Monday, 2 November 2009

Poppies - or not ?

As I am most Novembers, I feel conflicted about wearing a poppy.

It's not that I don't care about remembrance. It's a subject that's featured on this blog several times previously. In fact history and family history have intertwined to make it one of the things that have shaped my political ideas.

This year I have settled on the contrary solution of putting money in the collecting tin but not actually taking the poppy to wear.

I'm familiar with the argument that supporting any charity in some sense perpetuates the very problems that the charity is trying to solve - by letting the state, the system and society as a whole off the hook. But equally looking the other way and spending the same money on a double de-caff soya latte instead isn't the answer either.

Just as I will reluctantly throw some money in the buckets collecting for kidney machines, so I am prepared to give to the Poppy appeal. Even though if ever there was a cause that should be supported by the state rather than charity it is the care of those who risk life and limb in its defence. The woeful treatment by the government of injured servicemen and their bereaved families is enough to overcome any quibbles I may have.

But at the same time I don't want to wear my support on my sleeve: Like it or not, the British Legion's appeal inevitably seeks to justify the conflicts that have produced the victims it exists to support. This is seen in the constant emphasis on 'sacrifices made on our behalf' and 'our glorious dead'.

Sorry but I can't feel that any war this country has waged since 1945 has been on my behalf - however much I may feel sympathy for those who suffered. Whether  it was in Korea, Aden, Malaya, The Falklands, The Gulf or Afghanistan - servicemen died and suffered for various political purposes at the time - but not for me. And I see precious little glory worth celebrating in any of those campaigns.

I also resent the fact that in this St George's flag waiving era when populist nationalism  has been rehabilitated, the wearing of a poppy has become an acid test of citizenship. To the point that anyone appearing in public without one - especially on television - is virtually declaring their pariah status.

And I can’t bring myself to wear the white poppy of the Peace Pledge Union either: I am not a pacifist - my anti-militarism is political not moral. I might respect  the stand of indivdual conscientious objectors but I can't sympathise with their ideology. Pacifism smacks too much of moral absolutism  and sanctimony  - and is implicitly judgemental of those who have no choice but to fight. 

So until there is some socialist symbol of remembrance, I am stuck with my contradictory but pragmatic solution.

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