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The Poppy: A Pro-War Prerogative?

Do you think the poppy has lost it's meaning? (Source: Unsplash)

In today’s society there are so many symbols that represent different ideologies to different people. The poppy has been a long standing symbol of remembering veterans and they’re sacrifices. However, it has also been suggested that the poppy no longer represents what it once did. Hannah Newberry and Molly Ambler have debated whether or not the poppy has lost it’s original meaning.

For – the Poppy’s significance has been damaged by our current context

By Hannah Newberry

What the poppy means for each person will always depend on our upbringing, views on war and the personal losses we’ve endured. Described by Otto English very succinctly as, ‘nauseating pub bore nationalism’, my view is that the significance of the poppy has been butchered by the intensity of the context around us in recent years. Therefore, I argue that it substantiates a pro-war prerogative. The more we learn about the reality of the way British soldiers behave abroad – the rapes of Iraqi women, the use of children as shields, the murdering of innocent civilians contested with regards to Human Rights in Strasbourg, the more the poppy becomes a symbol of a hunger for war rather than remembering something honourable.

I don’t disagree with people that wear the poppy – to mourn loved ones, to respect the rights we enjoy and to appreciate what we have had to fight against to retain our British culture (for example, the Nazi regime). However, the poppy has become such a prevalent image around this time of year that its presence almost seeks to cleanse the reality of what we’re remembering. I disagree entirely with how harshly we judge those who have their own reasons to reject the poppy – often we conform to either side of the ‘dividing line’ of patriotism, and reap unrelenting judgment for it.

The idea of fighting for our country is glamorised – the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a rise in GDP borrowing share to 1.4% while we’ve found another £1bn for the armed forces and only just started to address issues like the minimum wage. Assigning young graduates to the front line, and the notion of ‘for Queen and country’ is something I thought had diminished decades ago and would be too archaic to revive. The philosophy of the poppy needs reform as we become less naive.

The world around us is still hooked on the notion of war – it’s on the lips of politicians as we budget for school trips to battlefields, the lips of students as we study international relations, and the lips of families as we casually await new war-orientated movies and novella. Is this not a little too much? Us Brits strongly define ourselves as steadfast, proud individuals – and the fact that this is a logical jump from wars that occurred decades ago that we didn’t participate in is confusing and nonsensical.

Poppies serve no active purpose anymore. We are still refusing to learn from our mistakes, and gearing up more taxpayer funds for the armed forces when working families at home suffer more. Harry Leslie Smith, a veteran himself, declared the poppy a ‘justification for conflict’, and refuses to wear it despite his participation in what it represents. I fail to see a more qualified opinion elsewhere. Remembrance Sunday is just that – an opportunity to remember, without making a conceited effort to reform.

Against – the idea that the symbolism of the poppy is being subverted is unacceptable

By Molly Ambler

It is a long established tradition that the poppy is worn at this time of year as a sign of remembrance for those who have fallen fighting for their country. However, in recent years it has been suggested that the poppy has begun to lose its true meaning and has arguably fallen victim to those who interpret the symbol as one of pro-war or pro-military action.

Millions of people across the world choose to wear the poppy to remember those who have fallen in the fight for freedom, however millions also choose not to wear the poppy. The symbolic meaning of the poppy was adopted shortly after the First World War. Almost every single family across the UK was grieving for someone they lost during the war and they used the poppy to remember their lost ones, who had been brave enough to stand forward and give their lives in the service of their country.

The poppy has also been said to symbolise hope, pledging to the world that there would never be another war. The idea that the symbolism of the poppy is being subverted and used to suggest that those who wear it agree with pro-war and pro-military action ideals is unacceptable.

A recent debate was sparked by Cambridge University students who voted down a motion to promote Remembrance Sunday for fears of the glorification of conflict. This motion encouraged the commemoration of British veterans from conflict and looked to establish Remembrance Sunday as a “well marked event across the university”.

This was met with confusion from across the country as James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough stated that this brought “great shame” to the university and demonstrated a “disdain” for the armed forces. He furthered this by stating, “It is something I find very difficult to comprehend- that [students] can’t be grateful and respectful of previous generations and their sacrifices. It is easy to judge from a distance when you have the luxury of a safe and comfortable democracy. We have an enormous debt to armed forces in this country”

The armed forces have sacrificed so much over the years for the protection of their country that they deserve to be remembered and respected for their actions. The poppy should never be taken as a symbol of the pro-war and pro-military action narrative. It offers us a chance to remind ourselves of the truly devastating consequences of war, offering the modern world, which is currently full of divisive politics, time to reflect on what can come of such a divisive world.

The poppy is a symbol of hope: the hope that the world will never experience such devastating losses of life in circumstances so tragic. The poppy never promotes war but acts as a deterrent, reminding the world what the truly devastating consequences of war really are.

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