Why we should all fight the politicisation of the poppy


There was discussion of the Remembrance poppy on the BBC’s Question Time yesterday, including from one audience member who didn’t realise it is worn to commemorate all our war dead, right up to the present day.

The debate was about FIFA banning footballers from wearing poppies on November 11 (the organisation does not allow players to wear political, religious or commercial messages on their shirts). The comments quoted below are by 90+ year old pro-NHS campaigner and political commentator Harry Leslie Smith, who won’t be wearing a poppy either because he suspects politicians of subverting their message.

It seems there are a lot of misconceptions going around, and very few people willing to put them to rest.

This Writer won’t stop wearing a poppy in the near future. But I don’t want to see it used as a justification for further warfare either – that is the exact opposite of its purpose.

And I think that is the answer.

Perhaps it is time to start questioning politicians when they start sabre-rattling. Let’s call them out on their action. Do they wear poppies in the run-up to November 11? Then why agitate for further military action?

Don’t they know they’re disrespecting our honoured dead?

Perhaps that might engender a swift shift of rhetoric.

I can no longer wear a poppy because its meaning of respect for the fallen and the motto “never again” on the First World War memorial has been profaned by our wars to maintain our empire after the fall of Hitler, and our modern conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

I feel now that wearing the poppy gives a blank cheque to our politicians to justify their folly in wars of questionable merit, as well as the needless deaths their sanguine votes for boots on the ground costs both our soldiers and innocent civilians in foreign countries.

Wearing the poppy today lets our politicians off the hook for their symbiotic relationship to the arms industry and their criminal disregard for the refugee crisis.

We have lost our right to collectively mourn our war dead if we are unwilling to at least investigate the notion that our military industrial complex might not have our country’s best interests at heart when they sell bombs to tyrants.

It is why the insistence of certain media outlets to name and shame those who don’t wear the poppy is not only reprehensible, but jingoistic, and will ultimately help lead us into conflicts that will threaten the lives of thousands of our young like the First Great War did.

Source: Remembrance Day: Why I stopped wearing a poppy

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11 thoughts on “Why we should all fight the politicisation of the poppy

  1. Christine Cullen

    I give to the poppy appeal but I never wear a poppy.
    I just really enjoy annoying the poppy police who seem to think not wearing a poppy is some kind of unpatriotic crime! They probably read the Daily Mail.

  2. tom

    The first sentence says it all for me.
    I am in agreement with FIFA, no politic in sport.
    Remembrance is too important and is an individual respect.
    The red poppy is for the second world war, Mike if you want to remember the fallen soldiers of other wars why not wear a white poppy which is a sign for peace.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Where does it say that? Imperial War Museum says the poppy is for WWI and subsequent wars.

    2. Joan Edington

      As Mike says, the poppy is certainly not for WWII. The date of remembrance day says it all.

      Like you, I have taken to wearing the white poppy of The Peace Pledge Union. However, it does cause me problems at times. I am often told that it is disrespectful not to wear a red one. Some folk seem to see the wearing of the poppy as a glorification of dying in battle rather than a reminder of why such wars should not be allowed to happen again, as was the original reason for the poppy.

  3. NMac

    I have thought for a long time now that the poppy is being used by some as a glorification of militarism. I haven’t worn one for at least 10 years now. I will remember in my own way the Uncle I never knew who was killed in the Second World War, and a Great Uncle who, at 19 years old, was blown to smithereens in 1915, and all the others from many nations who also lost their lives.

  4. david

    In the spring of 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields to write a now famous poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’. After the First World War, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance. [The Haig Fund/RBL were formed in 1921 – so definitely originally set up to remember WW1 victims. Even Remembrance Day 11/11 is set up for the date of the end of WW1,with remembrance Sunday being the closest Sunday to this date]

    Wearing a poppy is a personal choice and reflects individual and personal memories. It is not compulsory but is greatly appreciated by those it helps – our beneficiaries: those currently serving in our Armed Forces, veterans, and their families and dependants.


    Unfortunately, although it is not designed as a political emblem the use of it by some as such has led to it being tainted. As has it’s use as a celebration of war by others

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I’ve read the RBL website too.

      I would point out that, in 1921, none of the major conflicts since World War I had taken place, so suggesting that the poppy is worn only to commemorate that war – using that argument – is redundant.

      I am concerned also that your argument could be used as justification for current and future wars. Think about it: “The poppy is only about World War I. Wearing it does not have any bearing on any of our wars since.” Is that really what you want to say? That our current service personnel don’t deserve the same respect? That we should not remember that those who died in WWI were fighting in what they thought was the war to end all wars – and that we should not be trying to ensure that this aim becomes a reality?

      Is that really what you want to say?

      1. david

        good point Mike that’s why I said ‘originally’ , at the time they could not envisage any further such wars, as no further conflicts had been entered into it could not have included the further casualties of future wars AT THAT TIME. Yet you accuse me of denigrating the memories of those that have suffered since. As further conflicts have occurred the RBL has expanded it original aim to support the combatants of those too. As to saying my original ‘argument’ was redundant – a prior commentator had said that the red poppy was for WWII, so surely it is relevant to point out that it was started pre WWII? You may also note that my final words saying that it’s use politically and in celebration was wrong. Obviously if you want to accuse me of lacking respect for UK fighters of any war feel free. I know my own mind and will remember that others have sacrificed a lot in service to the country and deserve respect

  5. mohandeer

    The red poppy for me is a reminder of all those who died in often unnecessary wars and the fact that so many deaths in the past are marked, as they were in the two World Wars, by the number who died in fields that manifested their own commemoration of the dead with the vast number of poppies growing where soldiers fell. Whenever I grow red poppies or see them in fields I am reminded of the soldiers who died in battles past and probably more to come, given the right wing predilection for war.
    It’s not about me, or the government’s propensity for killing, it’s about those who have died, so often for those of us at home. Pure fantasy on my part, but I want to see the red poppy worn, the dead remembered and a reminder to those who advocate for such death to be reminded of what it means to send men and now women to their deaths for a selfish, greedy and more often than not, false agenda.
    I will buy and wear my poppy as if I were lighting a candle to all those lives lost fighting for freedom of tyranny and a better world and remember them. “Lest we forget” is not a slogan to measure how many our politicians can get killed!
    Every year, we have to watch people like Blair and Cameron perform the ritual at the cenotaph with sombre faces knowing full well they couldn’t give a toss and will add to those already lost – their hypocrisy and shallow character makes me sick.

    1. tom

      “Every year, we have to watch people like Blair and Cameron perform the ritual at the cenotaph with sombre faces knowing full well they couldn’t give a toss and will add to those already lost – their hypocrisy and shallow character makes me sick”

      I appreciate your comment and we can only blame the majority of people who voted for these hypocrites in gouvernment, for me the red poppy represent the first world war as it was supposed to be the grand and last war.

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