History,  War etc

What the red poppy means

Guest post by Sackcloth and Ashes

Every year, in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday, there is always some brave and noble soul who thinks he/she is telling truth unto power, who decides that now’s the time to have a pop at the red poppy. Through malice or stupidity, both Remembrance Sunday and the Royal British Legion’s fundraising appeal keep getting misrepresented, and so yet again it’s necessary to put the record straight.

Firstly, the red poppy does not ‘glorify war’, as detractors claim. It is not a symbol of victory or jingoism, but of sacrifice. The inspiration for the poppy was John McCrae’s 1915 poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’, and it reflected the durability of this flower even in the churned-up war-zone of Belgium and Northern France; the choice of emblem is an obvious reflection of commemoration and remembrance. Other countries have similar traditions (such as the French with the blue cornflower, and the Americans with Veterans Day).

Secondly, the poppy appeal is a charity. The RBL raises funds to help the relatives of servicemen and women killed on operations with the British armed forces, and also provides financial support to veterans who need it. Donations to the RBL do not feed militarism or the British war machine.

Thirdly, wearers of the red poppy remember all who served with the British, Imperial and Commonwealth forces. This includes not only servicemen and women from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the thousands from the Republic of Ireland who fought as well (conscription did not apply to Ireland in WWI, when it was still in the British Empire, and 100,000 volunteered to help defend Britain despite Irish neutrality in WWII). It also applies to sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen from across the Commonwealth, from the two world wars to today, who have volunteered their services to the UK’s armed forces, not to mention Free Europeans who fought alongside us in WWII. Whites, Afro-Carribbeans and Asians. Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus. Britons, Irishmen, Canadians, Australians, Ghanaians, Indians, Pakistanis, Jamaicans and Poles. All of them are represented in our society today. The red poppy is a symbol of the society they fought for, and a society the survivors helped build.

Fourthly, the wearing of the red poppy does not constitute support for UK foreign policy. Politicians may wear this emblem, but they do not own it. If you wear a red poppy, it does not mean you think troops should be in Afghanistan, or that we should be bombing Syria. It does not mean you supported intervention in Libya, Iraq, Sierra Leone, or Kosovo, or whichever conflict (historical and current) happens to outrage you. If you are angry about Britain’s current or past wars, you have a means of expressing and registering your protest. Attacking a charity and a ceremony of commemoration does nothing but disgrace you.

Fifthly, if you are unconvinced by the points I have made here, there is a simple solution. Do not wear a poppy. Do not attend a Remembrance Sunday service, or parade, or a Festival of Remembrance. It is that easy. The act of commemoration or donation is a free choice. If you opt not to participate or contribute, it does not make you unpatriotic, or selfish, or amoral. It does not mean that you are disrespecting war dead. If you don’t put any money in an RBL box, then maybe there is another equally worthy charity you support. Maybe there isn’t. It’s none of my business, and I do not want to make it my business. But you have exercised your right to make a free choice as part of a free society, which is what you are entitled to do. So long as you recognise our will to commemorate and donate, there is absolutely no problem at all.

Finally, the premise behind the white poppy is based on a complete distortion of what the red poppy and the RBL stands for. If you think that your white poppy means that you are ‘for peace’, and that the other stands for ‘war’, there are no words I can use to describe your stupidity and conceit. And if you had a better knowledge of the Peace Pledge Union and its association with pro-Nazis during the 1930s, you will realise that your symbol is actually a tainted and dishonourable one. So I will wear my red poppy because it stands for those who died fighting fascism, whereas you wear your white one for those who would have had us capitulate to and collaborate with Nazi Germany and its allies. There it is.