That time of year has been and gone again, where we rightfully remembered the sacrifices of British soldiers for Remembrance Day. To show our acknowledgement of these important sacrifices, we wore red poppies, specifically in commemoration of the suffering of World War I. This is what most people would agree the poppy stands for, right? We honoured our soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country, and it’s the least we could do. But how true is this?
As most people know the red poppy was inspired by the war-poem ‘In Flanders’s fields’, and equally the bloodshed at the Battle of the Somme. But what most don’t realise is that it wasn’t necessarily designed for British use. In fact, we Brits adopted it from our American cousins who were commemorating their WW1 soldiers – note the internationality here. These days it’s mostly us Brits, and the former colonies that use the red poppy to commemorate the loss in war. These days I don’t think the poppy means what it used to. Instead, I say the red poppy no longer symbolises compassion and solemnity in conflict, but now symbolises our addiction to war, and our refusal to accept the reality of it. Let me explain.
How many people do you think were publicly shamed for not wearing a poppy? The poppy has become a piece of uniform. It’s just something people wear to keep up the appearance of caring about loss. The irony is, the people who’ll go on about it most are the warmongers, the nationalists, the egotists. How much do you think the Daily Mail banged on about the importance of the poppy? Did UKIP use it as nationalistic propaganda? And what about the politicians who voted for war with Syria? And do you reckon Tony Blair wore one? Of course they did.
The red poppy is an empty symbol. It’s a facade that people are guilt-tripped into. Don’t get me wrong, it has noble intentions and contributes to charity – but most people probably don’t truly care about helping the wounded recover, or the veterans. Essentially, we have relegated their worth to just one day. What does that say about how much we actually care?
Remember X-Factor’s “designer” Swarovski poppies a couple years back? In other words, the poppy was relegated to a fashion accessory. It’s all so superficial. I certainly felt that way on reflection when I bought my first poppy in secondary school. I wore it proudly amongst my fellow students who hadn’t bought one. I felt proud of Britain’s history and of myself, like I was above others. And, at the end of the day, I realised I was just being a narcissistic prick with a superiority complex. The red poppy is now like a dead dogma that keeps being revived to be bastardized over and over again, for nothing but the aesthetic. It’s no longer a ceremony, but a hollow ritual.
Now, I know I’ve been demonising certain people who wear the red-poppy, but that’s not to say don’t ever wear one. Just don’t take so much pride in it; it’s not what the poppy is for. Even though it’s been reduced to an empty symbol, used for, and by, the ‘symbol-minded’, it still goes towards reducing real suffering. And we should strive to end that suffering. And that’s what Remembrance Day commemorates for me: not a sole country’s loss of soldiers, not national pride, and not sacrifice, but the memory of the suffering that is endured in all war.
Don’t wear your poppy proudly, wear it solemnly.