203 Views
1 Comments

The Big Debate – Remembrance Day – a civic duty?

“Why I will not pin a poppy to my chest” by Isabelle Acton

I remember when I was at primary school and the prefects would amble through the classrooms clutching a blood red collection tin into which we were told we must deposit any loose change we had remaining from our lunch money in return for a poppy from the box hanging around their necks. It was important to wear one, we were informed, to demonstrate our gratitude for the soldiers that died defending our country. Were it not for them, we would not be living in a free, English-speaking country today.

People are routinely condemned for failing to wear a poppy and for questioning that statement, yet it is one that drips of patriotism; something I’ve never quite understood: none of us chose our countries; it makes no sense to be proud of them. It is telling that we choose to commemorate the death and suffering of soldiers, but not (for example) that of the Indian people when the British Empire colonised their country.

That is not to say that the Wars should be forgotten; they should be commemorated via education such that it is ensured that such tragedies never, ever occur again. But Remembrance Day invariably glorifies the World Wars more than it commemorates them. A poppy is a means of honouring war victims as valiant heroes who fought for our country and for the rights of its civilians; in fact they were misled and exploited by the leaders of the time, doing what they believed was righteous and needful to defend liberty and end all wars, in the meantime being forced to live through unimaginably horrendous conditions. But we are not told to pity them, we are told to celebrate them; we are not expected to feel horror or sadness as we remember, but gratitude and pride.

However their mistreatment by our Government is nothing to be proud of. A poppy is not about pity for the innocent civilians who are the victims of militarism, nor is it about remembering the atrocious horror soldiers were forced to live through in the World Wars; it is about glorifying war and it is about supporting this sickening vision of militarism.

Nowadays, the poppy is furthermore used by politicians as a tool to gather support for unpopular and illegal American wars, more about economy than civil liberty, all under the banner of patriotism. Conflicts that could not be any further removed from the circumstances of the World Wars; there is no national service, soldiers are not misled, nor forced into standing at the front line, nor executed by the state for accumulating psychological distress due to the horrendous conditions that state exposed them to, yet today’s soldiers are mourned in the same breath as the ones that were; the ones that died to end all wars.

Soldiers of course suffer and die today, but no-one ever bothered counting how many thousands of innocent civilians died and are still dying alongside them: what happened to their liberty?

A poppy says that there is a hierarchy of victims; that the heroic soldier is more worthy of remembrance than the civilians that the heroic soldier killed. A poppy feeds the dangerous mentality that anyone who wears an army uniform is a hero. A poppy implicitly supports conflict, and is bound up with a broader militaristic culture in our society which has made war more likely, not less.

A poppy is not about peace.

“A poppy is a mark of respect for the dead” by Stephen Grayson

I don’t believe that anyone should feel obliged to wear a poppy around the time of Remembrance Day and I think that, for instance, the way Jon Snow was treated last year when he refused to do so was outrageous. Any accusations levelled at an individual for a lack of patriotism are potentially dangerous, and historically hold sinister connotations.

That said, there is a reason that we still mark a day of remembrance on 11 November, and a reason that the poppy has remained the symbol of this. The First World War was a catastrophic global event in which millions of young men lost their lives. The phrase “they died that we might live” marks the memorial stones of many of these soldiers, and still resonates powerfully today, whether you agree with it or not.

WWI is now widely acknowledged to have been a disaster, and is not really celebrated as a great victory for Britain: what most people think of is the vast number of lives that were lost, and that is what Remembrance Day is all about. It is not a bloodthirsty celebration of war, rather it is a day to honour those who died in a war they knew little about and had little choice in.

In fairness, this point could be made more of: that our army in that war was conscripted, and that there is validity in the argument that more attention needs to be drawn to the way that young men were exploited and died needlessly. But wearing a poppy, while it does not proclaim these ideas, does not deny them, and it could be seen to be a mark of respect for those who were a drawn in to the conflict. Similarly, people who object to other, more recent wars being incorporated into Remembrance Day should remember that the poppy is not a political statement.

