Am I disrespectful for choosing not to wear a red poppy?
In some quarters, not wearing one makes me a ‘traitor’. It means I ‘hate my country’ or that I’m just a ‘liberal luvvie’ and a ‘terrorist-sympathising snowflake’.
Not wearing a poppy can call one’s patriotism and gratitude into question. Wearing one has never has been a requirement. A particular brand of judgement is reserved for those who exercise their right to not wear a poppy, and this makes me increasingly uneasy and concerned as to how far people can take it.
I will not be wearing a poppy leading up to Remembrance Sunday. My decision does not in any way detract from my recognition of the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces both past and present. My freedom of choice was won, defended and upheld by brave servicemen and women who lost their lives – who sacrificed their tomorrows for our todays.
I am not uncomfortable with the concept nor the practice of remembrance – my unease is rooted in the ways in which the poppy is misappropriated and used by some for cheap, and in many cases toxic political virtue-signaling.
The Royal British Legion are the originators of the Poppy Appeal, distributing red poppies across the UK and collecting donations every year. In 2016, they managed to raise £146.9m to continue their brilliant work in providing financial, social and emotional support to current and former members of the Armed Forces.
The popularity of the Poppy Appeal means that in recent years the RBL have had to acknowledge that not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of wearing a poppy, and they defend my right to feel as such. A Royal British Spokesman said:
We take the view that the poppy represents the sacrifices and contributions our Armed Forces community have made in the defence of freedom and so the decision to wear it must be a matter of personal choice.
Market research company Consumer Intelligence found that around a third of Brits under the age of 25 will not be wearing a poppy in the run-up to and on Remembrance Sunday this year. People cited feeling ‘bullied’ into wearing one and supporting the Poppy Appeal as the primary reason for their stance. Many people have noticed a shift from the poppy being a symbol of remembrance, to a symbol of warped nationalism.
This view has only been exacerbated by the alarming rise of ‘poppy vigilantes’ – individuals who are too eager to find offence with anyone who doesn’t wear one. The latest high-profile faux outrage came when England cricketer Moeen Ali was the only player posing for an official England team photo not displaying a poppy on his blazer.
— The PCA (@PCA) October 28, 2017
Inevitably, this caused quite a stir, which contributes to the concerns many have when the language of remembrance discourse is solely used to guilt-trip and publicly shame.
@englandcricket can somebody please explain to me why moeen Ali isn't wearing a poppy in team photo? It's just so wrong!
— Deborah ann duggan (@Deborahsrovers) October 29, 2017
— Oliver (@oliverjamie1919) October 29, 2017
@MoeenAli Will you explain to me, an ex soldier and patriot, why you were not wearing a poppy in the England team official photograph?
— hans ulrich murphy (@MurphyUlrich) November 2, 2017
— Danny Abramik (@abbo_cfc1988) November 2, 2017
Moeen Ali actually later confirmed that his poppy ‘fell off’ prior to the photo being taken, and many noted that he had been spotted wearing a poppy prior to the team photo being taken.
Poppy fell off!
— Moeen Ali (@MoeenAli) October 30, 2017
More images from our arrival in Perth.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) October 30, 2017
Republic of Ireland footballer James McClean is regularly reviled due to his position on wearing a poppy. The vitriol directed towards him arises from his ongoing refusal to wear football shirts bearing the poppy symbol when playing games on or near to Remembrance Sunday. McClean has been consistent in his stance with every Premier League club he played for to date: Sunderland, Wigan Athletic, and his current club, West Bromwich Albion.
In 2014, whilst playing for Wigan, he wrote a letter to then-chairman Dave Whelan. You can read the full letter here.
One particular paragraph stands out:
I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy, I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return. Since last year, I am a father and I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful world, like any parent.
Despite his statement, every year his choice to not wear the poppy invites vitriolic attacks on social media.
James MacLean the only person on the pitch not wearing a poppy. What an absolutely disgraceful human being. #wba
— Stuart (@StuartMunday) November 5, 2017
@WBA sack James McClean and get him out our country. How can you play someone who doesn't wear a poppy on his shirt?
— David (@Summerbee_MCFC) October 28, 2017
James McClean, wear a poppy you scumbag. #JamesMcClean
— James chapman (@Chapowag1) November 5, 2017
As well as having to deal with the misrepresentation of the poppy on social media, the Royal British Legion have also had to deal with far-right hate groups who co-opt the poppy in pursuit of furthering their repulsive ideologies.
Most notably, Britain First routinely dupe people on social media into believing that they support the Royal British Legion and their Poppy Appeal through misleading clickbait. They are routinely condemned by the RBL for selling poppy memorabilia to make money for their own ‘party’ and to boost their own reach and anti-Islamic political message.
Anyone who politicises the poppy for their own gain, or to virtue-signal their own ‘patriotism’, is deplorable. They work under the guise of true British ideals. The regularity and the intensity of recent poppy outrage means that for a lot of people, particularly young people, the red poppy is no longer fit for purpose.
The best way to respect and honour our fallen service men and women is to ensure we do everything in our power to avoid repeating the circumstances that resulted in such tragic loss of life in the first place. We should also recognise that there are victims of war beyond our borders. I choose to remember and pay my respects to all those killed in war, both past and present.
On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, you and I will pause to think about those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. You and I will pause to think about servicemen and women who served and continue to serve. I will also pause to think about victims of war and conflict beyond our own borders. Armed Forces and civilians alike.
The poppy is not a prerequisite to show respect in the build-up to Remembrance Sunday. I will pay my respects in my own way, as my freedom to choice allows. If you demand I wear a poppy and chastise my decision not to, you’re the one that’s being disrespectful, not me.
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