I've written before about the debasement of the poppy symbol and how the actual meaning of remembrance is gradually being subsumed under a tide of pageantry, intolerance, false-patriotism, political opportunism and empty symbolism.
The debasement of remembrance started to become obvious when "poppy fascism" began to rear its ugly head. The idea of tabloid newspapers (some of which lauded Hitler and promoted the rise of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s) hurling abuse at TV presenters or football players for the "crime" of not wearing poppies is about as far from the spirit of remembrance as possible. We don't remember the fallen victims of war because we are compelled to under threat of character assassination in the right-wing press. We remember the fallen because we choose to.
The enforced conformity of "poppy fascism" has been appalling enough to witness, but in recent years politicians, extreme-right fanatics and tabloid hacks alike have repeatedly demonstrated that the poppy symbol has been reduced to empty political iconography.
In 2012 David Cameron wore a red poppy on his lapel as he was busy helping British arms manufacturers to hawk weapons to despotic Islamist dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, whilst talking of busting arms embargoes in order to flood the Syrian Civil War with weapons.
The extreme-right hate group Britain First have co-opted the poppy symbol in order to hawk their disgusting political ideology. It doesn't seem to matter how many times the Royal British Legion condemn them for hijacking the poppy symbol and selling poppy memorabilia to make money for themselves, these right-wing extremists just carry on doing it.
In 2015 the right-wing press decided to hijack remembrance Sunday with absurd allegations that Jeremy Corbyn had supposedly insulted the war dead by not bowing deeply enough at the Cenotaph. These allegations were particularly galling coming from hacks working for the S*n given that Rupert Murdoch's idea of respecting the war dead involves bribing public officials into leaking the private details of dead British soldiers!
In 2016 Theresa May decided to get in on the act by callously dismissing Jeremy Corbyn's question about the death of a former British soldier who died in appalling circumstances after suffering the Tory benefits sanction regime with a load of dismissive pre-scripted guff about "fairness" whilst wearing some kind of bling poppy. To make matters worse she then went on to put on an appalling fact-averse display of synthetic outrage about whether footballers should be allowed to wear poppy armbands during an international match as if poppy symbolism is infinitely more important than the appalling death circumstances of a former British serviceman.
It's becoming ever clearer that the poppy symbol and the whole concept of remembrance is being appallingly debased. Right-wing hate groups hijack the poppy symbol in order to raise funds to bankroll their extremist activities; politicians like Theresa May and David Cameron wear the poppy symbol whilst hawking weapons or callously dismissing the plight of dead soldiers; and right-wing hacks hound people for supposedly not showing sufficient respect, despite their publications' recent histories of stealing the private personal details of dead British soldiers!
The poppy symbol doesn't exist to raise funds for right-wing hate groups, for politicians to create a veneer of conscience for themselves, or for right-wing hacks to hang their vapid character attack upon. It exists to remind us of the appalling suffering of war, the lost lives of the fallen and the trauma of those who lived through it and survived.
In order to counterbalance this debasement of the true meaning of Remembrance and the poppy symbol we should try to consider the words of people who actually served in the First World War.
"The politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder." - Harry Patch
"War's stupid. Nobody wins. You might as well talk first; you have to talk last anyway." - Henry Allingham
"I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed." Siegfried Sassoon
"War is hell, and those who institute it are criminals" Siegfried Sassoon
"I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust." Siegfried Sassoon
"They are not often aggressive or offensively military. This is the dismal part of it: that these men, almost the best value in the ordinary upper class that we have, should allow themselves to suppose that all this is somehow necessary and inevitable; that they should give so much labour and time to the killing of others, though to the plain appeals of poverty and inefficiency in government, as well national as international, they are so absolutely heedless. How is it that as much blood and money cannot be poured out when it is a question of saving and helping mankind rather than of slaying them?" Arthur Greame West
"Patriotism, in the trenches, was too remote a sentiment, and at once rejected as fit only for civilians, or prisoners. A new arrival who talked patriotism would soon be told to cut it out." Robert Graves
"Opposite our trenches a German salient protruded, and the brigadier wanted to 'bite it off' in proof of the division's offensive spirit. Trench soldiers could never understand the Staff's desire to bite off an enemy salient. It was hardly desirable to be fired at from both flanks; if the Germans had got caught in a salient, our obvious duty was to keep them there as long as they could be persuaded to stay. We concluded that a passion for straight lines, for which headquarters were well known, had dictated this plan, which had no strategic or tactical excuse." Robert Graves
"I never joined the army for patriotic reasons." Isaac Rosenberg
"How many have gone? How many more to go? The Admiralty is fast asleep and lethargy & inertia are the order of the day. However everybody seems delighted - so there is nothing to be said. No plans, no enterprise, no struggle to aid the general cause. Just sit still on the spacious throne and snooze." Winston Churchill (future Tory Prime Minister)
"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." Wilfred Owen
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