Sunday, 10 November 2013

The desecration of the poppy

As time drags us ever further away from the horrors of the Great War that inspired the adoption of the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance, the meaning of the red poppy is steadily being eroded away. You don't have to take my word for it, here's a quote from the Second World War RAF pilot Harry Leslie Smith:

"Over the last 10 years the sepia tone of November has become blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders. The most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts. The American civil war's General Sherman once said that "war is hell", but unfortunately today's politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good.
Still, this year I shall wear the poppy as I have done for many years. I wear it because I am from that last generation who remember a war that encompassed the entire world. I wear the poppy because I can recall when Britain was actually threatened with a real invasion and how its citizens stood at the ready to defend her shores. But most importantly, I wear the poppy to commemorate those of my childhood friends and comrades who did not survive the second world war and those who came home physically and emotionally wounded from horrific battles that no poet or journalist could describe.
However, I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one's right to privacy." [source]
In the same week that this was written, the three "spy chiefs" (Andrew Parker the head of M15, John Sawers the head of M16 and Iain Lobban GCHQ director) donned their red poppies and headed off to parliament to defend their elimination of our right to privacy via their mass data stealing operations. What greater insult to the those that died in the fight against fascism is it possible to imagine than people defending the fascist surveillance state they have built without the democratic approval of parliament, whilst wearing poppies of remembrance?

Actually, there are more grotesquely insulting uses of the poppy. In 2012 David Cameron wore a red poppy on his lapel as he toured the middle east hawking armaments to numerous despots. This insult to the war dead was one of the central themes of the remembrance article I wrote last year. After a full year, the disgust at this display of absolute contempt for the very meaning of the remembrance poppy still remains. 

This year I came across another sickening image, in which little kids have been dressed up in "future soldier" T-shirts and told to smile inanely whilst holding gigantic red poppies. This image is an absolutely clear demonstration that the original meaning of the red poppy is being eroded away. Instead of being used as a symbol of solemn remembrance for the war dead, the poppy is now being used for the cheerful glorification and celebration of present and future conflicts.

I don't blame the kids for this image, they are perhaps too young to know any better. The ones that are guilty of this insult to the victims of war that the red poppy is supposed to symbolise are the adults that printed up these "future soldier" T-shirts and told the kids to pose in this way.

For many the red poppy still symbolises solemn remembrance for the casualties of war, however this original meaning is being eroded away both by people that want to use it as a jingoistic symbol of nationalism, and by people that are too pig-ignorant to realise that it would be more fitting to remove your poppy for a moment if you are going to defend the fascist surveillance state you have built without democratic approval or, if you are going to spend your time hawking weapons to despots running brutal Islamist theocracies. 

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