Sunday, 13 November 2011

Why do I not wear a poppy?

Why do I not wear a poppy? Well, what is it supposed to represent?

When I was a child the poppy was the emblem of Armistice Day, marking the end of the first world war, "the war to end all wars", and by extension remembering the dead of the second world war, "the war the war to end all wars didn't prevent after all".

This was fair enough and, to my young mind, A Good Thing. It served, so we thought, as a reminder that such things should never be allowed to happen again. I was all for this, as I was by then, and remain, a pacifist. A poppy that declares that wars are a bad thing which people did in the olden days, was something I could wear with pride.

Added to which we had a fun competition at school to see who could squeeze the most layers of paper petal under the black plastic stud on your green plastic stem without the whole thing falling apart. This, combined with the trend for the widest-possible knot in your school tie, and various badges on the turned-up lapels of your school blazer meant we were at best wearing just an anagram of a proper school uniform. Poppy day in the 1970s was simple, morally clear, and fun.

Then came the early 80s and with it The Falklands War, plus the Cold War brought closer home in the form of Greenham Common, and my becoming a student. All this led to war suddenly seeming a very different thing, ie a thing that was actually happening and of which I strongly disapproved. I marched with CND (though for some reason don't recall getting the opportunity to march against the Falklands War) and when it came to Poppy Day wore a white poppy... in theory. In practice they were nowhere to be found in the provincial town that housed my art college, so we went sans poppy.

And poppyless I have remained, though by the turn of the century I could have been tempted back had anyone pressured me to. Remembering the two world wars and their cautionary message was still valid, even if the memory of The Falklands would now be occasionally roped in as the regrettable and avoidable bastard step-war which needn't have happened in the first place and certainly shouldn't have ended up with dead Britons (or dead anyones come to think of it). But as long as we were remembering that stuff like this should Never Happen Again, I could second that emotion.

Then came Afghanistan and then came Iraq. And year by year we started accumulating war dead at such a rate that a small town in Wiltshire has found itself bemoaning the fact that they have been deprived of the ritual of lining the streets to watch a regular convoy of flag-draped coffins going by.

And this year, on the big 93rd anniversary of the end of the war to end all wars, there is a positive epidemic of Remembrance Day programmes and events. There's even a special edition of Antiques Roadshow for gods sake. And we are made to feel we are in some way not supporting our brave boys, even being disrespectful to their memory, if we don't wear a poppy.

Well I voted against our brave boys - and I am not for a second denying their bravery or suggesting their loss is another other than tragic - being sent to their deaths in the first place. If that's not worth more than wearing a poppy, just because no-one listened to our objections, then I don't know what is.

I don't remember being told in the 70s and 80s that my poppy represented those "brave boys" who were being sent to kill and die in Northern Ireland. Or did I just not get the memo?

If I am supposed to wear a poppy to honour all war dead, regardless of the validity of the war, I refuse. That would be tantamount to declaring my support for wars which I oppose.

If wearing a poppy becomes once more a symbol that says I believe war is a bad thing which we should avoid at all costs, and we go back to really trying our best to avoid wars at all costs, I may be back in.

Kev F

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