Unabashed Heterophobe (paulnolan) wrote in ontd_political,
Unabashed Heterophobe

No one should be given a white feather for not wearing a poppy

Jon Snow is taking a mild stand against a mild form of authoritarianism, against intolerance and the pressures of social conformity. Good for him

Since I frequently complain about hyperbolic and inappropriate comparisons, usually involving some fiend such as Hitler, Stalin or Simon Cowell, I can hardly rush to the defence of the broadcaster Jon Snow when he denounces "poppy fascism".

All the same, I can see what he's getting at in a way that I can't when I hear some fool denouncing Margaret Thatcher as a Nazi or Barack Obama as a communist – and/or Nazi.

In saying he only wears the Remembrance Day poppy when and where he deems it suitable, Snow is taking a mild stand against a mild form of authoritarianism, against intolerance and the pressures of mindless social conformity. Good for him.

I'm sure Field Marshall Haig, the less-than-wonderful commander of the British Expeditionary Force in Flanders (1915-18), would have been astonished that, almost 100 years after the appeal he championed (it's why some people never wear poppies), Poppy Day is still going strong in its efforts to help ex-servicemen and women in need.

That's where the trouble starts, I think. From 1914 to the 80s Britain was full of people who had experienced war as volunteers or conscripts in the armed forces, as civilians too during air raids. As they died off, most of them, a new generation of professional soldiers sustained steady casualties – from Belfast and the Falklands to Basra and Helmand, but, apart from occasional terrorist bombs, never in mainland British streets.

As a direct result, gung-ho civilians, usually led by armchair soldiers safe in our great newspaper offices, have fallen into the habit of demanding ostentatious loyalty in all sorts of ways, an old default position for simple patriots and scoundrels alike.

The Sun likes to present itself as the paper that supports our boys and it probably does so from a mixture of honest endeavour and commercial calculation. But it is one of nature's bullies; it can't help itself.

As a result poppy-wearing has become a bit like Easter eggs, Hallowe'en or Christmas lights in October: another commercial opportunity from which meaning has largely been drained. The pressure to wear poppies – earlier every season – grows. I swear I saw some on sale around 20 October this year.

At the same time what I would more readily called "poppy baiting" – gentler than poppy fascism – has become a national pastime for sections of the press. I read the Daily Mail because it's so much smarter than its tabloid rivals, but I assume the others are usually worse.

The Mail wheeled out Lord Hattersley yesterday to pompously denounce Snow in terms worthy of Sir Herbert Gussett, Private Eye's legendary letter-writer. He had given arrogant and insensitive offence to the relatives of the dead, who included Roy's uncle, Herbert Hattersley of the 1/7 Sherwood Foresters, readers were informed.

But long before that the paper's vigilantes had been patrolling public life looking for poppy non-compliance on TV and elsewhere; a dig here, a diary par there. The same sort of papers egged on women to hand out white feathers to men not in uniform in the first world war – though many had good reason not to be.

It's a no-win game, of course; that's part of the fun. If Labour MPs turn up wearing poppies they are dismissed as CND hypocrites. If Tories exercise the freedom for which our ancestors fought and died by not wearing one, they get stuffed too.

Roy Hattersley, who is smart enough to know better and does not need the Mail's cheque, seeks to remind Channel 4's man what the poppy stands for – though he must know that Snow, a tireless champion of good causes, already knows. The Snows, I seem to recall, are a military family and I don't just mean cousin Peter's sandpit.

Hattersley deplores the "fascist" jibe as excessive. So do I, though I distinctly recall a well-fed Labour politician helping to found a moderate group within the party in the 80s and daring to name it Solidarity after the then-struggling Polish shipyard movement. Pretty cheeky in its own way too, I thought at the time.

All Snow is doing surely is deciding to wear a poppy in his own good time and not be bullied into conformity by assistant producers. Like him I have occasionally been "required" to don one when turning up poppy-less at a TV studio at this time of year. Like him I decline the invitation, though I am a keen poppy-ista in my private life.

I was struck midweek by the large French delegation which turned up with Nicolas Sarkozy to sign the Franco-British defence agreement, an attempt at better co-operation than we managed in 1914-18 (not bad) or 1939-40 (hopeless).

While most of the Brits duly wore their poppies, the French sported not a single cornflower – I believe it is their equivalent, or used to be – that I could spot.

Yet their losses in both world wars were even worse than ours, their country invaded and ravished, two million soldiers dead by 1918, a repeat performance in 1940 that saw them occupied and humiliated – their dead exceeding our own thanks to forced labour in German camps and Allied bombing.

It is true that they have been less active militarily in the decades since their colonial disaster in Algeria – piled on those earlier traumas. They are distinctly less keen to fight than we are. Right or wrong, who can blame them?

You don't need to wear a remembrance poppy – or cornflower – to remember sacrifices, past and present, or ponder these events. And no one should be given the modern equivalent of the distasteful white feather for not doing so.

Source: The Grauniad
Tags: opinion piece, uk, war

  • Post a new comment


    Comments allowed for members only

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded