Patriotism-Giving the Ruling Class a bigger bang for their buck since 1914
The “Remembrance” weekend has just passed, culminating in the wreath laying at the cenotaph on Sunday 8th November 2015. One cannot have missed this, as in the weeks running up to it, all of the major/minor celebrities and politicians had a poppy in their lapel. Also, in what looks like becoming a new tradition, the leader of the Labour party, has been vilified for not bowing deep enough at the cenotaph by no less than 18 media outlets.
For example, Niall Ferguson had this to say about Jeremy Corbyn, http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/comment/columns/NiallFerguson/article1629746.ece ‘Wear your poppy and remember: sometimes we must fight’ “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is to journalists what fish in a barrel are to marksmen. This Remembrance Sunday he will dutifully lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, regulation red poppy in the lapel of (I predict) something more seemly than a Michael Foot “donkey jacket”.
Yet his views on the subject of remembrance have already been held up to ridicule with the discovery of a 2013 speech he made on the subject.” I find it strange, this sneering tone from Mr. Ferguson, given that he wrote in 2014 “Britain should have stayed out of WW1”, http://www.historyextra.com/feature/first-world-war/“britain-should-have-stayed-out-first-world-war”-says-niall-ferguson
What I want to talk about though, is why is it, that despite being told by all and sundry of online/offline military celebrants that the armed services in both WW’s fought for our political freedoms, there is still vilification against those not seen as showing sufficient supplication towards the war dead?
Kevin Rooney, in Spiked online, (a publication that I normally do not have time for, but I do respect the author), said “For the simple act of refusing to wear a poppy on his West Brom jersey, Derry-born footballer James McClean has been widely vilified. McClean refuses to wear the poppy in opposition to British militarism and out of respect for the 13 unarmed civilians who were killed by British paratroopers in his hometown on Bloody Sunday. It seems we now have such an Orwellian culture in Britain that an individual can be scapegoated for the private, moral choice of refusing to wear a poppy” –from the article, “POPPYMANIA”
It was not just Kevin Rooney that noted this strange, unspoken emotional blackmail-taking place. Angela Epstein in the Daily Telegraph, wrote, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/11971586/Why-I-will-never-surrender-to-the-poppy-bullies.html “Ah, but not for Sienna Miller the wimping out option. For the actress appeared on the Graham Norton Show last Friday, sans flower, despite the fact that the host and fellow guests were all wearing one. But even former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth waded in–on what was clearly a slack day on the pundit circuit – to remark of Miller`s conduct: “There should be no excuse for not wearing one so we can honour the war dead.” And so the annual Poppy Police have claimed their first, high profile scalp”
There has been a distinct sense that though people have the right not to wear the poppy, for those who do not, then questions are asked. Especially, if you happen to be left/liberal and question current militarism, the snide underlying question, as happened in WW1, is that if your not pissing poppies, that you must want the Boche/Frogs/Tommie’s/ISIS to win. It seems that the only time w/c views are sought from the state, its for endorsing a reactionary policy or for going to war.
The poppy has become, for the last 30 years or so at least a highly political (with a small “p”) event, which is meant to instil (via a process of dark irony that Machiavelli would have appreciated), a sense of militarism, shore up martial pride. A case in point is that the RAF aircraft in the picture above is covered in poppies.
As the BBC makes clear, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/remembrance/how/poppy.shtml) “Why the Poppy”, ‘Once the conflict was over the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields. The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was realised by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields. The poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by his comrades and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in World War One and later conflicts.” It should be noted that McCrae, became a pacifist based upon his experiences in WW1.
For Cameron, as for Blair, (to give but two examples), photo-ops with WW12/WW2 veterans gives a much needed kudos. It also says; ‘We need a strong military, as this old soldier would tell you, how could you disagree?’ It is also used as a political credit to justify any current conflicts; the UK is not at peace, though the notion of “peace” is being used to fight more wars. The British Legion, is a good example of the usage of moral blackmail, that has become commonplace, after Lloyd Georges promise to “build a land fit for hero’s” was abandoned as quickly as it was uttered.
