One of the most depressing things about being a British citizen is that I’m constantly reminded of how little our culture values the individual, and for me, one of the worst examples of this is Remembrance Day. Every time I do anything on November 11th (which always seems to fall on a day when I’m in college nowadays), it’s always interrupted by the obligatory two minutes of silence, in which we all stop like drones on command, and that’s not even the worst part. In the days leading up to then, we have the poppy appeal, where public figures don poppies on their lapels in order to win public approval, and anyone not wearing the poppy is shamed by the common folk as soon as they find out.
This is a trend that Channel 4’s news anchor Jon Snow described as “poppy fascism”, the practice of compelling people to wear poppies because they supposedly ought to and shaming those who don’t, and this trend has been getting much worse this year than ever before. Newsreaders, politicians, celebrities, and even football managers could be seen wearing poppies as early as possible out of fear of being branded as disrespectful traitors by a zealous British public infected with sentimentalism. Whenever public figures fall foul of the poppy tradition, we act as though they’re supposed to be role models, and by not wearing a poppy they have supposedly failed. Why? Why is it impossible for public figures to make their own choices without swathes of morons kicking up a fuss about it on Twitter? Better yet, why do people care about what celebrities wear in tacky chat shows?
However poppy fascism manifests itself, we justify it by proclaiming that wearing the poppy is a sign of respect for the war dead. That’s fine, except for the fact that when we focus on the soldiers who died fighting for their country, we end up glossing over the reality of war. At the risk of sounding cold, I should point out that those who choose to fight in a war, past or present, have pretty much signed up for job in which they could get killed. Of course, one could argue that this is the sacrifice of the soldier, but one must one oneself what the soldiers are even fighting for. All modern wars are fought for startlingly ignoble reasons. For example, the current situation in the Middle East was mainly caused by America’s constant interloping in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and our soldiers are only involved because our government wants to be involved in anything America does. It’s not as though past wars fare much better.
Nowadays, war is only ever fought because it profits some higher powers, be they politicians or big corporations. Now that I think about, it’s no wonder the government loves Poppy Day, because it gives them the opportunity to make war sound romantic and glamorous. Of course, we aren’t as stupid as the government thinks we are. We should all know by now that there’s nothing glamorous about people killing each other, whatever the reason may be. Personally, I have a very big problem with the whole “poppy mania” because outside Remembrance Day, the general consensus of the public is that war is bad, but when it’s November, suddenly we’re all mindlessly chanting support for those who fight in wars. As someone who is firmly opposed to war, I find it disgusting that we in British society push what is ostensibly a symbol of the romantic view of war down our throats every year, and shame those who don’t.
All the more jarring is that the poppy-pushing trend is going on as the government is rallying for a new war in Syria, as though the previous war in Afghanistan never happened. We all know how the war in Afghanistan happened, and that it was ultimately pointless for Britain to get involved, but the fact that we hide behind the poppies and the sentimental waltz they inspire guarantees that the government can feel free to pursue future wars knowing that the British public will always support it. After all, to ensure unquestioning support of the military and warfare is the only goal of the poppy drive.
It’s perhaps because of this that the idea of Rememberance Day is losing all meaning. When we observed Remembrance Day a century ago, in the bleak, war-ravaged landscapes of the day, we wanted never again to experience the horrors of war. Those people witnessed the tragedy of a hideously futile war in full bloom. The very idea of glamorizing the Great War might have sounded abominable to those who actually survived the war (though sadly they are no longer with us), and yet that’s what we’re doing every November. I highly doubt that the soldiers of the Great War died so that we could continue to indulge in mindless bloodlust in the name of nationalism and industry, and that is what I feel the red poppy has come to represent, and I am not alone. There are many activists, war veterans, and even a few celebrities who oppose war, and detest the glamorization of war. In the dominant atmosphere of conformity, guilt and propaganda, they appear to be the only voices of reason that actually get heard when the poppy salesmen come around.