Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The annual, weary, poppy debate

It's that time of year, when social pressure means that anyone in the public eye is compelled to wear a poppy for Remembrance Day, and anyone not wearing one is looked at funny.

Why don't I wear one? Because David Cameron is just plain wrong when he says that:
wearing a poppy [is] to remember those who have given their lives for our freedom 
The poppy appeal raises money for British Army veterans and their families. It doesn't restrict funding to those who fought in the one justified war the British have fought in past centuries (WW2, in case you're wondering). It represents one side in a string of conflicts, many of which can't be justified: Ireland over the centuries, India, Kenya, Malaya, South Africa, Suez, Iraq, Afghanistan (repeatedly) and a whole string of other vicious wars of conquest and oppression which can't be justified. Most of these people haven't given their lives for 'our freedom', but for colonialism, capitalism and racial supremacy. I can't see how 'our freedom' was served by invading Iraq, arming Saudi Arabia or bombing Libya: there are arguments for and against these actions, but no Saudis have been freed, let alone the rest of us.

The usual counter-claim to this is that we're helping and remembering the soldiers, who don't make policy. There's something to this: economic conditions drive people into the armed services very often, and I wouldn't blame individuals for that - though I do note that the UK Armed Forces are professionals: nobody's been conscripted. If the poppy symbolically represented all those who did what they were told without being responsible for wars' intentions, then we'd remember all those German conscripts too.

I will wear a poppy one day: when it represents all those killed in war, without regard to which side they were on, or whether they were military or civilians, such as the Bloody Sunday victims. It's time that public discourse on this grew up: the British state is not and rarely has been unequivocally supportive of freedom and democracy. Not every war has been a 'just' one.


ed said...

Spot on Vole. You just articulated everything I feel about poppies. Though, whenever I try to raise it with people, I either trip up on my own lack of eloquence or spark such intense responses of 'shame on you!' that my testicles crawl back up into my body and don't safely descend again until November 12th.

I've noticed that Jon Snow doesn't wear one though, the legend.

dkernohan said...

Would you wear a white poppy? I was wondering about going that route this year.

The Plashing Vole said...

I'm undecided about the white poppy. Yes, it commemorates all the dead and the general futility of war - but I'm not an all-out pacifist. Tricky.