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Poppies and Remembrance Sunday


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Two startlingly similar articles in todays Guardian and Independent :

 

 

Guardian

 

This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time

I will remember friends and comrades in private next year, as the solemnity of remembrance has been twisted into a justification for conflict

 

 

 

 

Over the last 10 years the sepia tone of November has become blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders. The most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts. The American civil war's General Sherman once said that "war is hell", but unfortunately today's politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good.

 

Still, this year I shall wear the poppy as I have done for many years. I wear it because I am from that last generation who remember a war that encompassed the entire world. I wear the poppy because I can recall when Britain was actually threatened with a real invasion and how its citizens stood at the ready to defend her shores. But most importantly, I wear the poppy to commemorate those of my childhood friends and comrades who did not survive the second world war and those who came home physically and emotionally wounded from horrific battles that no poet or journalist could describe.

 

However, I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one's right to privacy.

 

Come 2014 when the government marks the beginning of the first world war with quotes from Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling and other great jingoists from our past empire, I will declare myself a conscientious objector. We must remember that the historical past of this country is not like an episode of Downton Abbey where the rich are portrayed as thoughtful, benevolent masters to poor folk who need the guiding hand of the ruling classes to live a proper life.

 

I can tell you it didn't happen that way because I was born nine years after the first world war began. I can attest that life for most people was spent in abject poverty where one laboured under brutal working conditions for little pay and lived in houses not fit to kennel a dog today. We must remember that the war was fought by the working classes who comprised 80% of Britain's population in 1913.

 

This is why I find that the government's intention to spend £50m to dress the slaughter of close to a million British soldiers in the 1914-18 conflict as a fight for freedom and democracy profane. Too many of the dead, from that horrendous war, didn't know real freedom because they were poor and were never truly represented by their members of parliament.

 

My uncle and many of my relatives died in that war and they weren't officers or NCOs; they were simple Tommies. They were like the hundreds of thousands of other boys who were sent to their slaughter by a government that didn't care to represent their citizens if they were working poor and under-educated. My family members took the king's shilling because they had little choice, whereas many others from similar economic backgrounds were strong-armed into enlisting by war propaganda or press-ganged into military service by their employers.

 

For many of you 1914 probably seems like a long time ago but I'll be 91 next year, so it feels recent. Today, we have allowed monolithic corporate institutions to set our national agenda. We have allowed vitriol to replace earnest debate and we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that wealth is wisdom. But by far the worst error we have made as a people is to think ourselves as taxpayers first and citizens second.

 

Next year, I won't wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilised state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn't be left to die on the battleground of modern life.

 

 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/08/poppy-last-time-remembrance-harry-leslie-smith

 

 

 

Independent

 

Poppycock – or why remembrance rituals make me see red

 

The poppy helps us avoid a search for the meaning of war

 

 

 

 

 

On the briefest of visits to London, I was appalled to notice that our television presenters and politicians and dignitaries have almost all resorted to stereotype by wearing those bloody poppies again – even though I suspect most of them would not know the difference between the Dardanelles and the Somme. How come this obscene fashion appendage – inspired by a pro-war poem, for God’s sake, which demands yet further human sacrifice – still adorns the jackets and blouses of the Great and the Good? Even Tony Blair dares to wear a poppy – he who lied us into a war, which killed more people than the Battle of Mons.

I know all the reasons they give us. We must remember our dead. “They” died for us and our freedom. The cost of sacrifice. Remember Passchendaele. Never forget. At school I used to wear a poppy – without the leaf which now prettifies this wretched flower – and so did my Dad who, as I often recall, was a soldier of that Great War, in the trenches of the Third Battle of the Somme, 1918, and at Cambrai. But then, as 2nd Lieutenant Bill Fisk grew older and became sick, he read the biographies of that most meretricious of officers, Earl Haig – butcher Haig of the Somme, whose wife gave her name to the original poppies – and came to regard the wearing of these sickly and fake petals as hypocrisy. He stopped wearing the poppy for 11 November, and so did I.

 

At Ypres four years ago, I was honoured to give the Armistice Day lecture just before 11 November; but I did not wear a poppy and politely declined to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate – that “sepulchre of crime” as Sassoon called it – and I discovered, as the clergy purred away beneath the names of the 54,896 Great War soldiers with no known grave, a headstone atop the city’s old medieval wall. Nothing could equal the words which his family had courageously inscribed above the final resting place of 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Conway Young, who died on 16 August, 1917: “Sacrifice to the fallacy that war can end.”

 

So is there not some better way to remember this monstrous crime against humanity? The pity of war, as Wilfred Owen described it, must, for individuals, have a finite end, a point when time – looking backwards – just runs out. British men and women – and children – who visit the Somme battlefields and their vast cemeteries, still cry, and I can understand why. Here lies indeed the flower of youth cut short, only just over a generation distant. But we do not cry when we visit Waterloo or Agincourt. At Flanders Fields, the tears still flow. But not at Flodden Field. Who even weeps for the dead of the Boer War? No poppies for them. Only when you move into religious ecstasy can the long dead touch our souls. Watch the Christians walking the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem, or the Iraqi Shia remembering in the oven-like heat of Najaf and Kerballa the martyrdom of Imams Ali and Hussain. The tears splash down their clothes.

 

Perhaps in war, it’s the names that count. Dead soldiers had no gravestones before the Great War, unless they were generals, admirals or emperors worthy of entombment in Saint Paul’s or Les Invalides. The soldiery were simply dumped into mass graves. At Waterloo, the remains of the dead were shipped off to England to be used as manure on the fields of Lincolnshire – sometimes tilled, no doubt, by their unsuspecting farmer sons. So much for our remembrance of the “thin red line”. No posthumous glory for them.

