Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Why I Don't Wear A Poppy...

I don't wear a poppy for November 11th - I haven't for many years. I notice that many young people and almost all non-British people don't. Walk down East Ham High Street for example and you won't see many poppies on display.

Yet anyone in the public eye who doesn't wear one is castigated by the establishment media and their populist lapdogs.

Why don't I wear one ? It's complex but at its heart is my refusal to be part of the institutionalisation of war. In recent years, there has been an attempt, led by elements of the media, to change the relationship between the Armed Forces and the rest of the population. I have no connection to the military though I'm convinced the bulk of the professional forces are far more to the Right politically than I am and are probably a strong bastion of homophobia.

That's not a reason to refuse to wear a poppy and nor is my opposition to Britain's military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and to elements of our conduct in these countries and others. I don't subscribe to the view that the Armed Forces are all "heroes" who can do no wrong. Yes, there are plenty of examples of conspicuous gallantry but if you join the Armed Forces the logical conclusion is that you are going to have to fight, kill and die. I've more respect for the unarmed Police and those who die at the hands of criminals are every bit as heroic.

Again, that's not a reason to abstain from wearing a poppy. It's vital we remember the sacrifices of those who have fallen in wars especially the two global conflicts of the last Century. Whatever some may think of the threat of radical Islamism it's nothing compared to the days of German tanks parked 22 miles from Dover and the very real threat of invasion. We should also remember ALL who have fallen in conflict as much as the British dead.

So, why not wear a poppy ? I'm back to the institutionalising of war and remembrance - we shouldn't just think about it for a couple of weeks each year but it should be an integral part of the nation's psyche. That means expecting high moral and behavioural standards from our Armed Forces and a rigorous and proper analysis of conduct and attitude. They represent us and who we are abroad and must comport themselves appropriately.

More and more, it's less about fighting and more about peacekeeping and disaster relief. Indeed, the future may see less of a need for infantrymen and more of a call on specialist engineers and field medics to go at very short notice to parts of the world afflicted by calamity. It's not about aircraft carriers or nuclear missiles but far more about helicopters and specialist vehicles.

The unquestionning eulogising of the Armed Forces is as wrong as the relentless criticism of public sector workers. If people feel coerced by peer pressure to wear poppies, then that's as wrong as individuals NOT being allowed to wear poppies by organisations. As a liberal, I support the right of the individual to choose in the dace of pressure from the State or any other group.

I stand for that right as I believe our armies have done through the ages - the real basis of the struggle against totalitarianism in all its forms is the struggle of the individual to live in freedom and to be free to make their own decisions. Remembrance via coercion is false and denigrates this - I respect the sacrifice made by our soldiers, sailors and air forces through the decades in preservation of our individual and collective freedom to live our lives as we choose. I exercise my freedom to choose by contributing to the appeal without wearing the "badge" of the poppy.

That's what they died for, that's what I live by. That's how I honour them all.

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