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.
‘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.
If 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.