Has the Poppy become a political weapon?

A week has passed since we stood in silence to remember the fallen at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  BBC presenters have stopped wearing their poppies and the veterans on the streets have returned to the bar at the British Legion once more.

This year the Poppy Appeal was launched in Afghanistan, switching the focus from the veterans of a bygone era to the veterans of today.  But with scenes of demonstrators burning poppies in the streets of London, has this little red flower become a political hot potato, a symbol that those wearing it back the war in Afghanistan?

As I’ve mentioned before this was my first remembrance day since I left the Army and it did feel different.  I travelled to London, and for the first time commemorated the fallen at the Royal Artillery Memorial, Hyde Park Corner.  I’ve been to many of these memorials before, but this was perhaps the first where I was viewed things through more objective eyes.  Of course the service itself was emotional and seeing the numbers of veterans was touching.  But the moment that really grabbed my attention and made me realise how much this nation values its veterans was half way through the silence. 

I looked up and saw a Lady who had stopped on the pavement behind the memorial.  She was rocking her pram as she stood in silence.  Then I began to look near where she was standing and I began to see more and more people stopping to observe the national mark of respect.  It was only then I realised how silent London had become, the normal drone of the traffic and hum of a busy city had been muted. 

The problem with the media of today is that to get publicity you must do something shocking.  The students received so much coverage because they vandalised Millbank.  The anti-war campaigners achieved so much publicity because they defaced something that has come to symbolise national pride, will they gain more followers?  I doubt it, but it does demonstrate how sensitively we must manage symbols such as the Poppy.

Anything that is related to war and foreign conflicts will always be vulnerable to political comment, and the Poppy is no exception.  People should always be entitled to express their opinions,  but I hope that this year has not set a precedent for the future, although I fear it may.  In my humble opinion I believe the Royal British Legion must fight to keep the Poppy to represent the fallen and not the political agenda of the day, not an easy task.

But it’s not all doom and gloom!  Last weekend I heard so many touching stories that confirmed the level of public respect for the victims of war, regardless of their political views.  I spoke to one Lady who was attending the memorial to remember her fiancée who had been killed in Afghanistan.  She told me how she had been chatting to the cab driver on the way to Hyde Park Corner, and when he heard her story he refused to accept her payment, a small gesture I know but touching all the same. 

There was however, one part of the memorial service I would like to change for next year.  The march past of the veterans at Hyde Park corner was great to see, but I think there could have been a few more.  If memory serves me correctly then I think after the service and after far too many bottles of red wine (courtesy of Adjutant, 4th Regiment RA) I may have agreed to tag on the back next year?  Watch this space!

Click here to listen to the studio to accompany this blog.

And please take a look at the video I put together of Remembrance in Cardiff

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One response to “Has the Poppy become a political weapon?

  1. James Jeffrey November 18, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Banksy, I think you make an important point about separating the poppy and the political.

    I never called in a “hot” airstrike in Afghanistan for numerous reasons, however, when I hear things like that, it is tempting to pick up the headset again and talk that A-10 onto a strafing run onto a certain bunch of protesting cretins…the poppy should not and does not represent “war” as a brand, rather as you say – all the victims of war: soldiers, civilians, everyone.

    Either way, their behavior strikes me as similar to what happened in America to Vietnam veterans, who returned to America, landing at the airport and having dog faeces thrown at them by anti-Vietnam protestors. War is terrible, it should be protested against, but just as you don’t attack the soldiers who signed up to protect their country, you don’t attack the symbols of remembrance about the tragedy of it all.

    Poppies are not political symbols; they are in a separate realm. If you criticize poppies saying people are using them for politically motivated aims and then attack poppies in a politically motivated way yourself, then guess what, you are perpetuating the politicization of them and are no worse than those you criticize in the first place.

    Keep it up Banksy

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