The Poppy Controversy: A Sign of Respect Or An Endorsement Of War?

The Case For Poppies: A Sign of Respect

For some time, and most notably in the past few years, the choice to wear – or not to wear – a poppy leading up to Remembrance Sunday has unfortunately become somewhat of a political or religious statement. From my point of view, I think this is a great shame, as the poppy was never intended to be thought of as such.

The most famously worn red poppy was introduced by the British Legion to commemorate the deadly battles fought in World War I in northern France and Belgium, where red poppies grow wild, and tragically hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives in combat. The poppy is a tough flower and can grow anywhere, but is also delicate, and as such, it is seen a fitting emblem to remember those who died on the battlefield. It is also important to note that the British Legion also says that the red colour is a symbolism of hope and remembrance, and not of blood as it is commonly mistaken for. On their website, the charity also explicitly states that it should neither be seen as a political or religious statement.

In spite of this, the wearing of the poppy in recent times has been the subject of much controversy. For instance, Harry Leslie Smith, a veteran of the RAF, refuses to wear one. This is understandable: after all, it is completely his choice. However, Smith’s reasoning for this, which he tweeted in 2014, is that he believes that some politicians are using the poppy to “justify wars on terror which are eroding democracy”.

I agree that dodgy politicians corrupting otherwise good symbols or ideals for their own gain is completely wrong: from Harry’s perspective, the most effective way for him to make his point is to not wear a poppy by way of defiance. However, the key issue here is that his argument only focuses on how a very small minority of people co-opt the poppy, instead of focusing on what it symbolises. The argument that poppies endorse war and conflict I think is, quite frankly, a sign of ignorance.

No person on this Earth with a conscience would advocate for war. The atrocities of war; the devastating impact it has on not only the lives of those fighting and their families, and the effects of war on international relations, are commonly understood. Hence, I would argue it is somewhat insulting to not wear a poppy purely because of how a select few exploit its symbolism. In fact, the poppy only represents positive ideals, such as hope: it is also a reminder that the atrocities of the past should not be repeated so that we, as a global community, can strive for a peaceful future.

Another issue that people have with the red poppy is that, for the most part, it commemorates British soldiers who have died in combat. Therefore, wearing a white poppy is becoming an increasingly popular alternative as it remembers those who have died in any war, not just British soldiers. To give a bit of context, the white poppy was first introduced by the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1933 as a means of pledging a lasting commitment to peace and is now sold by the Peace Pledge Union. I completely agree that when it comes to Remembrance Sunday, every life lost should be reflected on, and so if people would rather wear a white poppy in order to do this, I wholeheartedly respect that.

In conclusion, whilst the poppy has sadly been manipulated into a political symbol, it is vital we remember what it is originally was intended for: to remember fallen soldiers. The poppy first and foremost represents hope for a positive and peaceful future.

Michael Turnbull

The Case Against Poppies: An Endorsement Of War

The ‘don’t wear a poppy!’ article is a hackneyed cliche of student journalism. Despite this, I’m going to try and get some more mileage out of it. We’ll look at the pernicious rebranding of military service that is so inextricably linked to the poppy appeal, and then I’ll outline the moral repugnance of the British Armed Forces that the British Legion support.

The poppy is, first and foremost, a branding instrument. It’s used to restyle soldiers as heroes and to perpetuate a national conversation about respecting those who served in the military. This is a lie used to distort history and disguise the crimes of the ruling classes.

102 years ago today the Battle of the Somme was raging on in France. More than three million members of the working class marched into a storm of death, in one of bloodiest battles in history. These men were not heroes out of choice: they were cannon fodder for incompetent generals and arrogant politicians. Crucially, they were not aware that they had no hope of surviving.

Fundamentally, one cannot be a hero without fully grasping the reality of the situation that they are in. I write not to disparage these men but to shine a light on the twisted motives of those so eager to rebrand these unwitting soldiers as brave, noble heroes. They were the terrified pawns, victims of the hubris and propaganda of the British empire. To call them heroes is to give them too much agency and therefore absolve the decision makers of their sins.

To buy and wear a poppy is to play an active role in the perpetuation of this myth and it shouldn’t be done.

Already, I anticipate the response from millions of so-called patriots, angry about my lack of respect. The military has changed, they say. It doesn’t mislead our lads anymore, they cry. Unfortunately, these wild assertions are directly contrary to reality.

The recruitment process of the military in its current form directly targets the young and those with fewer prospects. Recruiters target children often before they are deemed to be mature enough to vote. Not only are they young, but their sole understanding of the military and warfare tends to come from an almost comically jingoistic press and an explicitly revisionist curriculum.

Even aside from that, there are the adverts: if you can fix a bike, you can fix a jet. This is a cynical marketing scheme directly targeting members of the working class in deprived areas without many prospects. The army is depicted as some engine of social mobility, or a means of learning life skills and earning some money before coming out the other end and finding a position in an upper stratum of society.

This could not be further from the truth. What makes this even more repugnant is that the military must know. Forces Watch, an organisation that tracks these things, illustrates the miserable truth. Rather than a vehicle for social mobility, likelihood to advance through the ranks of the military and build a prosperous life outside of it is directly linked to socioeconomic status prior to enlisting.

People leave the military mentally ill; prone to violence; lacking career prospects, and sometimes poorly adjusted to life in general society. To buy a poppy is to participate in this grand whitewashing of history: it is to deny the truth that soldiers were not heroes, but unwitting tools of the privileged. The white poppy is nothing but a slightly more liberal interpretation. Not only that, but it is to contribute to the intentional deception of some of our most vulnerable. Don’t just boycott poppies, burn them.

Charley Weldrick