Tuesday , January 25 2022

Having a poppy has always been a political act – here's why


The annual argument about the Red Poppy's policy is well and really going on. LBC host James Brien recently declared that the fans on the right-hand side do not have any activities that carry the national memory decline because they had effectively "changed their side" and become one with the strong forces against which Britain fought in the 20th century .

From a completely different view, Manchester United football player Nemanja Matic has moved explaining why he will not bear poppies during the weekend's derby match against City (it reminds him of the NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia when he grew up there in the 1990s). And elsewhere, the pundits and the public, as they do every year, discuss the fine details of the poppy label: who will carry the one who can not bear it and how long before the memorial day it will be worn.

Understanding the origin of the poppy will certainly help. It began in the immediate aftermath of the First World War when an American woman – Moina Michael – persuaded the newly formed US legion to assume poppy as its symbol of memory. She had been inspired by the famous poet of Canadian soldier John McCrae, in Flanders Fields:

In the Field of Flanders, poppy / between the cross blows a row …

As historian Adrian Gregory has explained, her idea was that the artificial poppies would be manufactured in France "by women in favor of children".

In 1921, the British legion was invited to participate and in 1922 – to provide employment for disabled veterans – the production of poppy shipped from France to Britain and the recipients of the sale were now ex-soldiers in need. Poppy appeal was firmly affiliated with the charity fund for ex-officials established by the former master of the British forces, Earl Haig.

So in many respects, the origins of the poppy appeal are affordable. Nevertheless, "affordable" is not the same as "non-political" – and Vallman's appeal in Britain is clear with an organization (the British Legion) and an individual (Earl Haig) who was committed to remembering the Great War in a certain way – as something terrible, but still necessary; terrible, yet worthy.

As such, the origin of the poppy is linked to some of the other symbols of memory produced by "official" culture in the period after 1918: Cenotaph, the grave of the unknown warrior and the cemeteries established abroad by the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) . The British legion's sincere (and well-informed) statements despite it has always been a political side for poppy.

Poppy for peace

It is this detail that led some to question the red poppy back in the 1930s. In 1933, the co-operative women's guild began to sell white poppies as a symbol of peace in 1933, when the governments of western Europe began to bridge and remilitarize. In 1936, the white vallmoen was adopted by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), which still sells it today.

By the 1930s white poppies became popular as a statement against increasing militarization in Europe.
Peace Pledge Union

For the PPU, aware of the rising tensions of the 1930s, the red poppy had lost contact with its origin as a symbol of solemn reminder. Instead, the PPU feared that poppy had been compromised by rebuilt nationalism. So they offered the white poppy in response – wearing it was identifying themselves as a pacifist willing to compete for the increasingly disturbing political developments in the years before the outbreak of World War II.

In view of this long story, what are the most important questions when people discuss and decide whether or not to have the red poppy?

First, buying and wearing the red poppy is to associate with almost a century of war memorial, activity that has always been (and is still) "political". No society can remember its war and mourn its dead without accusing the violence and the victims of an opinion. The symbols that a society produces – including the red poppy – carries an implicit "policy".

Understanded in these terms is the fact that some in principle choose not to have the red poppy quite reasonable. Doing so is not to insult the dead, but to question the purpose that is often said they died. I am deeply sympathetic to such a feeling and am quite lucky to defend the right that people do not carry the British legion poppy (or the right to carry the white poppy in its place).

For those who explain that such actions are unacceptable, I would simply say that if – as the United Kingdom reasonably claims – the war of the 20th century fought to defend certain rights and freedoms, there was certainly a part of this right to deviate, the right to disagree, the right to follow the dictation of one's conscience.

But it is also for this reason that I will wear the red poppy this Sunday. Not as a thoughtless expression of nationalist chauvinism, or simply to accept acceptable bloodbath and disaster in the 1920s war. Rather, like many others, I will bear the British legion poppy as a means of remembering those who have gone to war on the nation and not returned.

All poppies are a memorial.
Bas Meelker via Shutterstock

I will wear it to remember all soldiers and civilians, men and women, adults and children – who have been killed, linked, traumatized by conflicts. And I will carry it to make it just to engage in a political act while humbly acknowledging the absolute right of others to do different, according to their consciences and their policies.

Dissent and respectful discernment is certainly the hallmark of a healthy democracy and so whatever you choose to do this armistice, whether you choose to wear the red poppy, we must all be prepared to accept – and respect – the other can think and act different.

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