Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Poppy Debate

I don’t like poppies. I have a problem (or indeed a number of problems) with them, and I feel uncomfortable wearing them. I even feel uncomfortable with other people wearing them; so much so that during the weeks approaching Remembrance Day I gradually become more awkward until I succumb to what is known as ‘poppy fascism’, and am forced to wear one.

Now don’t be mistaken – I respect all those who died in the wars, and I attend Remembrance Day services every year. I also donate money to The Royal British Legion, and have no problem with doing so – in fact, I believe I donate more money than the majority of my friends. I take part in the two minute silences, and am exceedingly grateful to all those who gave their lives for us. And this is where the problem is introduced – why can’t I do all of this without a poppy? What does a little bit of red paper have to do with respect, support or gratefulness? This is my argument in a nut-shell: Do I mourn those who gave their lives? Yes. Do I want to wear a piece of red paper so that I can tell the world that I’m mourning? No, not particularly. People say that poppies are symbols of your respect, but really they are just pieces of paper – I don’t comprehend why I must wear a symbol in the first place!

I think it is wrong that people should feel obliged to wear a poppy just because everybody else is wearing one – it’s almost like peer-pressure. Famous people who don’t wear poppies are abused and told off, and in many schools it is compulsory to wear one. Despite finding it very annoying, I greatly respect The Royal British Legion for having such an intelligent business plan: pressuring people into donating money – very smart indeed. This is another problem that I have with poppies: they are outward signs of charity, and I don’t think they give off a good message in that respect. Many people only buy poppies to prove that they are ‘good people’, rather than really caring about the cause. Don’t you find it rather insincere that we are made to wear them? Also, and unbeknown to most, the wearing of poppies actually goes against central teachings of both Islam and Christianity – when one gives to charity, they ought to do it in secret.

Many British people have complained about the message of the poppy, and indeed UK Journalist Assed Baig claimed that they are ‘used as a tool to promote current wars’. If we really want to respect the dead, don’t you think we ought to stop sending more troops to die? Assed Baig pointed out that a poppy is a ‘cry for others to take up arms’, and this is illustrated by John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ which reads: ‘Take up our quarrel with the foe.’ So, is this why we wear poppies – to ‘take the torch’ from those who died? This is certainly not a good message.

In the media this week the spotlight has settled on the Peace Pledge Union, the makers of the infamous ‘White Poppy’. The white poppy, as they say on their website, stands for peace and unity. They believe that red poppies have become symbols of ‘unthinking militarism’, and that they aren’t respecting those who died at all, and I agree with them. Those who died didn’t want to go to war, they didn’t want to fight, but they had to – and for that reason I’m sure they don’t want us to fight either. The white poppy is a way of remembering those who died, and showing your gratitude, but also a way of opposing other wars, rather than supporting them. They are nothing but a ‘challenge to the continuing drive to war’.

And so, next year I am not going to wear a red poppy, but I am going to respect those who died in my own way – by wearing a white one. A white poppy isn’t disrespectful or impertinent, but, in my view, is the only way of showing true respect. Come 2014, when the centenary is commemorated, I will not be mindlessly giving money, and I hope that my friends and teachers will understand, or maybe even agree.

1 comment:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. Are they actually genuinely compulsory in some places? I'm sure that's not legal. I'm not sure I'm a big fan of the British Legion themselves actually - I'm not against the principle of helping veterans in need but at least some of their money goes on parades, services etc. of whose benefit I'm less certain. I'm sure there are many far more worthy charities to donate one's money to. I've also often noticed that the Remembrance services etc. are used as means to recruit new soldiers (there are army recruitment things handed out at some of them at least, and if this isn't necessarily official then it least seems to have the British Legion's tacit approval in that they don't stop it). I'm sure that 90% of people who wear poppies, observe silences etc. do so out of a sincere and morally unimpeachable sense of sympathy but I still find it all very uncomfortable, and so do not generally partake unless I'm forced to by the circumstances (I went through 3 sets of silences last weekend, so this happens rather irritatingly often).

    These reservations notwithstanding, I agree with you that the absolute worst thing is the social pressure to take part and the ridiculous condemnation of whoever doesn't (such as those people who complained that the poppy displayed on Google's page was disrespectful because it was "too small"). For this reason, I won't wear a white poppy either - while I agree with the principle behind them (they *are* a criticism of the values of the red poppy, whatever people try to claim - that's the whole point behind them, and is no bad thing!), I can't help feeling that there's a certain kind of "if you can't beat them, join them" about it that only responds to part of the problem about the red poppies in the first place. My own way of protesting is not to buy anything over remembrance Sunday, and in life generally, to donate only to the charities of my own choosing, in the sums I wish and at the times I want, in accordance with my own values and priorities - a right and a privilege which I think everyone should possess and respect.