22 October 2011

Why I won't be wearing a poppy

Any day now, remembrance poppies will go on sale. The poppy season now lasts three weeks. Probably from Monday we'll see no-one on live television without one pinned on. (I imagine the studios have bulk supplies so that anyone who turns up without one can be made acceptable.) The odd rebel who insists on not wearing a poppy will be open to scorn in the tabloids, attacked for ingratitude and lack of patriotism. It can't be long before technology is developed that will enable people in recorded programmes and films to have a poppy cgi'd onto them during the season. So we don't have to see anyone disrespecting our dead. We'll see Humphry Bogart as Philip Marlowe going down those means streets with trilby, trenchcoat and poppy.

I hate the moral and emotional compulsion that builds up around this. Poppy-wearing becomes something you do because it's the thing to do. I don't like being told what to do. Especially, I hate being told what emotions I should have and express. At first, I think "this is too early - can't we at least wait until November?". By November I'm thinking I'll just wear a poppy on the day itself. But by the time that comes, I am full of resentment, and I find myself arguing that, actually, the soldiers fought for my freedom not to do what everyone else is doing. I'll respect the eleven o'clock silence, but I won't wear a poppy.

In theory I would like to wear a poppy, and by buying it, to contribute to the welfare of ex-soldiers. Even though I think recent wars have largely been criminal and foolish, the soldiers who suffered weren't responsible for that, and the government support they receive is shockingly inadequate. That's where the real ingratitude is. On remembrance day we should be protesting about that, not bathing in a feel-good groupthink, too easily hijacked by those who want to keep Britain's spending on defence at its present obscene level (£46 billion pounds a year - these tiny islands have the world's fourth highest defence budget).

I like the idea that one day in the year all of us can show our gratitude and support for the soldiers and our anger at the politicians who sent them abroad to die, and ignored them when they came home wounded. One day a year, we all do something different. That would mean something. Remembrance, as it is now, doesn't.


Anonymous said...

So true, spot on. You've expressed wonderfully well why poppies make me feel queasy.

Anonymous said...

The difficulty I have with the poppy is that it is sectarian in the sense that it represents British soldiers and not soldiers of all nations who have died - and no I am not Irish I just hate the emotional group-think as you put it.