Wear a poppy to commemorate what? Along with other facts of imperial history that are known by some, but never mentioned without risking censure from popular opinion, is that the cult of poppy wearing began with a militaristic poem from World War One.
Here is the poem by a Canadian soldier, John McRae, in 1915, once the carnage of war had begun to be evident, but before it had become an embarrassment to the major powers:
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."
Wearing a poppy does not represent sympathy with the victims of war, and opposing the political forces that brought it about. As the poem makes clear, the idea is to 'take up our quarrel with the foe' (while we lay buried in the mud, underneath the poppies) and not to 'break faith with us who die'. It is an affirmation of national militarism.
British politics is unashamedly militarist. It celebrates the processions of dead soldiers from Britain's imperial adventures in Royal Wootton Basset, and casts into tabloid hell those who do not do the right thing on Remembrance Day. This outlook is also seen in the widely-observed convention that not wearing a poppy when appearing on TV, especially as a news reader or commentator, shows a disgraceful lack of empathy with national ideals, above all a lack of patriotism (which is even worse).
After reading this, if you still wear a poppy then consider yourself eliminated from my October Revolution greetings card list.
Tony Norfield, 6 November 2015