Why you shouldn’t wear a poppy
Next year will be the one hundredth anniversary of the start of “the war to end all wars”, when the various imperial powers decided to go to war with each another. Four years later, over ten million people lay dead and the resulting settlement created conditions that lead to the Second World War. By the time of the Japanese surrender in August 1945, approximately seventy million people had been killed. Such statistics are impossible to truly comprehend. We just cannot imagine what a million of something is like. Imagine the pain of a mother who loses her son or a husband or wife who loses their spouse. Now multiply that by a million, or ten million, or seventy million.
It’s at this time of year that the red poppy becomes ubiquitous and we are compelled as caring citizens to donate money and wear our poppy ‘with pride’. All politicians, newsreaders, television presenters or in fact anybody appearing publicly must be seen wearing one. To object or to question this ritual is to figuratively piss on the graves of all the brave men who have ever died in war “defending freedom”. But is this really what the poppy represents? To answer that we first need to understand what war is.
The idea of war is constantly glorified in films, literature, the popular press and national myths. From this we get the idea of the heroic sacrifice, of good, young, brave men fighting evil so that their children can live in a land of freedom. This is the mythology behind the poppy, conceived after the First World War. By donating and wearing the poppy we are supposedly respecting the fallen and recognising their sacrifice. But is this conception of war correct? Is it really always a struggle between absolute good and evil (it’s an odd coincidence how we’re always on the goodies’ side), where we are reluctantly forced into defending ourselves against a foreign aggressor? Take the First World War for example, who were the good and bad guys in that conflict? Was there even any ideological battle at the heart of it, or was it merely several ruling classes deploying their forces in the hopes of increasing their economic power?
This latter interpretation is, I believe, the true reality of war. If ordinary citizens from warring countries or armies were allowed to meet, they would have no reason to fight. This is why there are tales of soldiers from opposing armies celebrating Christmas together, or the famous football match in no man’s land between the British and German forces during World War One. Contrary to all the jingoistic, patriotism trumpeted from the establishment press, the vast majority of human beings are ultimately all very similar, they just want happiness and prosperity for themselves and their families. Why then does war still exist? Unfortunately, although most people merely want to look after their family and friends, the inequality that has been endemic in human economic systems throughout history, grants certain individuals and networks of individuals, extreme quantities of power. These networks of individuals comprise each nation’s respective ruling class, whether it be the court of Henry VIII, Hitler and the Nazi party, or the politico-military industrial complex in America today.
These ruling classes act in such a way as to defend and where possible, enhance their power base. As part of this power struggle, concentrations of power battle against each other in multiple fields such as politics, economics and, when suitable, by physical warfare. In such a struggle, the ‘ordinary citizen’ is merely a pawn to be manipulated and used where necessary. Where in reality they stand to gain or lose nothing by war, they must be convinced that upon their enemy’s victory, they would lose everything they hold dear.
Of course some will dispute this logic and point to the Second World War, and the struggle against the Nazis as proof of the concept of war as struggle between good and evil, of the necessity of standing up to evil. Whilst the fight against fascism is indeed a worthy cause, again, was that really the reality of the situation? The actions of the establishment and ruling class to fascism are explained poorly by the idea that they hated fascism as an ideology, and much more accurately by a fear of communism and the threat of the people “stealing” power away from them. This is why throughout the 1930’s we get “Hoorah for the Blackshirts” and adoration of the Nazis by the Daily Mail, and why Churchill claimed Mussolini’s fascism had “rendered to the world a great service”. Once the fascists became a greater threat to their power however, their attitude switched and history rewritten to reflect the mythology (plenty of the business community continued to work with and support the Nazis, even during the war. Where did you think Fanta originated?).
It’s true that the Holocaust was the very definition of obscenity, however what about all the atrocities that we stand happily by and ignore? Why no war against Stalin, Mao, Rwanda, or North Korea? What about all the dictators, despots and strong men we’ve propped up over the years (and continue to prop up) for reasons of “realpolitik”, or for that matter the atrocities that our own country’s armed forces have carried out over the years?
There are few better examples of the complete lack of independent thought by the majority of people or of the dominance of establishment ideology, than the ubiquity of the poppy. Is wearing a circle of red card interspersed with green and black plastic for a couple of weeks every year really the most appropriate way to remember the senseless murder of countless individuals by forces beyond their control? What about all the soldiers still with us who, though alive, have ruined bodies, minds and lives? We like to think of ourselves as a caring society that respects and looks after those who serve their country. That must be why so many of our ex-servicemen are homeless drug addicts, tortured by mental health problems.
If we really want to respect those that have died in war, we should stop going to war and learn to solve conflicts fairly and peacefully. We need to stop falling for the same old story we are told every time our economic masters want to go on another foreign adventure, whether it be “terrorists”, “Arabs”, “the Chinese” or whatever foreign threat they utilise in the future. Potential seeds of the next war can be seen all around us, whether it is the Euro-crisis and rise of fascism in Greece, rising tensions between Japan and China or turmoil in the Middle East. Whilst most of us lead busy lives and are afraid to speak out in fear of offending others, as Howard Zinn used to say, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train”. By doing nothing, you are endorsing the status quo. Far from being a solemn and noble way to show our respect to past generations, the poppy represents the endorsement of war and the forces of war within our society. As long as the ideology behind the poppy remains dominant, we will never be a peaceful country and there will never be peace. That is why you shouldn’t wear a poppy.