It’s November, a time for tradition, a time for ritual. Which means it’s time for the annual rant about poppy fascism. This year however, at least in this part of Glasgow, it seems that the only people you see wearing a poppy are all on the telly, where poppy wearing is still apparently obligatory. Hardly anyone in the street is wearing one. It looks as though we may have passed peak poppy. This may be a glimmering of hope that the average punter is getting heartily fed up with the mandatory glorification of all things military into which a supposedly sombre remembrance of the dead has morphed in the hands of a British establishment that ordered them to their deaths in the first place.
Let’s be clear, and not in a Theresa May sort of a way. Poppies are political. They cannot be anything else when the funds they raise go to the British Legion, an organisation which is not noted for its opposition to the militarism which sent untold thousands to their deaths. It’s not an organisation which has a reputation for protesting about the atrocities which the armed forces have carried out in the name of the British state. In recent years the British Legion has been proud to accept sponsorship for its poppy events, sponsorship from arms companies which sell weapons to brutal dictatorships. It’s hard to put into words just how tasteless and inappropriate that is, it is exactly the same as accepting sponsorship from a gun manufacturer to commemorate the victims of a spree shooting.
People whose business is in the creation of more war dead don’t sponsor events to commemorate the war dead because they want to see fewer wars and fewer dead. They do it because poppy events and armed forces events have become marketing opportunities for them. They provide a chance to network and sell their products. They allow them to put a gloss of solemn respectability on their business of trading in death and destruction and misery.
Poppies are no longer a symbol that war is wrong, if they ever were. They’re a symbol that states that if you die in a war in the service of the British state then you’re a hero. Meanwhile those who don’t die get cast aside by a British state that doesn’t care. It’s easy to commemorate and glorify the dead, because the dead can’t point out Britain’s hypocrisy. They become a convenient symbol. Those who’ve served in the armed forces are not treated like heroes, they are more likely to end up homeless, more likely to suffer mental heath issues. We live in a country where people who have served in the armed forces find themselves reliant upon charities. That’s not a state which cares for those it tells us are heroes. It’s a state which uses up predominantly working class youths and then casts them aside once it’s done with them.
The truth is that most people who die in wars don’t die heroically. They die brutal deaths that achieve nothing. They die in fear. They die painfully. Poppies help to propagate the dangerous myth that war itself is something heroic, that our participation in wars, so many wars, is something that we should be proud of. Nothing could be further from the truth. War is failure. War means that negotiations have broken down, that words will not suffice, that trust has gone, and all that remains is brutal violence. War may inspire individual acts of heroism in a minority, but war itself is not heroic. It’s a tragedy. It’s a great wrong. It’s the destruction of human lives, and all too often it’s all for nothing except the entrenchment in power of the already powerful. Remembering wars shouldn’t be an occasion for pride, remembering wars should make us all weep for the senseless loss of so many lives.
War is failure, and that means that the British state is one of the greatest historic failures amongst the independent states of the world. Over the past 300 years, Britain has been at war for many more years than it has been at peace.
Yes of course we need to remember those who died in the honourable fight against fascism, we need to remember the conscripts who died in the trenches in the pointless industrialised dying of WW1, but far more often British wars were wars of colonialism, of exploitation, of theft and dispossession. We need to remember that too. The fight against fascism in WW2 was one of the few occasions when the British were clearly and unequivocally the good guys, and that was only because the enemy was your actual Adolf Hitler.
Most British wars were like the colonialist war in Kenya, a violent and brutal oppression with the aim of dispossessing the people of Kenya from their lands and resources. It involved concentration camps, torture, mutilations. Most British wars were like the colonial settlement of Australia, with its organised hunts of Native Australians who were chased down and slaughtered, water holes were poisoned, and the survivors rounded up into camps, their children forcibly stolen from them. Most British wars were like the Opium War with China, fought in order to force the Chinese to allow British traders to flood China with addictive drugs that destroyed families but made huge profits for the British middle classes. Historically, Britain was rarely the good guy, and the British armed forces were the instrument of that malign power.
So let’s be honest here. Let’s remember what the armed forces of the UK have really been used for most of the time. Let’s not allow the British state to hide behind its comfortable myths of heroism and fighting for democracy. Britain is an arms-dealing state, a nuclear weapons possessing state, a state that’s happy to sacrifice the lives of working class people in order to suck up to the United States. It’s a state that propagates militarism and glorifies it. None of this is anything to be proud of. The people who maintain this system, who benefit from the sacrifices of the dead and the wounded, should hold their heads in shame. Poppies have been hijacked to sell British wars and arms dealing. Red poppies are not a symbol of peace. If you’re going to wear a poppy, wear a white one.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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