Selective Remembrance and the problem with Poppymania

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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.

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Many didn’t see Haig as much of a hero

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.

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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.

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Lest we forget to buy lots of tat

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.

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William IV from whom David Cameron is directly descended

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.

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Further Reading:

Enough of this scary militarism

Vote No or we’ll shoot: Hammond’s military intervention in Scotland

Who are we afraid of?

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10 responses to “Selective Remembrance and the problem with Poppymania

  1. i wonder how long somebody like you would last in a world where other men had NOT sacrificed all for your freedom?

    show some respect you nasty little twerp

    • I don’t normally let random abuse through but this is exactly the kind of mania I mean…

      Begins with a vague threat of fantastical violence, implies freedom was won to never be excercised and ignores an entire piece about the lack of respect shown to those who suffer as a result of war by this militaristic, commercial and political carnival. I simply don’t think they are given respect by those in power.

      When you say “show some respect” what you mean is shut up. The point of this piece is that we should actually…show some respect.

    • This response fails to distinguish between the important responsibility of remembrance and the way in which that remembrance is used. Remembrance is important if we are to learn the consequences of a belligerent foreign policy that has not been driven by the pursuit of ‘freedom’ in the vast majority of wars. It is a matter of greater disrespect to use the example of often conscripted troops to support the self-impression of the moral high ground occupied by politicians who are willing to sacrifice the lives of others (both troops and civilians on the ground) in pursuit of agendas that have little to do with the interests of the greater good of the greater number. In other countries remembrance day is observed with the primary lesson being how counter-productive and regrettable the vast majority of wars have been and to express respect and regret for those whose lives were taken from them. It should be possible to express respect for those who died, who suffered and those who continue to suffer while learning that any informed awareness of past and present reliance on the appetite for war among those not required to give anything is immoral, wasteful and to be opposed.

  2. Murray people who act as you do are generally what one would refer to as “a sheep in wolfs clothing” . what the author states is true. You are a sheep because you blindly follow your dogma, but then the wolf pops out when that dogma is challenged. it is you who should show more respect. AS the author points out he is very much concerned about the welfare of the ordinary soldier. he and i would wish to see an end to their “chosen”, profession and instead spend the short time we have in life with those they love and care about.

  3. 2 out of every 5 that fell were Scottish. This from the whole British empire. Tell me the Scots were not used as cannon fodder. Why should we celebrate ww1 ?.

  4. Well said. But you missed out the origin of the poppy itself. It all began with one woman, who was actually Canadian, selling silk poppies on the streets of London. And why was she doing so? Because her war widows pension was not enough for her to survive on.

    My grandfather was old enough to recall both world wars, and he steadfastly refused to wear a poppy, as he called Haig a mass murderer and saw it as a glorification of war. I personally wear one to respect those who died in WWII, to whom I owe my very existence. My Dad was a member of the Young Communist League, and had the Nazis won, well I would never have been conceived. But I make the point of wearing a white poppy for peace alongside it.

    People talk about respect. Where is the “respect” in your top photo, turning what was originally meant to be about solemn remembrance into some sort of Disneyesque sideshow, which even looks like it is supposed to have a carnival atmosphere?

    Where is the respect in your pictures of kids, which far from saying “future soldiers” should say “future cannon fodder”?

    Is this what David Cameron meant when he talked of “celebrating” the 100th anniversary of the First World War?

    Where is the respect from our government leaders who shortly will be making their annual once-a-year speeches about “sacrifice”, and the rest of the year round refuse benefits to veterans, tell the elderly who can recall wars to heat just one room and wear more clothes in winter, and who continually starve the military of the tools they need to do their jobs? That’s not respect, it’s utter hypocrisy.

    And of course, when we take a remembrance ceremony, and turn it into an event full of tub-thumping British nationalism and jingoism, we act as if the UK was the only country affected, and forget just why others gave their lives; so the WORLD could be safe.

    An old slogan once said “wear your poppy with pride”. Let’s try wearing them with humility, and in remembrance of ALL who died in wars, and in stark realisation that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

  5. To the writer if this article, thank you. It’s good just to read that some one else has noticed how the poppy frequently glorifies the horror that is war, and furthermore some of the bullying that comes with scepticism of the poppies values (see some of the other comments). It’s not about dishonouring the dead, it’s about acknowledging the dead of all sides, and criticising the nationalistic narrative that that supports their deaths rather than shows it as the tragedy it is. Perhaps they did die fighting for what they believed in, but so do many people on ‘our’ side or not. If there could be an end to war, it will come through a balanced, international looking viewpoint. In any case, I admire the bravery of the writer of this myself. He may not die in a war, but he’s standing up for an ideal that could one day stop one

  6. Pingback: Black Poppy Appeal – Lest We Forget… | resistmilitarism.com·

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