“In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.” – John McCrae, 1915
We wear red poppies as these are the ones that grow in northern France and Belgium, where many of the deadliest battles of the First World War took place. Poppies are both tough and delicate, thus making them a fitting emblem to remember those who died, in the First World War and subsequent conflicts.
It’s that time of year when ‘poppy fascism’ arises. You’ll hear arguments regarding the symbolism behind poppies, some accusing them of glorifying war, and some simply stating that they are a symbol of remembrance and hope.
To me, wearing a poppy is not the glorification of war. It is not the justification of war. To wear a poppy is to respect those who died in imperialistic conflicts. To wear a poppy is to remember those who have died in vain, not just in the First World War, but the Second World War, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. To wear a poppy is to condemn warfare and to promote peace. To wear a poppy is to show that you remember history and never want it to be repeated.
We live in an age of populism; an era of rising prejudice and discrimination. Brexit, the likelihood of a Trump Presidency… society is taking a step backwards. Those who fought did so for us: the future generations. This is why we owe it to the fallen to organise and step up. We need to show those who feel disheartened and/or ignored by the system that populism and hating ‘the other’ is not the way for our society to progress and improve. The poppy is a symbol of this. The poppy reminds us of what was lost, but also what was gained: democracy, liberalism, open government.
I leave you with this poem by a nice chap on the internet that I believe helps us remember the true meaning behind the poppy:
I am not a badge of honour,
I am not a racist smear,
I am not a fashion statement,
To be worn but once a year,
I am not glorification
Of conflict or of war.
I am not a paper ornament
I am more.
I am a loving memory,
Of a father or a son,
A permanent reminder
Of each and every one.
I’m paper or enamel
I’m old or shining new,
I’m a way of saying thank you,
To every one of you.I am a simple poppy
A Reminder to you all,
That courage faith and honour,
Will stand where heroes fall.