It’s that time of year when we do the important work of remembering victims of war and many wear a red poppy to express their solidarity with those sent to fight. But 11th November is a day that has been stolen from the many to serve the propaganda of an elite who risk nothing for anyone. Can we ever get it back? Those of us who choose to wear no poppy, or a white one, risk yearly being misunderstood or verbally assaulted; so why do we do it?
I want to say from the start that I’m not a pacifist, in the moral sense. No one has the right to tell an opressed people how to resist evil. My contention is a practical one: war does not make for peace or as Harry Patch, the last remaining “Great War” veteran put it, war “isn’t worth one life”.
The jingoist “Help for heroes” approach to remembering, favoured by the British Legion and much of our media, is getting harder to maintain in the face of repeated allegations of war crimes committed by both UK and US troops, news that class is the biggest indicator of chance of death in combat, the effect of armed drones on civilian populations, and the increased risk of psychological trauma or even suicideamong returning veterans.
Add to this list the fact that most of those killed in modern conflicts are not military “heroes” but rather civilians caught up in combat. And is any of this working? Well, “No”, is the short answer. Afghanistan has experienced nearly four decades of foreign occupation and remains deeply troubled. The Middle East has seen more than its share of conflict and yet remains unstable. War isn’t working for peace.
And if war isn’t working for peace then who is war working for? Part of the answer can be gleaned by looking at the main funder of the British Legion a charity for war veterans that has monopolised the symbolic meaning of the red poppy in this country and turned it away from remembrance and towards support for war.
The British Legion is funded by BAE Systems, one of the worlds leading Arms Manufacturers. Their slogan for this year, “Shoulder to Shoulder with all who serve” rings hollow when they are hand in glove with those who profit from war.
What this means, in practical terms, is that those who frame our Remembrance Day require wars to go on and on. Companies like BAE systems are, in turn, funded by Big Banks and Insurance Companies.
In other words, this whole “filthy rotten system” to quote humanitarian Catholic Dorothy Day, is predicated toward justifying and perpetuating war. War is more important to the system than either domestic security or world peace.
In fact, the safer we are the less money is made by the British Legion’s backers.
This is why I cannot wear a red poppy this year. Many people choose to do so in good faith. I believe that, knowing what I know, to do so is to add insult to the many injuries we inflict both on our nation and on those our government sends to war.
Until the British Legion gives us back our poppy I’ll be wearing a white poppy: the peace poppy, and on the 11th of November I will remember them. And every day after I will not let others forget.
Keith Hebden is a Pioneer Minister and Supporter of Veterans For Peace UK.