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Remembrance without glorification - should you wear a poppy to honour the war dead?

The red poppy has been hijacked by jingoistic politicians using it to glorify and justify the current wars they are waging.


IT IS usually at about the time the clocks go back that we start to see the first little splashes of scarlet on people's lapels.

As Halloween passes, these become more and more ubiquitous until those who aren't pinning poppies to their clothes may feel the accusing glances of their peers levelled silently at them.

On the face of it, a reminder of the horrors of war and the lives lost to conflict should be welcomed by those who wish to see an end to hostilities.

However, in reality Remembrance Day can be an uncomfortable time for those with pacifistic tendencies. It often sees a certain revving up of patriotic fervour, and many are propelled to purchase poppies by an insidious current of jingoism rather than sober acknowledgment of the human costs of war.

There is not, of course, anything wrong with the poppy. Indeed, it's a most laudable symbol, and it is quite right and proper that the fallen victims of conflict should be remembered in this manner.

However, in recent years it has been noted that the poppy symbol is increasingly being hijacked by those who wish to use it for their own political interests. The promotion and glorification of current or potential conflicts has taken a disturbing turn as certain groups attempt to use the symbol of war dead for their own violent ends.

For this reason, many have taken the uncomfortable decision to abstain from buying poppies. Some are choosing to wear white poppies, which are meant to honour the war dead without glorifying the conflicts in which they died.

But should we really be allowing the scarlet Flanders poppy to be usurped in this manner? Should we not be wearing it with pride in order to reclaim its true meaning? Or has the jingoistic rot set in too far to save the symbol from those who would use it to promote war and division?

The poppy as a remembrance symbol

Everybody knows that the poppy as a symbol of remembrance was inspired by the poppies which sprang up in the churned (and amply fertilized) earth of the battlefields of the First World War.

Their blood red petals pushing up through the tortured earth were both haunting and hopeful in a land which seemed devastated beyond all chance of regeneration.

A Canadian soldier named John McCrae wrote a poem named 'In Flanders Fields' which linked the fallen with the poppies of Flanders. It was an immensely popular poem, capturing the shocked and devastated yet resilient zeitgeist of the age perfectly.

It did not take long for the red Flanders poppy to be adopted as an international symbol of remembrance. Poppy appeals swiftly sprang up across the world, raising much needed money for suffering veterans and their families - a tradition which, as we all know, continues strongly today.

Millions upon millions of poppies are produced each year for the Poppy Appeal at factories in Edinburgh and Richmond, and it would be next to impossible to find a British person who has never pinned a poppy to their breast.

The idea, ostensibly speaking, is to cause people to stop and think about the human cost of war. The sight of the poppy should bring home the realities of conflict, and cause us to consider with bowed heads the millions of lives lost to war. Unfortunately, however, there are those who would use it for their own less than savoury purposes.

The poppy as propaganda

We're all familiar with the phenomenon of the (usually poorly-spelled) stridently patriotic social media meme which orders viewers to 'support our troops' by liking and sharing. A poppy often features prominently in such memes.

Now, there is no reason why currently serving troops do not deserve our sympathy. Not only are they in great danger through wars not of their own making, they are at heightened risk of permanent physical, mental, and emotional damage. Soldiers have a greater risk of suicide than most of us, and suicidal tendencies are a major, horrible issue for anyone. Indeed, more soldiers commit suicide than are killed in battle.

However, the spirit behind a worrying number of these memes is not one of empathy and acknowledgment on a human level of those who are serving currently. It is, rather, a tastelessly patriotic exhortation to get behind the wars in which they are fighting, or to bow down to pridefully nationalistic agendas.

The odious Britain First have frequently exploited the emotions of the public through use of the poppy in order to raise funds and support for their worrying Islamophobic and fascistic ideals.

For many, the poppy no longer symbolises remembrance for those who gave their lives in war. Instead, it symbolises nationalism, jingoistic fervour, and Our Brave Boys giving Johnny Foreigner the bashing he deserves.

White poppies

Nor is it just ignorant xenophobes who are using the poppy in this manner. Many prominent figures have abstained vocally from poppy purchases, citing the co-option of the symbol by political heavyweights as a glorification and justification of conflicts in which they have a vested interest.

It's an understandable position, but one cannot help worrying that to do this will ultimately leave the poppy - once a hallowed symbol of remembrance - entirely in the hands of those who would make war. And it's a powerful symbol to hand over to them, quite apart from the fact that many would like to remember those fallen in war.

Some are getting around this by wearing a white poppy, which symbolises the sacrifice made by those who have died in conflicts without in any way condoning or glorifying those conflicts. This year's Remembrance Day will prove interesting as vehemence grows on both the jingoistic, xenophobic side and the more pacifistic, integrationist side.

Whether the poppy can survive as a symbol of remembrance, or whether we must abandon it and take up the white poppy (or some other viable alternative instead) depends entirely upon how we conduct ourselves over the next few years.


White poppies available now from Stop the War...

Source: Stop the War Coalition

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