The war to end all wars. Remembrance and wearing a poppy.
Sometimes the most innocuous, innocent looking act can engender strong emotions. Sometimes such an act can also conceal something more sinister. Such is the case with the wearing of the poppy as an act of remembrance. At the onset, let me state that I believe that the majority of people who wear a poppy choose to do so sincerely. But many, and increasing in numbers every year, choose not to wear it, and for conscientious reasons.
The wearing of the poppy, as a symbol of remembrance, has been and is being used to promote the advancement of often illegal military intervention around the world under the guise of patriotism and nationalism. ‘We must stand up for our boys, defend our heroes,’ goes the narrative, irrespective of the dire consequences resulting from their action abroad. Indeed, many war veterans refuse to wear poppies for this very reason: the misappropriation of their sacrifice to sell illegal or dubious wars. What was the actual lesson of the two world wars? What is the substance of the message? We must ensure that our generation and those who come after understand our history and its lessons, indeed the history of mankind, properly – and not just the sanitised version. Let them appreciate the atrocity, loss of life, and the horror of war. Then let the appreciate the importance of humanity, treating human beings as humans.
There is an inordinate level of fascism surrounding what ostensibly presents itself as a simple act. Undue pressure is placed on people to wear them, those who don’t, even for good reason, become targets of anger and derision. Students in some (perhaps many) schools are almost forced to clip them on; the environment as a whole, pressure from teachers, ridicule and contempt compels them to buckle and bow. Muslim women are being ‘told’ to wear poppy hijabs to prove they are not extremist and integrating! Wearing a poppy hijab as a sign of not being extreme? Really?!
Symbolism and symbolic acts sometimes just do not work, they fail to achieve what they set out to do, and sometimes they even result in the opposite. In such cases, we should re-examine them critically, and not be afraid of doing so. In such cases, more concrete alternatives should be considered.
We can feel for the loss of life in war. We can feel for the soldiers who died fighting believing they were doing so for the greater good. We can grieve for the innocent who are killed in war. We can object to the unjust war. We can speak out against oppression. We can condemn the usurping of war for ulterior motives. We can stop the illegal invasion, occupation and destruction of other countries and nations. We can stand together against the slaughter of innocent men, women, children, and babies.
And we can do all of this without wearing a poppy, and make it far more meaningful than any two minute silence will ever achieve.