items from the his walk-in refrigerator, and not items available to the general public.
His reputation has spread far and wide. Customers drive long distances, passing other similar shops, to patronize his shop. It has nothing to do with race.
He knows that I am problably the only customer that has bothered to learn the history of his country and mentions current events, which I have spotted in my scan of daily headlines. He's proud to explain some events or pained by others. He's happy to live in Germany and grateful for the opportunity to make a good living, but is proud of his heritage. He pays back by offering good quality and friendly service (a lesson many German shops could learn).
He knows that I explained the significance of Gallipoli to his daughter, before her trip to Australia. She had grown up in Germany and has less connection to the country of her parents. It took an American to explain the unfortunate and enduring connection between Turkey and Australia to a girl that grew up in Germany.
He wants to show me his hometown, Istanbul, and I want to see it. I need a local guide to help me wander the vast Great Bazaar without getting lost, tempted, or ripped off. I also need a guide to show me the architectural magnificence of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, formerly known as the Cathedral of St. Sophia (the Greeks and the Turks seem to have "issues" lasting several millennium). This has nothing to do with religion; both are testimony to man's creative genius and talent.
Cultural diversity makes my life more interesting. As much as I like Germany, I would not enjoy living in a town peopled by only one race or nationality. After all, variety is life...
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.