Wear your poppy with pride. That is the message we’ve all heard lately, but it has become drowned out in amongst a lot of hysteria and nonsense about the wearing of poppies. It seems that such a simple act of remembering all those who have fallen in defence of our country and values has become a point for division and acrimony. The news presenter Jon Snow caused a furore a while back for refusing to wear a poppy. His point was that pressure to wear a poppy amounts to intimidation (“poppy fascism” in his words) and that this goes against the very thing that our nation fought for, specifically in World War II. This has reared its head again this year, as it will do in the future. I understand his point of view, in that our personal freedoms were under threat from fascism, specifically Nazi fascism. We have hard-fought for and hard-won freedoms, that is not in doubt. But I think the argument is the wrong way round. We are free to wear poppies, and yes there may be some peer pressure to wear them. There is a distinct difference between feeling pressured into doing something and being forced into it. And I ask this, what is the difference between the pressure of your community to wear a poppy and the pressure to remain silent during a minute’s silence? I’m sure that many people respectfully keep quiet during a minute’s silence, but some will do so only for fear of the opprobrium that would be heaped on them should they disturb what should be a mark of respect. Would those who claim they suffer under “poppy fascism” shout during a minute’s silence just to prove they have the freedoms our brave men and women fought for? I doubt it. It’s a mark of respect to wear a poppy, just as keeping a minute’s silence is. Yes, I do think that everyone should wear one. But I wouldn’t for a minute force anyone to.
Denying me the right to wear a poppy however, is a different matter. It is this that has caused such hysteria in our national press, specifically FIFA’s decision to deny the English football team embroidered poppies on their shirts. FIFA are entirely wrong in this instance, and whilst their defence is understandable (if they allow one country, then it paves the way for any country to have anything on their shirt) it is flimsy to say the least. They already have rules governing this sort of thing – no commercial, religious or political message is allowed on shirts – but it is obvious that a poppy does not fall into any of these categories. Thankfully, a compromise was reached, allowing the English team to wear armbands with poppies on them. Whilst some MP’s and journalists are claiming credit for this, it seems entirely obvious that this is the way we should have done it in the first place. And quite frankly, it caused me some disquiet to see the Prime Minister and members of the royal family wading into the affair, seemingly only to placate the narrow-minded little Englanders whom seem to have such a prominent voice these days.
This was brought home to me even more forcefully whilst watching some veterans tell their stories today whilst at the Cenotaph. The astounding stories of courage and loss were told without sensationalism and with dignity. Surely, above all, to honour the fallen we should at least strive to remember them with the same honour and dignity. We must never forget the sacrifice they made, and nor should we sully their memory with vulgar nationalistic hysteria. It is far too important for that.