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November 07, 2018



A couple of brief points (I could have added more).

1 - personal ties to war are more widespread than you describe - lots of people will have had for example an uncle killed in war that they never met, and will have been close to parents now departed for whom the second world war was a major part of their lives

2 - I think the modern-day sillyness (rightly parodied by @giantpoppywatch and that David Squires cartoon) - has undermined the nature of the event and a return to a quiet understated service is now overdue


I would be wary of eliding the patriotism of Remembrance Sunday with nationalism, bearing in mind Orwell's distinction: no-one thinks the Union Jacks displayed on that day are an incitement to attack Germany.


I like the way our rulers are dragged out in the cold to bear witness in stark silence before the eyes of their (remaining) victims and the descendants of those victims to what their predecessors had wrought.

I think its the only (almost) explicitly accusatory ceremony we have. That's why I support it and, I suspect, that's why the bourgeois are ever eager to delegitimise it.


"Another is that war is not some tragedy that befalls us by unavoidable accident. It is the result of policy error. The error might be the direct one of choosing to go to war, as in Iraq. But it’s also due to a failure to deal with the complex causes that led to WWI or to the rise of Hitler."

Of course it is possible that no amount of good statecraft by one's own political leaders will avert a war and the only remaining choice is to participate or not.


I normally wear a white poppy. I have been wearing a red poppy as well for the last four years (I had not worn one before that) but I will not be wearing one again; I may not wear a white poppy again, either. And all for much the reasons you articulate here. And perhaps for the additional notion that, like "democracy", it's been a great way for our leaders to marginalise something (into two minutes once a year) that they should be held to account for every minute of every day.

On a side-note, as a Christian, I will be going to church on Sunday and I will be honest and say that I will be resenting that "we" have long been expected to perform the rite of national mourning every year. No, it should not be a religious thing. If it is going to happen at all, it should be a secular thing. That sort of began to happen when the two-minutes silence became more than a thing that just happened in churches (and, OK, at the various Cenotaphs) but it still feels perverse that places that have long been one of the homes of those who fought against war (especially in the last century) should find themselves in that position.

Christian Moon

But not the Grenfell Tower victims and bereaved, somehow? Your words:

"It would, however, be intrusive and even abusive for me to pretend to share their grief – which of course they bear every day, not just on Sunday. I respect it and sympathize with it. But it is their burden, not mine. To pretend otherwise is a con, a narcissistic flaunting of ersatz emotion."


I’ll be parading on Sunday, along with personal memories of dead servicemen of our recent conflicts.

And I’d say your summary of your feelings is, as usual, somewhat wise, and much as I feel myself. Rememberance day should be a day for remembering, and not revelling, which for many of those you term “poppy fascists” it has become.

Evan Harper

"f there had been better economic management – less harsh reparations, no hyper-inflation in the early 20s, no Great Depression – we might not have had Hitler and WWII."

The impression I have from the literature of the last several decades is that the "harsh [Versailles] reparations," "Carthaginian Peace" thesis is in tatters; the reparations were quite mild, and in practice, the Germans actually outright stole and imported more wealth from Belgium and Northern France than they ever paid back in reparations -- to say nothing of the damages they inflicted on others. The issue was very effectively demagogued by not only the Right but the German Social Democrats, and by sympathizers like Keynes.


I don't know about you, I don't wear my poppy out of grief, manufactured or otherwise. I wear it for the following reasons: respect for the fallen (and also for my father, who served in Northern Ireland and Cyprus, a conflict few remember), a reminder of how privileged I am to live in a time of (relative) peace, and on a practical level because wearing one might help encourage others to go out & buy one too, which fills the British Legion's coffers.

The problem with not wearing a poppy is that it doesn't signpost people to this blog. It doesn't say, "I have utmost respect for those who have sacrificed themselves, voluntarily or otherwise, to keep me safe, but am concerned that poppies have been hijacked by Daily Mail readers." It says, "I don't care."


“To pretend otherwise is a con, a narcissistic flaunting of ersatz emotion”. A good sentence and a national pastime. We have moved so far from the stoicism of our grandparent’s generation, I am ashamed.

Scratch makes an interesting comment above about rememberance as accusation. Although I’d like to, I don’t recognize this. I see remembrance as glorification of war and part of the death cult of modern military; a recruitment tool, not a reckoning.


You point out that politics is a deadly serious business which needs deadly serious people. Yet it clearly attracts narcissists, fools and show-offs, snake oil salesmen and PR conmen*. British politics undoubtedly has an HR problem. My MP is Nadine Dorries, and I wince every time I see one of her proclamations. Could you please write a post on how this problem could be addressed. It strikes me as an incentive problem.

Anecdotally, I remember Jeffery Archer at the Oxford Union being lambasted by a student 20 years ago. Archer asked the student, “well why don’t you become a politician and solve the problem?”. The student replied, “not with the skeletons in my closet!”. And I think that’s part of the problem. Many serious people can’t bear the idea of their past being rifled through, like a celebrity dustbin, and maybe sub-consciously steer away from the fray.

*Usual caveat about the expert back benchers, etc.

Dave Chapman

I am wearing a poppy as I write this, but this will be the last season. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, and it is time to move on.

I hear that the poppies no longer grow in Flanders. The ground-up bones of several hundred thousand young men made good fertilizer, but the rains have washed the phosphorous out of the soil, and the vegetation has returned to normal.

No symbols

I think the comment "not wearing a poppy shows you don't care" illustrates the problem with flags, symbols and so on. There seems to be a gradual polarising between "what [X] means", and it's absence/countersymbol, that removes every possible nuance inbetween.

In what other circumstance would it seem rational to look at someone you'd never met, and immediately say "I know exactly what you think about a particular issue"?

Symbols are a bad thing for this reason. Everything is complicated, and if you want to talk to me, I'm sure we'll find each other reasonable enough, even if we don't exactly agree. Displaying symbols facilitates prejudice, incorrect assumptions, groupthink, and conformity.


I hear that the poppies no longer grow in Flanders. The ground-up bones of several hundred thousand young men made good fertilizer, but the rains have washed the phosphorous out of the soil, and the vegetation has returned to normal.

I doubt that, to be honest. Poppies are essentially a weed - that's why you find them growing at the edges of cornfields, where the ground has been ploughed but no seed sown. The ground in Flanders was churned up and that allowed poppies to grow freely; no doubt there were other weeds growing on the churned-up ground as well, but poppies are very visible, and the poem helped, of course. (In London, the weed rosebay willowherb grew under very similar circumstances; it became known as "bombsite").

To be macabre for a minute, there wouldn't have been enough bodies by spring 1915 to make a difference to soil fertility. The human body is only 1% phosphorus. Even the concentrated slaughter of the battle of Loos later that year would have delivered only about four tons of phosphorus to a battlefield of about five square miles; well below the recommended amount to improve the fertility of poor soil.
And the majority of the dead were buried properly (hence all those war cemeteries) not left on the battlefield.

And if you go to Flanders next spring, you'll still see plenty of poppies on the old battlefields.

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