The UK’s “poppy fascism” seemed weakened this year, until today when it was all over Twitter.
I have no comment on that, really. I don’t buy poppies – red or white. I’d rather sidestep all that political posturing completely. All it makes me think of is my grandparents who fought in the war and were resolutely silent about it. That’s not to say that I think we should all shut up and forget. I’ll never forgot those haunted silences. They’re all I need for my remembrance.
Nevertheless, Remembrance Sunday has become a strange time of year where I spend more time remembering all the weird attitudes to soldiers and remembrance I’ve experienced this country since childhood. Debates in recent years have only illuminated the bizarre fundamentalism that underpins this country’s general indifference towards the armed forces – unless we’re talking about nuclear disarmament and then they’re God’s gift in a world gone mad. It is a kind of fundamentalism that leaves a bad taste in the mouth, like the lingering smell of an off-brand militaristic religiosity copied unconvincingly from Americans. The UK’s passion for its military feels hollow in comparison. It’s a strange ideological graft that hasn’t (and probably never will) take as well as the few who truly believe in it want it to. It seems like this country has started to internalise its guilt over an imperialist past, but not enough to actually make a difference.
Paradoxically, I feel like it is the attitude towards poppies that is to blame for the lack of militaristic enthusiasm. There are plenty of other, better reasons for lacking enthusiasm, of course, but you won’t hear those in the media very often. Poppy cynicism is, on the other hand, subtly but endemically entrenched.
I will always remember how blindly and insincerely so many people would buy poppies when I was at school. There were always three people each year who would wander around campus from class to class, interrupting lessons and selling poppies – a job everyone wanted, not out of a sense of duty but because you got to have a few hours a day out of class. Also, not having a poppy was like not having a Livestrong wristband. I remember I bought 3 poppies one year, just so I could be seen with one, even as they were repeatedly shredded during lunchtime games of football. It was a fashion statement more than anything and it seems like that attitude is only diluted slightly now in adulthood.
Earlier today on Facebook, a friend gave their own personal reason for not buying a poppy.
Remembrance, yes. It’s very necessary. But, before you wear your poppy with pride, think about the fact that BAE Systems, aka Britain’s biggest manufacturer of weapons, gives money to the Royal British Legion, the producer of the Remembrance Day red poppies, and that some of that money is used for remembrance day events. If you don’t struggle with that, fair play. I do.
I didn’t know this – and a quick Google suggests that the Royal British Legion themselves have long been anxious about the connection. However, this reminded me of something, so here’s another memory for this Remembrance Sunday:
I grew up a few miles away from a BAE Systems factory. I’d say they were the largest employers in my local area, and they remain so. The wasteland around the factory is still popular with dogwalkers and the airfield attached to the factory always felt slightly mysterious. No one ever said they manufactured weapons there though. Growing up next to it, it was just a factory like any other, where so-and-so’s Dad worked. No one really cared or thought about what they did. No one cared when they came into school either, and held competitions in woodwork classes. The best makers of whatever tool or box won a day out at the factory, having a tour, making and engraving a metal pencil case and being recruited to work there if you chose to leave school aged 16.
In only selecting a few people, it made the rest of us so envious. We wanted a field trip to the big factory. They had so many kids in the palm of their hand, wanting in on whatever they did. I didn’t realise they were a weapons manufacturer until a few years ago until I heard it on the news. I was so surprised no one talked more about it. I was so surprised they were allowed into the school with no questions asked.
Thinking back on that now, it makes me very uneasy. I don’t remember any other employer that tried to recruit kids directly out of school. The industrial side of the military-industrial complex can be slimy as fuck.