Why I won’t be wearing a poppy

Poppy field

I won’t be wearing a poppy for Remembrance Sunday. I cannot bring myself to. Every year, I find the whole business of Remembrance, poppies, the two-minutes’ silence and all the rest of it extremely upsetting. I find it hard to explain my emotional reaction to it, but I’ll try.

I get very angry when I see our political leaders wearing their poppies and laying their wreaths at the Cenotaph. The Royal British Legion website tells us that the annual poppy appeal remembers those who have ‘made the ultimate sacrifice’. But the dead service men and women didn’t make a sacrifice, they were sacrificed, by generations of political leaders willing to treat the lives of men and women as expendable. Harry Patch, the last British survivor of the First World War said ‘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’. Amen to that.

Poppy‘Wear your poppy with pride’ we were always told. I want to tell the politicians to wear their poppies with shame. Shame that in the 21st century they still can’t find a better way of settling differences than war. Shame at the lies they have told us about it. Shame at the blood on their hands. Shame that they refuse to learn the lessons of history. (The First World War was described as the war to end all wars. If only.)

What does it say when churches hold Remembrance Sunday services? And why do some church buildings have old regimental flags hanging up? War is evil. The idea that you can make the world a better place by killing people is evil. The church has no business endorsing it, legitimising it or blessing it. It is not glorious, or noble. Wilfred Owen was right. We should not

‘tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie, Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.’

If churches mark Remembrance Sunday, let it be with calls to renounce the evil of war, and prayer for peace.

The UK’s annual poppy day appeal is organised by the Royal British Legion, a registered charity. The work they do is impressive, and, unfortunately, very much needed. I have given them money to help support it, but I won’t buy and wear a poppy. I can’t. And I have a question. If young men and women are killed or disabled because they have been sent to war, why do they and their families have to rely on charity for support? The politicians who send them to war ought to shoulder the responsibility for their welfare and the welfare of their families. In full.

The wallIf anyone thinks that I would feel differently if I knew what it was like to have lost someone as a casualty of war, I do know. My own father lies in ‘some corner of a foreign field’. His name is on the wall of names at the Armed Forces Memorial’ at the National Memorial Arboretum. (I went to see it recently, and I was horrified to see how much space has been left for more names.)

I know that many deny it, but I always feel that Remembrance Sunday and the poppies glorify war. The Cenotaph in Whitehall is even inscribed to ‘the glorious dead’. If I wore a poppy I would feel that I was showing solidarity with something that sickens and horrifies me. I just can’t. Sorry.

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14 thoughts on “Why I won’t be wearing a poppy

  1. chloefb says:

    That’s beautifully written Ian. I will be wearing a poppy for remembrance but not with pride. I think WW1 was one of the most shameful episodes of human history. It makes me cry when I think about it. And it makes me angry. A whole generation wiped out in their youth on the orders of a few old men. Whenever I see a memorial to the fallen men I find myself wanting to scream, “You must’ve known this was no way to fight a war – no way to sort out anything”. I want it not to have happened. I want those young men to have lived and had families and loved life.

  2. Christine Johnson says:

    Although I agree with much of what you say, I still wear a poppy. Not because I am proud of the wars – like you I wish people would find less violent ways of settling their differences – but because I think they should not be forgotten. We cannot learn from history by forgetting about it. Likewise I believe we should remember the holocaust, horrific though it was, we must not forget it. Some people would like us to. To me, wearing a poppy is a bit like someone I know who buys a bunch of her mother’s favourite flowers on the anniversary of her death, to remember her by. It doesn’t mean her mother wanted to die, just that she is remembered.

  3. Russell says:

    I too find it very upsetting that our leaders, who continue to send our people to war, then take part in public displays of “grief” over their deaths.

    The Peace Pledge Union suggest wearing a white poppy. This is an excellent way of showing that you are not forgetting, or brushing under the carpet, the deaths of so many people. More importantly, it shows our shame at the continuance of war.

    There is more information, as well as the chance to buy white poppies, here; http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/index.html

  4. Russell says:

    The Peace Pledge Union suggest wearing white poppies. This is an excellent way to show that you have not forgotten those who have died in war, like Christine says. It is also an excellent way to show that you have no interest in the continuing shame of war. There is more information on their site here; http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/index.html

    Christine, as far as I know there is no relationship between the holocaust and remembrance day. Holocaust Remembrance day is on the 27th January.