The wearing of poppies is not necessarily a civic duty, in that no one should be pressured into it, or made to feel like a bad person for not doing it, but it does have positive connotations that aren’t detracted from by people not wearing one.

The fact that we choose to celebrate Remembrance Day on 11 November, the day that WW1 ended, means that it is a celebration of peace, not of war; of the people who died fighting, not of the political battles won.

The poppy originally became a symbol of remembrance when thousands of them started growing on the battlefields of the Great War. People have always been struck by the poignancy of a red flower emerging from blood-stained ground. Its use connotes a sombre, serious reflection on the gravity of death in war, and this is something that anyone can engage with, regardless of political opinion.

No one who objects to British military presence in Afghanistan or Iraq would say that the soldiers who have died there deserve to be forgotten, and their lives degraded. Remembrance Day, by its very nature, acknowledges the horrors of war and allows us a chance to put aside our arguments and remember (that is all – not celebrate or glorify, but simply remember) those who have died as a result of it.

As I have said, there should be no obligation to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day, but I fully respect and understand anyone who decides to do so.

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
707 views1
Campus News
707 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series
Arts
157 views
Arts
157 views

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - June 17, 2018

Pictured: Zac Black At Proud Cabaret audiences were spellbound as if at night at the circus, yet this was not like Angela Carter’s magical realist novel; Verve…

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review
Arts
180 views
Arts
180 views

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review

Florence Dutton - June 11, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Last Monday at 8pm at Brighton’s The Old Market, I sat myself down in my theatre seat eagerly awaiting…

Fleabag preview
Arts
173 views
Arts
173 views

Fleabag preview

Florence Dutton - June 2, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Following the mass success of the Bafta award-winning BBC Series, DryWrite and Soho Theatre are about to hit the…

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome
Arts
213 views
Arts
213 views

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome

Georgia Grace - June 1, 2018

Having completed my final semester of university with modules on punk history and queer arts, it was fitting that I rounded off my end-of-assessment celebrations by attending…

Arts
217 views

The Tempest review

Georgia Grace - May 30, 2018

As the sun begins to set over Hove Green, tinnies of Red Stripe are cracked open, tartan blankets are strewn, and families tuck into their picnic hampers.…

A Glass Half Empty review
Arts
213 views
Arts
213 views

A Glass Half Empty review

Georgia Grace - May 27, 2018

For those of us coming to the end of another year of university study, the prospect of careers, marriages and babies may seem a long way off.…

DollyWould at The Old Market review
Arts
204 views
Arts
204 views

DollyWould at The Old Market review

Alex Hutson - May 27, 2018

Sh!t Theatre’s DollyWould is a hilarious, thoughtful and experimental performance piece. The award winning show has the Sh!t Theatre duo integrating comedy, storytelling, personal experience and music.…

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex
Campus News
327 views
Campus News
327 views

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex

Billie-Jean Johnson - May 26, 2018

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has launched a petition calling for Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell to end the 'hostile environment' at Sussex. The…

Arts
164 views

Shakespeare in the sun – The Tempest preview

Georgia Grace - May 24, 2018

In a world of dystopian King Lears and female Hamlets, Shakespeare’s classics are constantly being reimagined for the modern day. There’s something oddly refreshing then about the…

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
444 views
Arts
444 views

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 23, 2018

What a phenomenal contrast these two films present when watched side-by-side. In essence, together they are capable of tracing inner and outer metamorphoses of their subjects. The…

Dollywould at The Old Market preview
Arts
204 views
Arts
204 views

Dollywould at The Old Market preview

Alex Hutson - May 22, 2018

From the 22nd May - 25th May 2018 DollyWould will be showing at The Old Market. An exciting new show, presented by Sh!t Theatre, who won the…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
302 views
Artist Focus
302 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
211 views
Interview
211 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
286 views
Arts
286 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
325 views
Arts
325 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
363 views
Arts
363 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
263 views
Artist Focus
263 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
276 views
Books
276 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
354 views
Science
354 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
333 views
News
333 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…