Rod Tweedy, writing in “Veterans for Peace” on November 5th 2015, shares my distaste for this organisation when he says “With its links to the arms trade, increasingly militarised presentation of Remembrance, and growing commercialisation and corporatisation of the poppy “brand”, it’s time to reconsider whether the Royal British Legion is still suitable to be the “national custodian of Remembrance”. Furthermore that “the Royal British Legion’s status as the self-appointed “national custodian of Remembrance” has been compromised through its collaboration with some of the world’s most controversial arms dealers, its increasingly militarised presentation of Remembrance, and its commercialised and trivialising corporatisation of the poppy “brand””
It is also important to keep in mind that, “One striking manifestation of the synergy between the British Legion and the British arms trade is its relationship with BAE Systems, who in 2003 not only funded sales of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, Libya, and the Middle East, but also the RBL’s annual Remembrance events. As the Telegraph noted, “a decision by British defence manufacturer BAE Systems to sponsor this year’s Poppy Day has been likened to ‘King Herod sponsoring a special day reserved to prevent child cruelty’”. The Legion’s £100,000 sponsor and “platinum corporate member” is not only one of the world’s most profitable arms companies (as the world’s third largest arms producer its revenue in 2013 was $26.82 billion) but also one of its most controversial.
One of its main markets is Saudi Arabia, which the British Intelligence Unit ranked 163rd out of 167 countries in its “democracy index” – just above North Korea and Syria. Despite the “King Herod” associations, the Legion has maintained and even strengthened its relations with arms traders. This year (2015), for example, the British Legion’s annual ‘Poppy Rocks Ball’ is being sponsored by Lockheed Martin UK, the subsidiary of the world’s largest arms supplier, Lockheed Martin; the slightly grander Poppy Ball is sponsored by Sphinx Systems Limited, who manufacture handguns and pistols”. http://veteransforpeace.org.uk/2015/my-name-is-legion/.
As Yevgeny Yevtushenko, in his poem ‘Loss’ wrote, “We buried our icons. We didn’t believe in our own great books. We fight only with alien grievances” and how fitting this line; “So many impostors. Such “imposterity.””.
There is no doubt that for many, I dare say the majority, the poppy and remembrance day means something, that for them it is about honour to the dead. Whatever my personal feelings, I would never decry that genuine sentiment.
But it cannot be left there, as it has become, whether it is willed/wished for or not much more than that. Britain did not fight World war one, for “freedom”. Nor was it fought to save “plucky little Belgium”, lets remember that it was one Empire, coming to the aid of another Empire, against a third. Empires, by their very nature, are not made with mom and apple pie; rather they are forged and maintained with blood, fire and steel.
So, today I have not worn a poppy of either colour, red or white (I am not and have never been a pacifist), I turned off the TV when the cenotaph ceremony came on. Instead, I went onto Facebook and noted that a number of people were using the time to state what today meant to them.
I have asked and received permission from my FB friend Roz Kaveney to publish her poem below, which is a summing up that I like to think the WW1 trench poets would have approved of. I am also going to include another one by Isaac Rosenberg below it. The links below also sums up what I feel about today and what the act of “remembrance” means. I deliberately did not include the clip from “Blackadder Goes Forth”, as the one from the Kubrick film, seemed to me, to be a way in which people were able for a few brief minutes, to see each other as people not “The Enemy”…
Remembrance Sunday-By Roz Kaveney©
For every poet gas flame in their throats
Who scramble scrawled last verses in the mud
Each child whose flower blasted in the bud,
Musician detonation deafened notes
Nurses their wounds unbandaged and no bed
To make for them except a random grave
Civilian dead whom voting working praying did not save
This is the day we’re silent for the dead, whom praying cannot help, and there is gold in vaults somewhere that’s smeared with so much blood. Some planner might have stopped it – yes they could-
Yet profited from calculation cold. Colder than all those dead
Let memory be rage as well as sorrow sympathy
In The Trenches-Poem by Isaac Rosenberg©
I snatched two poppies
From the parapet’s ledge,
Two bright red poppies
That winked on the ledge.
Behind my ear
I stuck one through,
One blood red poppy
I gave to you.
The sandbags narrowed
And screwed out our jest,
And tore the poppy
You had on your breast …
Down – a shell – O! Christ,
I am choked … safe … dust blind, I
See trench floor poppies
Strewn. Smashed you lie.
Paul Celan reading “Todesfugue” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVwLqEHDCQE
End scene from Kubricks, 1957 film “Paths of Glory”- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJH8hO7VlWE
Good-Byee (Oh What a Lovely War)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zr5ksOyxZRU