It’s that time of year again, as builds for some weeks towards the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day.
Some say the poppy glorifies war. Others say it insults the war dead to criticise it. Both positions are false, but it is fair to say that some have tried to contort the poppy’s meaning away from it’s genesis.
Critics and defenders might better understand the contortion before they are quick to condemn.
As a symbol, of course, the poppy comes to us via the widespread growth of the flower in fields of France where so many hundreds of thousands lost their lives in the mud. often for sake of barely a few inches of land.
The UK’s main enemy was Germany. Our monarch and theirs were of the same family (as was the Russian Tsar and a fair few other European monarchs).
It wasn’t a war of ideology, more a consequence of an arms-race built to a point where competing imperialist ambitions and alliances blew-up very horribly, perhaps inevitably. It can also be seen as a family spat that sucked many millions of lower class people to their doom.
So the poppy is first and foremost a direct, clear and solemn symbol of the pointless waste of so much war.
The song “Green Fields Of France” reminds us that “The War To End All Wars” happened “Again and again and again and again and again”. If anything the poppy stands as poignant condemnation of the failure of our species to sufficiently improve. It is fundamentally far more anti-war, with no real pro-war basis to speak of.
War affects civilians far more than it used to, the differences between World Wars I and II highlight that most effectively. Yet in all cases, the frontlines and those at home have far more in common with each other than their instructing elites, who in turn have more in common with each other than “grunts” who kill and die on their behalf.
Hapless dupes tend to lap it up though. How the crowds celebrated at the outbreak in 1914. How many of them were dead, widowed or orphaned within a couple of years?
All war is a sign of failure and immorality at some level, some show this more than others.
WWII is presented as a classic case of a more “just” war, though in truth we fought Germany because she had become a threat, not really through opposition to fascism. We had a monarch and other members of the aristocracy who were big fans of the Austrian Herr Hitler.
My parents had a 1936 almanac at home, reading the “Hitler” entry as a teenager always stuck with me. After a standard biography it concluded : “Some of his policies are considered controversial”.
It’s also worth keeping in mind, that Churchill, for all his many good points, was a virulent racist. That was pretty typical at the time.
As well as representing the waste of war, rather than the justness or honour in any given war, wearing a poppy shows remembrance and honour for loved ones and ancestors, as well as raising money for those still affected.
It represents sacrifice, without comment on whether that sacrifice was worthwhile or not. Why have an issue with any of this?
It’s easy to see how people consider it hijacked though. They can wear a white poppy if they choose, which should be equally respected. Yet why not assume, at least in the first instance, that those who wear the red poppy do so for the “right” reasons? Otherwise victory is with the hijackers.
The basic hypocrisy (and worse) of those hijackers requires full denouncement, to hold up the true and honourable aspects of what the poppy represents.
For one thing, if we as a society really cared about armed forces so much there would not as many who have served in the past now suffering, far too unaided, from homelessness, addiction, PTSD, other mental illnesses or such conditions as Gulf War Syndrome.
I was struck when visiting various “Occupy” sites at the amount of ex-forces who found that movement to be the most respectful towards them they had come across, and the format in which they had felt the most useful and motivated since at least as far back as leaving the services. What a shocking indictment on the establishment that some of the most anti-establishment people are clearly superior at giving a damn a practice.
Some of the phoney solemnity is nauseating, as is some of the contrived atmosphere at the reading of names at Prime Ministers Questions, within moments of the boorish braying starting up.
For some, the poppy is mere blag to help look like they care when they pretty much don’t. For others it is a prop for dubious lectures about pride and honour.
There are some that believe and make up the stories about it being “banned” in various ways (just as Christmas is apparently “banned” every year, though I have never once heard of anyone arrested for mentioning or celebrating it). Why do they do that? Because it props up fake nationalist narratives that they want to believe and propagate for generally dodgy reasons.
And a step beyond that we come to the most foul: Those for whom it’s an excuse to spout ignorant hard and far right claptrap.
Folk who monitor far right cyber-abodes know full well of those who cynically use personal tragedy and private memory as a means to spread hate.
Political hijacking of the poppy is utterly repulsive, and a disgrace to those who indulge in it with such concocted and intelligence insulting posture. They probably know who they are, and should keep their silence for much more than 2 minutes