Ah, yes. It is about 30 years to the day that i was out and about campaigning on the back of that slogan. Well: what else would you expect from a fairly brash, idealistic and, yes, naive pacifist and Young Liberal.
My antidote to the persistent publicity around wearing one’s poppy “with pride”, which i felt tended, perhaps unintendedly, to glorify war.
It was gesture politics – albeit deeply felt. The script, of course, was fairly predictable. I would say something like that in a public statement. The local press (Oxford radio and newspapers) would pick it up and run it as a shock! horror! disrespect piece.
Then some old buffer from the local British Legion would amplify the statement by standing up and dissenting. Sorted!
Except said old buffer didn’t quite play fair. We ended up doing a radio debate. The presenter introduced us and put the question to him: “Should we be wearing our poppies with shame?”
I got ready to leap in. Except his simple response more than took the wind out of my sails: “Yes”, he said. “You have a point”.
Huh! Foul! That was unexpected.
Although perhaps i should have been a bit more switched on to the possibility of such a response. Over the years since, i have discovered that the Poppy is not quite the simple symbol I once thought it was.
I have become aware of controversy over its origins: veteran disputes; and the emergence of the white poppy in reply.
I have also learnt that those most ardently against war are often those who have experienced it. In the 1980’s, during debate on the Falklands, opposition to going to war came from an interesting crossbench alliance of members who HAD been to war. Who knew what it was to fight and watch their comrades die.
Contrariwise, those most passionate for war and its symbols are often those with the least experience of it. “The white feather” ladies of WWI, handing out their badges of dishonour to the likes of Siegfried Sassoon (who allegedly accepted one feather with thanks, saying it would “go well with his military cross”).
And now, listening to Question Time, to the radio today, there seems to be a new intolerance creeping into the debate. Not just a reaction to the muslim group proclaiming its intent to burn poppies (they have a point…about the crusades…but i think this is absolutely the wrong tactic): but a much wider reclaiming of the poppy by the Right.
Yep. we’re back to “wearing it with pride” – and this time not with the honest pride of those who fought and died, but with a certain nationalist relish. A certain pressure to join in the respect-showing…or else! Hence the FIFA outrage. Hence all manner of public statements by Tory MP’s about how it represents a national value.
Ugh! No it doesn’t. If the poppy means anything, it is universal in its application.
I won’t, nowadays, be found calling on people to wear their poppy with shame: but i do think, out of a sense of decency, politicians should grow up – and butt out. If anyone truly wishes to go public about poppy symbolism, let the veterans do so.
Not selv-serving (Prime) Ministers, who have never had a shot fired in anger at them in their entire life.