The Map is Not the Land

07 Nov 2011

Robert Fisk, for The Independent:

I asked him once why the Great War was fought. “All I can tell you, fellah,” he said, “was that it was a great waste.” And he swept his hand from left to right. Then he stopped wearing his poppy. I asked him why, and he said that he didn’t want to see “so many damn fools” wearing it.

This year, I will not be wearing a poppy. It is a distorted symbol: a representation of remembrance that is devoid entirely of the experience itself. How does a replica of a flower pinned to a lapel serve to honor, or even acknowledge, the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice?

I am reminded of the American flag pins that presidential candidates are forced to wear while campaigning, as if the illusion of patriotism is sufficient evidence of actual patriotism. We wear poppies at this time of year as an accessory to represent our remembrance – an accessory that we must be reminded of on our way out of the grocery store or while in line at the bank – and, like all representations, it is not the same as that which it simulates.

The map is not the land; the poppy is not remembrance.