We gotta fight, fight, fight, fight, fight the Taliban
Today is Remembrance Sunday, a day when we stop for a moment of silence, or watch veterans’ parades, or wear red poppies on our tops “to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts”.
It was originally named the Earl Haig Appeal after the man who caused tens of thousands of needless deaths in World War I. There is nothing to celebrate about the first World War. It was a completely unjustified war for colonies, wealth and markets.
Today, Remembrance Sunday is basically a state-enforced institution, where criticism and dissent of the principle of celebrating this is not on any level tolerated, and this year it has reached fever pitch. Virtually every UK citizen is subjected to a form of hysterical bullying to participate. No one is allowed to be featured on the BBC unless they are wearing a red poppy, all political leaders wear them – even if it deeply offends the people that they are visiting – and children are forced to buy and sell them in schools.
This year, it has arrived in a fanfare of glitz and glamour, with the commercialisation of Poppy Day more noticeable than ever before. The Saturdays opened the ‘celebrations’ in London this year, inexplicably. On The X Factor, that barometer of our society’s values, the judges wore £84.99 diamond encrusted poppies, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘conflict diamonds’. (This is of course unfair, we all know that Cheryl Cole has a deep sympathy and understanding for the sacrifices made at Ypres and the Somme, and is an avid fan of the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen). Obviously you’ve got to spend more to remember more.
At the heart of the “celebrations” this year has been the commodification of wholesale slaughter and the monetization of mass murder. The poppy has become a fashion statement, one that’s supposed to display your commitment to Britain, to ‘our heroes’ and to the continued fetishisation of the ‘glory’ of war. Wearing a poppy for many people is genuinely about remembering those who were forcefully drafted against their will into a horrific world war, but you can now buy t-shirts that proclaim ‘I *poppy* our heroes”. In today’s world, the ‘heroes’ fixation is a direct endorsement of the imperialist and unjust wars Britain is still undertaking in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Earl Haig: how can he be a hero? He doesn't even have any superpowers. Get back to us when you've been bitten by a radioactive spider.
Another reason people buy poppies and the various new related merchandise is because the poppy fund is a charity which provides for veteran soldiers. It’s an indictment of our fucked up priorities that we expend so much energy talking about how much we value the heroism of fighting for Britain in wars, yet it’s left to a charity to provide for those who have survived them. One in eleven prisoners in the UK formerly served in the armed forces. Up to a quarter of homeless people are former servicemen and women. There are countless veterans suffering from mental health issues who aren’t receiving proper support (although at least we no longer execute returned soldiers for suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder like we used to). The politicians that brandish their poppies are directly responsible for this – they don’t actually care about veterans – they prefer the idea of veterans to the reality of what life is like for those who have seen the horrors of war. The poppies they wear allow them to justify their inaction. It shouldn’t be left to charity donations to pay to look after veterans.
Here at SSY, we don’t agree with glorifying war and British imperialism. The actions of British troops today in Afghanistan and Iraq are far from heroic. For decades, the memory of the evils of fascism has been used to justify other imperialist conflicts which are in no way comparable, e.g. Kenya (even today, British forces based in Kenya for training continue to rape local women with impunity, which has been going on for three decades; these women are slandered by the British, and rejected by their own communities as well), Malaya, Yemen and Ireland. Remembrance Day, alongside the far more blatant Armed Forces Day, has been hijacked to promote and endorse the militarisation of British life and to encourage young people to sign up, for the “glory” of being remembered as a “hero” after you’ve been blown to bits fighting for the geopolitical and ideological aims of the elite who will never represent you.
We’re not the only ones who don’t appreciate every part of the message of the ideology of Remembrance Day. Legitimate dissent is not tolerated when it comes to Poppy Day – just look at the recent “ban sick bastards” style headlines when the Green Brigade, a left-wing Celtic fan group had a half time banner display in protest at the club’s decision to impose a poppy on the Celtic shirt, going against the wishes of the majority of fans. In Glasgow, it’s fair to say that there’s a lot of people who don’t appreciate being forced to participate in a celebration of British troops who caused misery in the north of Ireland for so many years. Like SSY, the Green Brigade has no problem with the individual choice to wear a red poppy, but rather to the bullying nature of the political campaign which expects everyone to wear poppies and to support the cause without reservation.
On a state visit to China last week, David Cameron and pals caused offence by wearing the poppy, without thinking of the fact that in the 19th Century British forces went to war with China to force them to accept imports of our opium (which is of course derived from poppies). This is a clear example of why a little bit more historical memory about the role of British forces and the British Empire in the world is necessary. The peoples who were wronged by Britain haven’t forgotten, even if we have.
This is what our generation does to remember the war dead. Not in our name, we don't want it to happen again
An official alternative to the poppy cult is the White Poppy Campaign, advocated by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The idea is to remember the deaths of all who have died in wars, not just soldiers, and to advocate peace, not militarisation. This campaign has not been without controversy. In 1986, Maggie Thatcher (gonny just die already?) expressed her “deep distaste” for the white poppy symbol, and their spread in Canada has proved contentious to the point of being banned from being sold at markets and has drawn public criticism from the Royal Canadian Legion. You’re unlikely to see a white poppy on tv, where red poppies are ubiquitous throughout November.
The above views might seem controversial to some, but this year, veterans (and even the Queen’s composer) have spoken out against the use of the red poppy as a “political tool”. Former SAS soldier Ben Griffin rightly stated that
“Calling our soldiers heroes is an attempt to stifle criticism of the wars we are fighting in.
It leads us to that most subtle piece of propaganda: You might not support the war but you must support our heroes, ergo you support the war.”
Remembrance Day should be about honouring those who died needlessly in needless wars. The best way to honour the dead, and the point of remembering, is to ensure it never happens again. Anti-militarism and dissent against war is the way to honour those people, not diamond encrusted poppies, military parades and the stifling of dissent. As a youth organisation, we are proud of our record of opposing military recruitment and the lies spread to young working class folk to persuade them to become cannon fodder for the imperialist war machine that is the British Army.
Last word goes to the late Harry Patch, the last surviving person to have served in World War I
“Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.”