I read with interest Eric Wilson’s personal story of his emotional marginalisation of the Poppy (November Scottish Review). I would certainly not want for my purchase of a Poppy to in any way become or be interpreted as a political statement or implicit justification of any specific war. For me the Poppy means much more than that. Indeed the Poppy means education. For it is perhaps the one time when amidst our hectic societies busy schedule that we actually stop, take stock and reflect on the impact of ongoing, never ending and otherwise ignored violence. Whilst conflict flicks across our televisions every hour it is ironic that society has become sanitised by it and often sees conflict as taking place in “a far off place of which we know little.”
November 11th is one moment to reflect, pay tribute to those whose sacrifice did in fact bring about peace and stability when all other options were exhausted. I am sure inmates of Auschwitz and Berchanau would wish to pay their own tribute to those who were maimed, injured and killed in an effort to liberate the concentration camps. Likewise Kurdish families who lost families to Saddam’s rule of terror would have similar sentiments or indeed Afghan women whose life can in some instances only be described as living hell.
George Orwell once wrote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
Sadly many of the “rough men” are themselves broken, vulnerable, exposed and used. Those who suffer the most are those who are the least likely to enter into an armed forces career for the imperialistic gain or political motivations that Eric Wilson really aims his attack at. For many of them the ‘spoils of war’ will never be in their grasp. Those who do not come back from Iraq and Afghanistan are so often young men who were unable to enter skilled employment elsewhere or whose positive destinations were doubtful until they found the camaraderie, vocational skills, personal development and the adventure that they each need and the armed services often can offer. Despite the benefits for many, not all enjoy stability from this vocation. Twelve percent of Glasgow ‘s homeless community served in the Armed Services. It is for them that I wear a Poppy and the widows and the children who are left behind when that seemingly ‘positive (and stable) destination’ leads to grief, trauma and loss.
There is a strong place for all peace campaigns to publicise the intertwined message of peace and justice. The latter is not always achievable with the former. I do always find it odd when the “white poppy brigade” take a confrontational and direct approach when challenging red poppy wearers around November. ‘We are in the same camp’ I hear myself saying. Together we do not want to promote war but want to highlight the horrors of conflict. However I do not think you would see many red poppy brigade making the same direct and aggressive approaches that are so endemic and ironic in the other community.
And so I will continue to wear my Poppy. Like Eric Wilson, not for fear of the press complaint commission, but for a fear that if no one looks after these limbless young men, shattered minds and innocent war widows then no one will. Low profile abstainers will not help them any more than high profile imperialists, politicians or ruthless capitalists. Nor will low profile abstainers make any impact on the latter group by passive resistance. Run from the white feather if you may, but be grateful for having two limbs to carry you from that, the only ‘pressure’ on you (peer and societal pressure to make a contribution to a cause supported by most).
I have delayed sending this until now, late December, so as to ensure the debate and profile of this issue is kept active and in our minds beyond that 1 minute of solemnity, day of remembrance, reverence and respect that our nation gives before it gets back on with its individualist pursuits. So let us both wear a Poppy but also campaign beyond November for understanding, cooperation and mutual coexistence. As we enter the festive period let us remember ‘good will to all men’ and never forget those whose suffering continues beyond November. For death, dismemberment and despair continue beyond any one minute or single day and for many cannot be shut off by bypassing a Poppy seller and changing the channel on television.
Ultimately Eric Wilson and I come from the same position:- A loathing of war and a desire that the energies of those who require the assistance of the Poppy fund to be put towards tackling other social issues. Luckily for others though, Afghan women, Kurds and other socially, politically or economically persecuted, there are men still willing to do violence when peace talks break down and the majority sleep. I hope there are men putting brains and brawn into tackling the next evil. Or are we just sleep walking in a utopian ideal that these issues do not occur in our society either in ‘a far off place’ or indeed on our very doorstep?