Remembrance Day. Armistice day, ninety three years since the close of the War To End All Wars, followed within one generation by the bloodiest century in human history. Until 2001, the kids who serve today were going to be our first generation without a war.
There is an element of controversy over the poppy, especially in places like The University of Sussex; historically a left-liberal activist institution with a proud history of anti-war action and protest. When I was a third year a motion was brought to ban the Armed Forces from Union events and property and I supported it. To wear a poppy in the Union house was a big deal- a statement- but I still wore mine and I’m wearing one this year. Not because I support our wars, I don’t, but because I need to show my respect and my gratitude.
Fellow students at Sussex were surprised, disappointed even, that I chose to wear the poppy, thinking me ignorant or conformist, but I’m neither of those things. The Poppy Appeal is about two things: Remembrance for those lost and Support for those left behind. Both vital. Where I live now, in a conservative (big and little ‘c’) Home Counties commuter town, it goes without saying. A poppy is not a statement here, but I still make a point of wearing mine, even though it will undoubtedly go unnoticed.
It’s been over half a century since the Second World War ended, but I’m grateful every day of my life for the freedoms afforded me as a British Citizen, many as a direct result of victory. For my access to good food, free healthcare and education, for the right to travel, live and work where I please and love who I want, I give thanks. It’s worth taking time every year to remember those rights were hard-won.
As for the present day- I protested against the invasion of Iraq, I petitioned for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; I don’t think that donating to the British Legion is an endorsement of our current military campaigns. Maybe others see me wearing their symbol and think that’s exactly what it is, but in the real world, as in the microcosm of university, I won’t forgo a small act of remembrance for fear of the assumptions of others. The reason is simple:
A poppy isn’t about politics, it’s about eighteen year old boys with their legs torn off.
It’s about blood, anyone’s blood, needlessly draining into the sand. It’s about men and women who, although at present are occupying forces in sovereign nations, are prepared to risk their limbs and their lives in defence of Britain and her allies. As an organisation, the Military are by no means heroes, but they are, and for a hundred years they have been, individually heroic.