Thursday, 10 November 2016

Can we remember the real meaning of the poppy?

Field of poppies.Source: Wallpapers
Remembrance Day is upon us. The time where we can quietly contemplate, remember and acknowledge the people who have lost their lives or have been impacted by war. The poppy has become symbolic of this sacrifice as it was the only sign of nature that emerged on the barren fields where soldiers fought. However, it is becoming apparent that the message of Remembrance Day has become increasingly conflicted with a nationalist rhetoric that is taking away from the meaning of the symbol.

The fact the poppy is plastered on right-wing, xenophobic and Islamophobic newspapers is wholly ironic. The poppy is a symbol of the war-dead, and it is not just white males who have lost their lives in war. The soldiers from the Commonwealth, including Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, fought in WW2 to support the British - a fact that is easily dismissed. If we are to truly understand the meaning of the poppy, we should all be aware of the diverse variety of people who have lost their lives in war. It is estimated that more than 2,000,000 Indian soldiers of various faiths were involved in WW2, helping the British, and their contribution is often ignored. More than 400,000 Muslim soldiers are said to have helped Britain in WW1 but are they acknowledged on Remembrance Day?
Muslim Soldiers in WW1. Source:
The expectation for all newsreaders, presenters and other individuals on television to be wearing a poppy is also a fairly new phenomenon. We almost expect everyone on the TV to be wearing the symbol and if not, it ignites a heap of finger-wagging and derogatory language. Is this the type of reaction and attitude that should be associated with the poppy?
The controversial decision for Fifa to ban football players from wearing the poppy has also sparked controversy. There has been an abundance of nationalist rhetoric against Fifa as this supranational organisation is supposedly preventing the will of the British people. Sound familiar? (cough, Brexit).
But their decision may not be entirely incorrect. There are arguments for and against the poppy being a political symbol but there is an even greater reason to why I agree with Fifa. Would a footballer who is ready to participate in a football match, wearing the poppy, spend any time focusing on the war-dead? I think not. Remembrance Day is about private and intimate contemplation and the poppy should not be used in a media show. Of course some people's intentions are genuine and they want the English team to acknowledge Remembrance Day, but there is a better time to do so than before or during a football match. In addition, those who are proclaiming that footballers have been doing this for decades are simply wrong and with such suggestions, it is easy to see how the poppy is being used unjustly.
The Sun Newspaper's Front Page. Source: Sky News
The decision for significant individuals, such as ITV presenter Charlene White and WW2 veteran Harry Leslie Smith, to not wear the poppy is something that should be respected. There is an assumption that those who choose not to wear the poppy are supposedly anti-British, despite their understandable reasons. I can sympathize with people who take such a decision as, like Harry Leslie Smith suggests, the poppy is often used as justification for the wars we are involved in. Harry questions how we can wear a poppy when our government ensued with wars in Iraq or with bombing Syria?
Harry Leslie Smith. Source:
The 11th of November and Remembrance Sunday is a time of contemplation. I will wear the symbol to honour those who have suffered but I still have a strong belief that war should always be avoided.
Below is a poem written by Wilfred Owen, a WW1 soldier and poet. The poem displays the horrors of war, the myth of a glorified war as well as the importance of preventing war.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. 

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling 
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 

In all my dreams before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est 
Pro patria mori.


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