 

Yet glory, I fear, does lie somewhere in our souls when we decide to bless our clothes with this preposterous poppy, this little paper and plastic “blood-drop” on our breasts, fake flowers that supposedly spring from the blood-red soil of the Flanders dead. It is perhaps easier to believe that the names will “live for evermore” – as it says on the walls of cemeteries of both Great Wars of the 20th century – even though hundreds of thousands of First World War Brits and French and Germans and Austrians and Irishmen in British uniform and Hungarians and Indians and Russians and Americans and Turks and, yes, even Portuguese (at Ypres) have no graves at all. But the poppy also helps us avoid a search for the meaning of war.

 

Wyndam Lewis, the master of Vorticist art who became a soldier at Ypres, wrote of the Great War that it “went on far too long… It was too vast for its meaning, like a giant with the brain of a midge. Its epic proportions were grotesquely out of scale, seeing what it was fought to settle. It was far too indecisive. It settled nothing, as it meant nothing. Indeed, it was impossible to escape the feeling that it was not meant to settle anything – that could have any meaning, or be of any advantage, to the general run of men.”

 

Tolstoy caught the other side of this “non-meaning” of war in his critique of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. An “event took place”, he wrote in War and Peace, “opposed to human reason and human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, incendiarisms and murders, as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.”

 

It was Lewis’s idea – that war was ultimately devoid of meaning – which my father was, I think, trying to capture when he described the 1914-18 conflict to me in his hospital room as “just one great waste”. He had survived that war and outlived another and the end of the British Empire, which I suspect we have not ceased mourning – could that be really what the poppies are all about? – and even lived long enough to watch the first Gulf War on television. He often quoted what he believed to be the last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, shot in Brussels by the Germans for rescuing Allied soldiers behind enemy lines, words which are inscribed on her monument beside the National Gallery: “Patriotism is not enough.” But in full, her very last words – spoken to a British chaplain before she was executed – were these: “But this I would say, standing in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” Read her words; and cast poppies aside.

 

For they are better, surely, than that terrible, almost orgiastic poem by the Toronto doctor John McCrae who died in 1915, and whose words inspired the armies of poppy-wearers. “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row...” McCrae begins – but then his dead soldiers exhort the living to “Take up our quarrel with the foe…/ If ye break faith with us who die/ We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/ In Flanders Fields.” The poppies were there to remind us of our duty to kill more human beings.

 

And what did I see on television a few hours before writing these words? Why, the mayor of Toronto – McCrea’s own city – admitting to the smoking of crack cocaine. “I sincerely, sincerely, sincerely apologise,” he burbled to us all. And what did I see in his jacket button hole? A bloody poppy! How they must have cried at Passchendaele

 

 

 

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/poppycock--or-why-remembrance-rituals-make-me-see-red-8927751.html

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I was with a group of gents from the Malaya & Borneo Veterans Association the other day. And gents they were. Army/Navy/RAF who told me stories of their mates dying like it was yesterday and for these men it still is and they had tears in their eyes. Remembrance Sunday for these guys is real and proper and I have the utmost respect for that, but I can understand the point of it turning into more of a justification of war, rather than it's original purpose of remembering the sacrifice of millions of young men and saying no more war.

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Does anybody really use remembrance Sunday to justify further war? I'm not aware of it.

Maybe not justify it as such, but the media would certainly focus on conflicts thousands of miles away where "our brave boys" are figting for the safety of Britain while lambasting people who would rather not wear a poppy.

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My problem with it is how commercialised it's become. TV stations seem to be competing with each other for their presenters to look cool or demure in black, the poppy worn like a lodge badge and anyone not wearing it is an outsider. Poppy fascism, some call it. And it seems earlier, like the shops selling Christmas decorations in September. Seeing people wearing them in the second or third week of October.

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I'm ok with it. Think there's a dignity about young and old soldiers together on the street, raising money for a good cause.

 

Can sort of understand why some wouldn't wear one but I think it's just a bit miserable to equate raising money for soldiers' families to supporting war.

 

As for it being more prevalent, I haven't noticed that, I don't think it's a competetion to see who can "remember" the most, I just think that there's so many charities now, their tactics are maybe more aggressive.

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Think the point about it only being poor lads that die is inaccurate, certainly when talking about WW1.

 

I'm reading a book about Mallory, Everest and the Great War and it makes the point about young kids straight out of public school signing up for the glory and getting massacred in the fields. If anybought bought into the propaganda it was young men of that social standing.

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The casualty rates for junior officers during the war were appalling. Now, admittedly, there were far more of the lower ranks per 'offensive' than those who were Lieutenant-Captain and therefore you only have to kill one man to rob a group of its Lieutenant. That said it was an unbelievably dangerous position to hold.

 

Also, and I'm aware that by doing this people are going to think I'm more of a plank than they already do. However this is from last year on the topic of Poppies and the Politics of Remembrance

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why are you dressed as a butcher?

 

I'm trying to accumulate worthwhile skills for when this academic stuff falls through.

 

I was wondering why you thought people would think you a plank, then.

 

I enjoyed reading that cheers.

 

Yep it was lurking at the bottom of the page.

 

But thanks. I don't much like the way that alternative forms of remembrance have essentially been killed off or outlawed in favour of the exclusive current form.

 

There are also further witterings by me on that website should anyone want to wade through them further.

Edited by stressederic
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I'm alright with poppies but these adverts are grim

 

 

she's alright though

 

Also, and I'm aware that by doing this people are going to think I'm more of a plank than they already do. However this is from last year on the topic of Poppies and the Politics of Remembrance

 

 

ah right see now that makes sense of something I was reading earlier about the far right who like to claim that the Blackshirts started Remembrance Sunday off - that Daily Mail bit there puts it in context now - in order to justify their miserable annual march on Sunday

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