  5. Thanks, Ian. As you will have seen I caught up with this via Dave Lawrence’s facebook post. It sums up the dilemma beautifully. As a preacher and church leader it is one of the hardest Sundays of the year – and here I am preaching on it again today! One wants to avoid treading on the feelings of those who grieve and yet one cannot ignore the underlying lie. Most of those who have died in conflict did not give their lives; they had them taken. They did not as Owen, and other war poets,make so clear die nobly, but in pain, agony and bitterness. I was once physically attacked on a Remembrance Sunday – OK, quoting Owen may not have been the wisest move but…

  6. ianw says:

    I hope the preaching goes well, John.

  7. ken black says:

    problem is, you think the poppy is about you. it isn’t. its about those who died in war. the glory is not in the war but in the act of sacrifice to protect and defend.

    • ianw says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read the blog, Ken. I hope I don’t think it is all about me. I agree that there have been many heroic acts of selfless sacrifice, and as you’ll know from reading the blog, my own father was one of those who lost his life in conflict. My main purpose was to try to articulate why every year I find the whole business very distressing and cannot wear a poppy. I have the utmost respect for those who take a different point of view.

  8. 1959kendall says:

    Thank you for your opinion. I do not wear a poppy anymore as I agree with your sentiment. I do, however, go to the Cenitaph each year to show my respect to those that have died, and are still dying in war. I pray there will come a time where a child will ask – What is war?

  9. Thora says:

    Wow. I see nothing but confusion on your behalf between Church and Government – I’d love to hear your ideas on how to remember and pay tribute collectively towards the Fallen, present and future soldiers risking their lives’ for your freedom. I wonder what your father would think of your comments slandering these efforts of people to remember him and his brothers. Shame on you for expressing your negative opinion so publicly over the guise of social media. I’d love to see you voice your opinion in front of a crowd of widow(er)s and family at a Remembrance Day Ceremony, you Chicken Shit.

    I love and remember you Uncle Johnny and WILL PROUDLY WEAR A POPPY AND CONTRIBUTE TO THE VETERAN’S IN YOUR MEMORY.

    Thora Lawrence

    • ianw says:

      Thanks for your comments, Thora. I’d love to give a more reasoned answer as suggested about how to remember and pay tribute, but it will have to wait until after the weekend. I’d be grateful, though, if we could keep the discussion respectful and courteous.

    • ianw says:

      Thora

      A more reasoned response to your comments, now that I have time to make it.

      Church and government: In the UK at least there is an element of confusion in that the Church of England is the “established church”. Separation of church and state is a fine principle, and one I am in favour of, but we don’t have it here. One of the consequences is that the church is not as free to speak its mind as it ought to be.

      Remembering and paying tribute: Of course I think that we should remember those who lost their lives in warfare, and I would want to pay tribute to the courage that many of them showed. If some find the poppy symbol a good way of doing that, then of course they should be completely free to use it. It’s not the average person remembering and paying tribute in this way that I have a problem with – it’s the political leaders. They have it in their power to take an imaginative and constructive approach to international relations but instead they reach for the military option again and again. Our political leaders speak as if the wars that are commemorated with poppies were some kind of calamity that had befallen the world, rather like a tsunami or epidemic. But really, they were the result of choices made by them and their predecessors. As Chloe said in her comment above, a whole generation was wiped out in their youth on the orders of a few old men.

      Widow(er)s and families: My step-mother, my father’s widow, was 86 earlier this year. My father lost his life on active service at the age of 29. It is entirely possible that he could have been still alive today, aged 87, and could have known his great-grandchildren. I am all too conscious that every name on the war memorial represents someone’s father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, brother, sister, uncle or aunt. They deserve to be remembered and honoured.

      But it does not follow that the causes in which they were asked to serve were all noble ones. The widespread view that the First World War was futile and pointless is not shared by everyone, of course, but it’s by no means a minority view either. At the very least you have to wonder whether there couldn’t have been an alternative to fighting the battle of the Somme, in which 1 million men were killed or wounded for an Allied advance of seven miles.

      Our politicians, who despite all the evidence still seem to think that this is a good way of settling human differences, wear poppies. I will not show any solidarity with them, so I won’t wear one. If they bowed out and left remembrance to ordinary people, then I might.

      Ian

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