The poppy now feels like a symbol of military glorification

Calum Atkinson

Tranmere’s Prenton Park was the venue for an event that almost broke the internet. Before the FA Cup first round game could kick off, a giant poppy mascot waddled out of the tunnel to stand in the centre circle. The mascot stood solemnly and respectfully as a minute of silence was held for fallen soldiers.

The remembrance poppy is a symbol that was first worn shortly after World War one and has been hotly debated in recent years. Most of this discussion though has centred around why one should or should not wear a poppy. There are fair arguments to be made on each side of that question. 

Poppies are sold by the Royal British legion, a charity that provides support to those who have served or are serving in the British Armed forces. 

Almost everybody that appears on British TV during the month of November wears a poppy, as is their right. One notable exception is Jon Snow from Channel 4 news as he does not believe he should be wearing symbols of any organisations while presenting the news.

In the world of sport, the poppy is ubiquitous. Almost every footballer in England wears the poppy on their shirt with James McClean being the most high profile exception. McClean does not wear the symbol because as he believes it would disrespect those killed in his hometown on Bloody Sunday.

A phenomenon known as “poppy fascism” has become prominent in recent years where those who don’t wear a poppy are highlighted and set upon, often receiving death threats.

It’s simple or at least it should be simple. A person is free to make up their own mind on if they want to wear a poppy.

The big question that we should be asking at the moment though is why have all the ceremonies, events and traditions of remembrance like the poppy gotten so much grander in recent years. It feels as if there’s been a clear shift from remembrance and reflection to a type of triumphalism and glorification of the military.

There is little real remembrance of the fallen or reflection on the horrors of war to be found these days.  

Who and what is behind this?

One explanation is that it’s just a product of the society that we live in. Most people look at the issue in very black and white terms and see those who don’t wear the poppy as disrespecting the troops. There’s no nuance to the issue in their mind and thus the ceremonies and events reflect that lack of nuance.

Another explanation is offered by some British army veterans who argue that the symbol is being used excessively to marshal support behind British military campaigns. Many are acting as willing participants in this process of rehabilitating the reputation of the British military and its past. The poppy, a symbol of selective remembrance.

Some of the remembrance displays this year have been beyond parody. Ironically disrespectful to the very people they claim to so earnestly respect.

It’s difficult to know how the commemorations will be even bigger next year but no doubt they’ll manage.

Calum Atkinson

Image Credit: Pixabay