With grim predictability, Poppymania is fast approaching. Every year, I promise myself I’ll not get worked up, I try to remind myself that it is just a wee flower that some people choose to wear on their coats for a few weeks. This is not about whether individuals do or don’t wear poppies, I really couldn’t care less.
What I can’t tolerate is the enforced yet selective remembrance, only being allowed to wear or think or speak about certain things. I don’t see why it’s considered respectful to line up with the people who send our citizens to die for them and say nothing. I have no idea why throwing a few coins in a bucket and giving ourselves a pat on the back is such a service to those who’ve suffered the horrors of war. We need to start remembering the lessons learned during our last century at war and more importantly, we need to stop repeating them.
So let’s remember where the Poppy as a symbol comes from. Until 1994, the centre of Poppies displayed the words “Haig Fund,” in honour of the butcher of the Somme, Earl Haig. Haig is now notorious for his tactical fuckduggery which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths during World War I. The next year – potentially even 4 – will be turned over to endless “Great War” chat as we approach the centenary of the outbreak of war. Even the official tale is now that it was giant bloody adventure, the last outrage of a decaying imperialist, class system (except for all the later ones of course.) But in the immediate aftermath of WWI, Haig was revered as the man who “won the war” and the Poppy became a mark of remembrance; for some, a symbol of nationalism, for others, a reminder of the futility of the conflict.
It’s not surprising that following World War II, the poppy also became associated with the fight against fascism. Troubling as I find the official tale of how Britain was always definitely amazing before, during and after the war, I’m quite up for fighting Nazis and hold my family members who did so in the highest possible regard. If the Poppy was solely about commemorating the millions who have died in historic conflicts, I’d probably not mind. A brief glance at the website of Poppy Scotland suggests there is something else going on. Their slogan, “Supporting our Heroes” doesn’t seem very historic to me. The slogan of the Royal British Legion, who are behind the Poppy Appeal, “stand shoulder to shoulder with all who serve,” seems even less so. It’s pretty clear that standing shoulder to shoulder with our heroes who serve isn’t a call to respectful remembrance, it’s a celebration of the continuation of exactly the thing we‘re supposed to be remembering (as being so horrendous.)
But never mind about all that, why not bag yourself an official bling poppy? Union jack mug?? Forget about the lessons learned by all the previous generations and just THINK OF THE CHILDREN!?!
Here they are, our future soldiers.
If raising the hope of future conflicts to send kids to die in isn’t your idea of respect, what about how the state treats our soldiers past and present? Britain spends £60bn per year on the military, we are the 4th most militaristic state on the planet. We’re also engaged in constant foreign adventures and the punting of guns to all and sundry. This increases the likelihood of conflicts and boost the coffers of those who trade in arms but it doesn’t makes us any safer. A massive military-industrial complex doesn’t mean we spend lots of money on soldiers either, as the constant grim tales of under-equipped young men and women being brought back from Iraq and Afghanistan can attest. Respect for the casualties of war and support for the militarism which put them in that position are not the same thing.
All too often, the casualties of war aren’t those who die while fighting abroad. Last year, more British soldiers and veterans took their own lives than were killed by the Taliban. The UK government does not monitor suicide rates amongst ex-soldiers, so we have no idea just how widespread this is. The Citizens Advice Bureau estimate that 378 Falklands veterans have taken their own lives in the years since the conflict, compared to the 250 who died in the war. Those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face grim prospects; with widespread unemployment, up to 9,000 ex-soldiers are homeless. Around 1 in 10 rough sleepers on our streets and 1 in 11 of our prisoners are former soldiers.
What sends me into a rage is being asked to throw a few pennies at something or the feeling we, as citizens, must somehow bear the responsibility, the blame, for the disgusting way successive governments have perpetuated war and then discarded those they have sent to fight. Looking after these people is not a charity pursuit, a one-day-a-year parade with canons and fireworks, yet that is how they are treated by this annual spectacle. Whatever I think of any particular conflict, it’s pretty clear those in parliament who always seem “brave” enough to order people to war should be made to deal with the consequences of their actions – a flower on the lapel doesn’t cut it.
I fear we could be in for a long period of selective remembrance next year as WWI-mania kicks in. We’ll be encouraged to remember a time when the rich controlled the world and could make the poor do whatever they wanted, a distant past where their desire to capture our ever more scarce resources caused so many needless deaths.
When he wasn’t using the “chests of brave men” (to quote Winston Churchill) to win his battles for him, Earl Haig liked prancing around in castles, enjoying a right royal knees up at our expense, as a Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. It’s no coincidence that David Cameron is also descended from a Knight of that Order. It’s also no coincidence that a few short months ago, Dave & chums were attempting to drag us into the war in Syria. Lest we forget these people are still at it and still it charge. Lest we forget that we’re still constantly at war.
The Poppymania we’re force fed is not remembrance, it’s an intolerable amnesia – a collective annual act of forgetfulness which allows militarism, nationalism and deference to authority to flourish whilst critical thought is all but silenced. This is exactly the kind of climate which allowed the 20th Century military leaders to decide the fate of millions. If we stand head bowed and allow this history to be discarded, we are handing that same power to those who run the world today.
If we remember war, we don’t allow it to be repeated again and again.
If we respect the dead, we don’t engage in morbid fantasies about transforming another generation into our “future soldiers.”
If we never forget the past, we can’t ever accept that this has to be our future.
Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AThousandFlowers
Follow us on Twitter @unsavourycabal