Red Poppy/White Poppy

Charliemarks @ Rebellion Sucks in part of a comment on a previous post Enforcing One Occupation By Celebrating Another brought up the issue of Poppies, he wrote-

This year I didn’t wear a poppy like I usually do because even the Legion’s in on it, with the campaign launched in Basra!

My immediate reply to that was-

I’m always a bit torn on poppies, I am happy to show solidarity with vets who have been screwed by the govt and for vets of WWII which did come down to desperate self defence. But the Legion is not in any way anti war and as you say this year were more political than ever. There are white poppies
but that is taken as an insult by some old soldiers but it is not meant as such. I think actually I might post this, see what people think.

So I’m making this into a post because I did mean to write about this a few days ago when I bought a poppy off a stall in a Co-op branch and Charlie reminded me of the conundrum. I bought one, but I was acutely aware of not being all that happy about it, as I said if I display it (and it is on my bag for now) it is about showing solidarity with veterans but not to support war or any political scheme for one. But it has to said it has become a bit like the British version of the flag lapel pin thing in the US, there is pressure to wear one and its symbolism is polluted by pro war establishment associations. I’ve been to quite a few Remembrance Day ceremonies at cenotaphs in the past because of either my dad’s or brother’s involvement. Overall I would have to say the phenomenon is not one likely to mitigate against further wars, certainly there is co-option by current military and politicians to hijack human decency and peer pressure for political purposes. The whole ceremonial aspect is solemn but in a martial fashion, uniforms and even weapons are on display. It’s as if the lower ranks are being allowed a moment of remembrance but it must not in any way get in the way of the next war the ruling class have planned. That’s the feeling I get from it and the poppies in turn carry that same undercurrent. I think remembrance would naturally carry with it some deep regret at war and a seeking not repeat it but that has been unnaturally de-emphasised  from the current practice. So the red poppy and its attendant ceremonies are lacking at best and at worst they may be used to to do precisely the opposite of genuine remembrance for the war dead?

However this year the British Legion as Charlie wrote launched their poppy appeal from a PR op in Basra, which is an active violent occupation of another country, a war enabled with lies and which is now the albatross around New Labour’s neck. So they have crossed what debatable lines I have traced above, they have politicised something that there was some consensus over (albeit uneasy given previous Legion misdemeanours, they have for example taken money from arms manufacturers). So it is they and not anyone else who is devaluing the symbolism, because of peer pressure or wishes to show a shared remembrance the poppy persists, if you don’t wear one it can easily be read as disinterest or ignorance, a lack of something does not connote a considered ethical debate even if the lack is precisely because of that. But certainly the Legion are forcing something upon wearers that wearers do not necessarily endorse. There is the white poppy, which will probably engender some questions and without explanation could cause offence, but certainly the red poppy is being made to be very problematic, it is co-opted into cultural propaganda. I think I’m leaning towards a white poppy (smallest order £3.50 + £3.00 p&p for 5 though!) or none as Charlie is doing. The British Legion is never going to be a hotbed of anti-imperialism or the like but at the very least it could not actively help ongoing wars and weapon sales (although I suppose it’s good strategy, it’ll keep them in business).

7 Responses to “Red Poppy/White Poppy”

  1. korova Says:

    White poppy all the way for me. Maybe because I am a contrary muthaf*****, but I’d like to think it because of the symbolism of a white poppy. I feel that a red one recognises the sacrifice, but doesn’t necessarily recognise the evil of war. I feel the white poppy does both (the poppy representing the sacrifice and white being associated with peace).

  2. harpymarx Says:

    To be honest, I can’t stand Remembrance and red poppies and what it represent. When I was a teenager I wore white poppies but I just don’t wear anything like that now. I was brought up with red poppies and their symbolic meaning. My brother was a soldier in the north of Ireland and I was told to be proud of his services to fighting “terrorism”. My early life was awash with poppies, military regalia and a medal for bravery.

