I’m not wearing a poppy this year: I think we need a new symbol to unite under
Remembering war is vital. But we should never glorify it, or its participants
Coming from a working class immigrant London family, I have a lot of soldiers in my ancestral history. Pilots, privates, navy lads and trench fighters. But none of them liked to speak of war. By all accounts, it was a dark time filled with hate, cruelty and deeds they never want to be repeated. There was never glory or pride.
And now, with them all largely dead, I feel I dishonour (or at least misrepresent) their stories by wearing a poppy. It has become something so grandiosely nationalist, patriotic and angry that I don’t think any of them would have liked what it now means.
Far too many people wear it and glare angrily at Muslims or loudly proclaim that their grandfather’s didn’t die for terrorists and economic migrants coming over. I find it all very politicised and uncomfortable, not least because it isn’t what remotely the war was about.
My great grandfather’s and uncles didn’t fight any war over white British nationalism, they fought against German expansionism and later, the Nazis. In fact in my family at least the very sentiment of British pride sends us all snickering.
Since the referendum we’ve all been defining ourselves as European. We are, and always have been, a mongrel bunch of nationalities and faiths who happen to now reside in England. And yes, my ancestors fought in WW1 and WW2. But that isn’t something I celebrate. War, suffering and pain is something that happened, not something I champion as brave and glorious. When you praise the killers of Nazis, including my ancestors, remember Dresden, remember the bombs that fell on little children, remember the bodies burnt to railings and Jewish refugees turned back to Germany in the hundreds of thousands by Britain. War is war, no matter how necessary. Necessary does not mean praiseworthy.
I prefer to grimly remember and use that darkness to remember kindness, tolerance, and the need for peace. I think my forbearers would be ashamed their name was used to persecute the latest wave of immigrants considering their own heritage. It is disingenuous.
War continues. It never stopped. Remember the war dead has become something that the toll grows with at each November. We’ve never learnt and I don’t think we ever will. I’m impressed we got through the cold war without nuking each other. And when we gloss over our history as noble patriots defending mountains green, we kind of suggest a sick nostalgia for mass death. A lust for which many seem to wear every November with a sense of angry pride.
I’d rather remember the millions killed by the Nazis in my minute of silence, and then donate to refugee charities, anti-hate organisations and interfaith NGOs. I’d rather actively participate in humanity and the preservation of human lives than dwell on a glorious war my ancestors declined to celebrate. I don’t think the poppy means what I feel.
I’d like to finish with an old family anecdote.
A little girl in Bethnal Green has seen her 5 year old friend killed by a bomb explosion on her street. The boy’s mother asks the girl to look after his teddy bear for him. She brushes its fur and washes it every week, to make sure the boy is happy. Then one day it is drying by the chimney and a fireball rolls out and the bear catches on fire. The little girl is distraught because she feels she has broken her promise to the little boy. She never recovers.
War is more than soldiers and brave men.