To start off, I want to say that this post is not trying to tell anyone what to do, this is simply an expression of my opinion, my opinion that I wanted to share.
Every year, as soon as the month of November clicks round into the calendar, paper poppies are suddenly everywhere. On TV screens, on the commute, on the streets, you can’t look anywhere without seeing a least one sight of that red flower. The symbol of the poppy was started for ‘remembrance’ after the First World War, where one of the defining images is a field of red poppies growing over ground where thousands of people died in their fighting. The symbol is always followed by the phrase ‘Lest we forget,’ and serves as a reminder of the horror our country, and indeed many countries, went through in that horrible war, because let us not forget that many many many people fell and sacrificed themselves from countries all over the world. British media often tends to miss out this point. The symbol has grown and grown in importance since its invention, and now is seen as a crime against the country almost, if someone is seen to not be wearing one, especially on TV and in publicised situations. This year, FIFA came under fire for not allowing football players to wear poppies, or have poppies sewn into their shirts, while playing football, an occurrence that even the Prime Minister found time to comment on.
This year, I was toying with the idea of getting a poppy. It’s a tradition, something that you expect and accept when it comes round every year. But when I got into Waterloo Station on my commute, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people standing around collecting donations and handing out poppies. It was the same in Victoria, and indeed in the foyer of the office building I work in. Rather than feeling the need to donate and pick one up, I started resenting the fact that I couldn’t turn a corner without having this flower shoved in my face. I resented the fact that these tens of people waiting in recognisable places were almost not letting me decide for myself, and go looking for one to get, they were forcing it on everyone in the surrounding area without question, and without subtlety. In the next few days it got even worse, with people in Army uniform collecting donations, and a huge parade going through Waterloo, reminding everyone of their ‘Britishness,’ (a fact I have been trying to forget this year). Without an exact coherent thought, I knew I wasn’t going to wear one this year.
I respect the fallen of the First World War. I respect the fallen of the Second World War, but part of the promise of the poppy, was ensuring that nothing like that ever happened again. If we were truly remembering the sacrifices of those who died, we would be constantly entering into new states of conflict, and new wars. The poppy does not stand for remembrance, or peace, it is used to bring attention to the current military and the current military campaigns that Great Britain is undertaking. It is used to recognise the ‘sacrifices’ of the British Army. But their sacrifices are not the same as those who died in 1914-1918, or those who went to war in 1939-1945. Those who go to war now go to war under instruction from the government, and they know where they are going. They go to war in places that do not deserve war, and that poppy does not mean that person wearing one is remembering the thousands of people that have died needlessly in the military campaigns Britain has undertook. People will wear a poppy without thought to prove they support the troops going into poor countries, but the same people will not welcome the children and people who have been forced out of these countries because of the wars we have created. Remember the sacrifice of the people trained to go to war, but scoff at the sacrifices of people who have lost everything. Donate to the war, but don’t deal or accept the consequences of your actions, which is thousands of people without homes and without a country. Wearing a poppy does not make you a good person.
Even more ironic, to me, are the celebrities on TV who wear elaborate great poppies encrusted with jewels. The poppy started as a subtle sign, a metaphor for loss and sacrifice, and I think even more the poppy made of paper, which shows fragility and a common purpose. You could once be united with someone of a higher class than you, as you would both wear a paper poppy and be united in a quiet voice of grief and remembrance. But that voice is now loud and brash, and it suffocates people into proving they are politically correct. God forbid someone is caught on camera not proving their adherence to the poppy. God forbid footballers, who play a game not associated with politics for 90 minutes, do not have a poppy on their shirt. The argument over that in itself, shows how political the poppy has become. Football has nothing to do with politics, and if those players want to wear poppies they have the other 1350 minutes in a day to wear one.
I cannot wear a red poppy in good faith knowing what we are doing to the world. People may criticise this decision, and may truly resent me for it, but if your instinct is to do this, please ask yourself if you are helping anyone else who has had to make a sacrifice in this world. If I wear a poppy this year, or from now on any other year, I will wear a white poppy, because I do not believe in giving anyone in our government an excuse or a mandate to continue going to war. If I’m going to honour and remember the fallen, I will not limit myself to British troops, because millions more people have died needlessly in a lot of wars since 1918, and they deserve my remembrance too, and you know what else?
They deserve better.