    When I was older I read up about the British occupation in Ireland and the overall history of British imperialism. I felt I was sold a big fat lie and when I was older I questioned what I had been told. I was told to respect my brother’s bravery (yeah, firing plastic bullets into crowds of terrified people…). I can’t remember this day as anything more than remembering the war crimes, brutality, imperialism and occupation. And the red poppies symbolises that for me.

    My grandfather was a solider in the first world war. He was apolitical and agnostic. After the war finished he was left-wing and an atheist. The war politicised him as he watched working class people becoming cannon fodder for the establishment.

    The poetry that sticks in my mind is Wilfred Owen:

    “If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.”
    (Dulce et Decorum Est)

    Sorry if I sound narked or anything but I suppose Remembrance means different things to different people. To me it is a sham organised on the terms and by the ruling class. It is really remembrance or is it remembering the gloriesand spoils of colonalism and imperialism?

  3. charliemarks Says:

    As ever, the best remembrance for the war dead it to strive for peace…

  4. landsker Says:

    Neither white nor red,
    No remembrance symbols, thankyou much.
    No matter which way it gets packaged, it is still a day that somehow seeks to portray corporate and patriotic war as an “honourable occupation”, which has got to rank as a rather outstanding untruth.

  5. RickB Says:

    I realise this would have been an excellent use of wp’s new poll functionality, but as it’s new I forget it’s there and…well anyway, next time.

    Korova- muthafellow? So a white one. Yes the red is almost meaningless given its co-option and corruption (although looking into it it was always the less dove-ish option I now realise).

    Harpy- I get where you’re coming from, my paternal grandfather was gassed in WWl and never regained his health, the horror of his death- slowly losing lung function- imprinted on my dad who in turn died from leukemia possibly (researching this) related to his national service. Luckily my bro did not go to N. Ireland (he volunteered, the tory swine) I think for a long time I was like you, the only thing which made me sometimes wear one was seeing very old soldiers gaining some pleasure in seeing it on a younger person. I realise that’s very much the emotional extortion the Legion and the govt play with, personally, culturally and nationally. The Legion do do some advocacy work but they are quite a tame pressure group I think (remind of the police federation, hardly a hotbed of socialist principles) and certainly the Basra stunt is appalling. I remember first reading Owen at school, but it was presented by adults as a historical thing contemporary context was lacking which made me think they were sort of embarrassed at our still warring. Consequently when the Falklands went off I wrote a comic portraying a day in the life of an Argentine conscript (I admit there were sheep jokes), seemed like we’d fallen for it all over again and the comic was a reaction to the jingoism and ‘kill an argy’ stuff.

    Charlie- Nail hit on head! Yes that’s it and it is becoming clear the red poppy at least is not serving that function.

    Landsker- Yes it is used for that, (also I think it’s odd we have a standing army/military, in the past armies were raised as was needed, always having a professional one does I think act as a temptation to use it and of course recruitment will always be a sales pitch and if the Remembrance phenomenon is used to aid that that is wrong).

    So some conclusions- this year the red is out, white is pending but maybe not this time (in all honestly I’m friggin’ skint, plus the legion already got some dosh when I bought the red poppy).
    Overall- Perhaps we need an alternative way to show some solidarity with ex service people, because while I think it is foolish of them to volunteer their labour (but we all make mistakes) to such enterprises they are often conned into it (or poverty drafted) and encounter horrific situations beyond their control and once they have been through it they should see they have support from the left. Not for the superiors and ruling class and not for the wars but for the people who now maybe are waking up to the the way they have been used. Definitely an anti-war remembrance, as Charlie said “As ever, the best remembrance for the war dead it to strive for peace”

    ‘When the Tigers broke Free’ by Pink Floyd sticks in my mind and brings a tear.
    (The Final Cut while reviled by some I find pretty brilliant) in pop there aren’t many songs about mourning a father (go figure, I’m sure The Pussycat Dolls will get right on it).

    Thanks to everyone who commented, anyone want to buy a red poppy, barely used?

  6. harpymarx Says:

    “imprinted on my dad who in turn died from leukemia possibly (researching this) related to his national service. ”

    Sorry to hear about that Rick.

  7. RickB Says:

    Thanks Harpy.

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