by Rab Bruce’s Spider

This time of year has brought the usual arguments over the increasingly controversial poppy appeal. Many people are refusing to wear one, while others attempt to shame or even intimidate people into wearing one even if, in some cases, the people being targeted are not UK nationals.

Like most things, it should be a matter of personal choice. Wear a poppy if you want to; don’t wear one if you don’t want to. In either case, we should not attack anyone who disagrees with our own choice.

As for my own choice, I haven’t worn a poppy for several years now. There are a few reasons for this, but it is worth saying at the outset that my father served during WW2. He lost many friends and was severely wounded for his troubles. For that reason, Remembrance Day was always marked in our household because it was about remembering the fallen.

What disturbs me now about the use of the poppy is its increasing politicisation. Failing to wear a poppy is viewed by many as a criticism of the UK military, a slight on those who serve and essentially unpatriotic. Naturally, this hardens views among those who dislike the UK’s militaristic posturing. However, it is important to note that even the people who do not wear a poppy harbour no grudges against the men and women who serve in the armed forces. We are able to draw a clear distinction between those who serve and the political system which controls them. Indeed, many of those who join up do so out of dire economic necessity, only to find themselves transported half way around the world to fight in wars that have little to do with defending the UK’s borders, and then being tossed on a scrap heap once their term of service ends.

This, sadly, is very little different to what happened to the men who returned from the horror of WW1. Instead of a land fit for heroes, they came back to squalor and unemployment. One of the reasons the poppy appeal began was that the UK Government failed to support the survivors or the families of those who lost their lives. Since then, the UK has continued to promote charity as the best way to look after ex-service personnel, and the plight of many of those men and women is little short of scandalous. It is estimated that around 13,000 former soldiers are currently homeless, with many of them suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Instead of being given the support and care they need, they have been abandoned by the Government which sent them into danger.

When you add to this the disturbing situation that many of the events organised by, or with the blessing of, the Royal British Legion are sponsored by major arms manufacturers, the entire proposition behind the poppy appeal looks even more sordid. The organisation pledged to care for ex-service personnel willingly accepts sponsorship from companies who have a vested interest in creating wars where more young men and women are exposed to situations which may result in them being maimed or killed, thus perpetuating the need for a charity to ostensibly provide support for them. It is a vicious and unsavoury circle and, as so often, it is the ordinary men and women who joined up who suffer the most, while the rest of us are asked to salve our consciences by putting some money in a tin and wearing a plastic poppy.

I do not like this cynical exploitation of ordinary people, I do not like the jingoism which now surrounds the poppy as an emblem. Most of the war veterans I knew, including my father, wore the poppy as a mark of remembrance of their comrades. They were against war, yet the UK has been at war almost continuously throughout its 311 years of existence and shows little sign of losing its enthusiasm for military conflict.

As someone who has read extensively of the horrors of WW1, and whose father was wounded in WW2, I do not feel the need to wear a poppy to remember their sacrifice. There is not a single day of my life that passes when I do not remember them. I do not remember the glory or the victories, but the slaughter, the senseless loss of lives, the dreadful conditions they suffered and the virtual contempt with which many of them were treated by the Government when the wars ended.

And to answer the accusations that failing to donate to the poppy appeal means that it is those who need help who will suffer, I can answer that by saying that I have donated to a homeless charity so that perhaps some of the abandoned ex-service personnel can be helped. I think that is a better use of my money than the poppy appeal.

So, wear a poppy if you like. Or not, as you choose. But the important thing is that you should have a free choice.