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Remembrance Day: What the Poppy Really Means

Posted on the 11 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Remembrance Day: What the poppy really means

Remembrance Day wreaths. Photocredit AdamKR

Today, Remembrance Day, is when the British nation pauses to consider the role of those who have died in war. Many show their observance by wearing a poppy, usually bought from the Royal British Legion, with proceeds going directly to the charity. But wearing a poppy has become a highly sensitive issue. The footballing organisation Fifa recently backed down, when the Duke of Cambridge intervened ,over not allowing England footballers to wear them. Commentators are today exploring what the true significance of the poppy is – and are honouring those who lay down their lives for others.

We must treat veterans properly. If you visit Westminster today, said Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph, you wouldn’t even know we’re fighting a war. The names of soldiers that have died in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t engraved on monuments there – they’re over in Staffordshire, over a hundred miles away. It’s just not in the political conversation. Remembrance Day isn’t just about the dead – and there’s been a real shift in the national mood, with people coming out in support of the army. Yet we still don’t know how to deal with all the young veterans – unlike America, which has plenty of studies on “post-traumatic stress disorder” and its consequences. There, 20 per cent of veterans have “PTSD” – here, it’s four per cent, suggesting either that Brits are tougher – or, more likely, that we’re doing something wrong. Look at the suicides amongst Falklands veterans. The NHS is unequipped, the Ministry of Defence reluctant.We need a specialised ministry – like America – that deals with veterans. Today is our “national day”, but we must remember to help the living who fight to ensure our freedom.

Poppies are not fashion items. It’s baffling, said Libby Brooks in The Guardian, that people try to deny the existence of the poppy by banning it, as well as “insulting to the armed services.”  Poppies are fast becoming fashionable – you can now buy “crystal-encrusted versions”, as worn by judges on The X Factor – and whilst this obviously helps to generate revenue for the Royal British Legion, one wonders how much of the money made by companies selling them actually makes its way to veterans. As a mother of a dead veteran pointed out, why not just put that £100 “in the tin”? It might be easier to feel for a soldier coming home who’s lost a limb – but we must remember the young, barely trained privates, who return to their “destitute” towns, “full of beer and rage”, but with hardly anything to support them.

We wear them out of choice. When you look at the “serried ranks” of poppy wearers, said a leader in The Independent, it looks like “the hint of a movement” that’s becoming “oppressive”. We should wear our poppies out of personal choice, not out of a worry that one might look out of place.

The significance of 11. Deeper analysis escaped The Sun, which ran a slightly odd article by Martin Phillips – spelled “Phi1111ps” in his byline – explaining the significance of the number 11 – apparently associated, according to Uri Geller, with “danger and momentous events.” The editorial suggested putting a punt on the racehorse Dualla Lord, who is “just over 11st”, with recent results of 1-1-1-1-1.

We must also tend our monuments. The Daily Express struck a more sombre note, though it suggested that those who desecrate monuments shouldn’t be allowed in society.  They’re a “tiny minority”, and “they will never win.”

Don’t let the Great War cloud reality.  It’s impossible, said James Fox in The Times, to talk about the Great War without “bombast or cliché”. There was nothing “glorious” about the “summer of 1914”, apart from the weather. It’s not as if the war thrust us into a “chaotic modern world” – we were already in one. Spanish flu killed many more people than the war did, and its victims weren’t just young men. Yet they’re not called “the lost generation.” The Great War was at the beginning of a century of conflict – and yet we’re still haunted by the trenches. We remember it because it’s been “mythologised” by artists and writers. The debate about wearing poppies is ridiculous – it shouldn’t be a “grubby badge of political correctness.” It’s one of the most “eloquent” symbols of grief that we have – but the symbol shouldn’t become “more powerful” than what it represents. “Let us never allow Remembrance to get in the way of remembering. The stakes are far too high for that.”

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