Politics & Current Affairs

James McClean: Resisting the Poppy Fascists

james mcclean ireland photo

Wigan Athletic winger and Irish international, James McClean, has released a statement – in the form of an open letter to his club chairman – explaining why he won’t be wearing a poppy during this year’s 100th anniversary of WW1.

He writes:

Dear Mr Whelan

I wanted to write to you before talking about this face to face and explain my reasons for not wearing a poppy on my shirt for the game at Bolton.

I have complete respect for those who fought and died in both World Wars – many I know were Irish-born. I have been told that your own Grandfather Paddy Whelan, from Tipperary, was one of those.

I mourn their deaths like every other decent person and if the Poppy was a symbol only for the lost souls of World War I and II I would wear one.

I want to make that 100% clear .You must understand this.

But the Poppy is used to remember victims of other conflicts since 1945 and this is where the problem starts for me.

For people from the North of Ireland such as myself, and specifically those in Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy has come to mean something very different. Please understand, Mr Whelan, that when you come from Creggan like myself or the Bogside, Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in the shadow of one of the darkest days in Ireland’s history – even if like me you were born nearly 20 years after the event. It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.

Mr Whelan, for me to wear a poppy would be as much a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles – and Bloody Sunday especially – as I have in the past been accused of disrespecting the victims of WWI and WWII.

It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people.

I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy, I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return. Since last year, I am a father and I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful world, like any parent.

I am very proud of where I come from and I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong. In life, if you’re a man you should stand up for what you believe in.

I know you may not agree with my feelings but I hope very much that you understand my reasons.

As the owner of the club I am proud to play for, I believe I owe both you and the club’s supporters this explanation.

Yours sincerely,

James McClean

The man should be commended. Not only for an action that is brave, principled and honest but for one that contains a degree of risk; both to himself and his career. Unthinking soldier worship and poppy fascism are now disturbing aspects of the collective British psyche; it’s a courageous or reckless individual who bucks the trend of this particular brand of what is now almost mass hysteria.

The poppy and Remembrance commemorations – along with the hideously mawkish Help for Heroes – have been hi-jacked by politicians intent on equating the imperial bloodbath of WW1 with a noble sense of patriotism and duty; all the better to justify current and future wars. As with so much of British history, or rather establishment propaganda, these things are really about the present and the future; not the past.

The cynical usurping of the poppy’s original symbolism – peace, end to imperialist killing etc – for purposes of justifying the government’s appalling murder-fests elsewhere around the globe is truly repellent.

It is now utterly tainted and beyond redemption as any kind of worthwhile symbol.

Just try explaining to someone why you don’t wear one to find out exactly what that means. Try being a TV presenter who refuses to wear one. Try even wearing a white poppy and explaining why…

Sadly, it is rarely worn by its supporters to commemorate working-class canon fodder who died in an ugly and immoral dust-up between capitalist powers, scrapping over markets and territory. No, it’s an expression of militarist jingoism. They’ll tell you they’re honouring the ‘fallen’ who died so that we might be free. In reality, armed forces are usually the enemies of freedom. As James McClean clearly understands; as did the invaded and subjugated millions who suffered under the jackboots of the British Empire. The same British Army went into Tonypandy ready to shoot striking miners on Churchill’s orders. They rolled their tanks down the streets of Glasgow, prepared to crush the resistance of their own people. In reality we owe our freedom to those who opposed the state’s armed might – the suffragettes, the Chartists and the Tolpudlle Martyrs, to name but three.

It’s a depressing truth that we can’t wear a poppy and have people immediately know that we feel WW1 was futile and that every single dead soldier was a wasted life. Their deaths meant nothing, achieved nothing and changed nothing.

Remembrance Sunday is offensive not least because it paints an entirely false and dishonest picture; that those who died did so for ‘their country’ and that that’s somehow noble. It isn’t. It’s the Big Lie.

If we wore poppies and held Remembrance Day parades to apologise to those slaughtered, if such events were collective acts of penance and regret for the sheer pointless waste of human life, for industrial-scale mass-sacrifice on the alter of selfish economic gain, then they would be truly worthy.

But they aren’t. The whole sickening jamboree is a carnival of dishonesty, hypocrisy and reaction. We should play no part in legitimising that. We should not be complicit in brainwashing future generations. We should reject absolutely that invading and then perishing in foreign lands, purely to further US-Brit geopolitical interests and control of other’s resources, is a worthwhile and moral objective.

harry patch

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