Tag Archives: Poppy

Say No to the Poppy

poppychild

The annual poppy stramash shows no signs of abating. My own position has been expressed perhaps less clearly (yes, really) than I’d have liked. Given that, for me, the poppy is about much more than some would have us believe, I’m taking the opportunity to address some of the many objections fired my way, recently. So, without further ado, buckle up…

“You insult our brave forces who have consistently fought for freedom”

I am genuinely incensed at the general view that soldiers – at least ‘our boys’ not those nasty foreign ones – somehow represent freedom, democracy and decency. They absolutely don’t.

WW1 was an imperial bloodbath. An orgy of death regarding markets and territory.  Whole generations of working-class conscripts fired out of trenches like so much human confetti. It was futile and every dead soldier was a wasted life. Their deaths meant nothing, achieved nothing and changed nothing. How heart-breakingly dreadful is that?

Sometimes, like WW2, they find themselves on the side of moral virtue. But that’s an accident of history. Soldiers are first, last and always there to protect, defend and consolidate the state and the establishment’s privilege and power.

Soldiers chasing down striking miners in Tonypandy, tanks rolling into George Square in Glasgow or bludgeoning trade unionists during the General Strike, to give just three examples, show exactly where our standing army ends up when freedom really does become an issue. They’ll turn on their own at the twitch of an officer’s eyebrow because that’s their job. And let’s not bother discussing the Six Counties, Aden, Cyprus or any of the former Colonies who actually did dare to fight for freedom. Their own. Free from British subjugation. We all know how they were treated…

As for Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, only the cerebrally challenged would seriously posit that these grubby ‘interventions’ were even within touching distance of freedom or democracy.

Instead, every (comparative) freedom we enjoy today, women having the vote, political protest, joining a trade union and much, much more, were all won by working class men and women facing down the army. In reality, soldiers’ default setting is to be the enemy of freedom; at home and abroad.

“They’re just doing their job and you don’t get to pick and choose which orders you obey”

Conscription ended in the UK in 1960. Thereafter, anyone who died while killing Irish civilians in Derry, teenage Argentinean conscripts in the South Atlantic or Iraqi wedding guests in Basra did so as a result of a free and conscious choice. I will not be bullied or emotionally blackmailed into supporting such people or mourning their passing. And if you really want to talk about insulting the dead, you expect me to draw equivalence between the terrified, conscripted kids butchered in the Somme; the heroic men and women of WW2 who fought fascism and really did defend Britain and today’s squaddies ?Who choose, consciously and deliberately, to join up, invade other peoples’ countries and kill Arabs on behalf of the Brit state? Now that’s insulting.

“You lefty scum don’t know anything. The poppy is remembrance for the people not the politics.”

I wouldn’t piss on one if it was on fire. It isn’t about solely remembrance or respect anymore. Or have you folks, somehow, failed to notice the fetishisation of the military, over recent years? The attempts to cultivate and then co-opt the hideous mawkishness surrounding ‘our boys’? The poppy cult is a powerful plank in the establishment’s propaganda arsenal and like so much of their class offensive, is about the here and now and the future; not the past.

Linking the revolting slaughter of millions of wasted, pointless deaths during WW1 to the UK’s post-imperial adventures today –  in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria – is an attempt to confer legitimacy on the latter. It’s disgusting, frankly. Cynical and inhumane.

It’s about as subtle as a punch in the face. It’s screamingly apparent that it’s a thinly-veiled disguise to justify and glorify war. Fostered by the establishment who stand to profit from the lives squandered by those who have to fight them.

We continue to glorify and sentimentalise imperial slaughter so yet more young men and women will be willing to get their legs blown off. Along with lots of brown people, of course. Who I added as an afterthought to keep this piece in line with Brit liberal values.

I want to see an end to this sick and grotesque cult of soldier worship, of which the poppy is now a central plank. It’s macabre, dangerous and hideous.

They tell you the poppy isn’t celebrating war. That it’s just a symbol of family, friends and comrades remembering those who did not come home. Try being a TV presenter and not wearing one, then. The poor bastards get virtually lynched. Try being James McLean.

No, the poppy, these days, is a kind of patriot litmus-test. A barometer of how staunchly one stands behind the troops. I mean, don’t take my word for it; the British Legion are telling you! Christ, how much clearer does that image need to be? An official British Legion PR photo with a child holding a giant poppy while wearing a t-shirt that reads ‘future soldier.’

Grotesque.
Immoral.
Obscene.

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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