Peace Matters Index

what we forget

ONLINE contents

selection from paper publiation

- what we forget
- militarising education
- arms for peace
- war without end

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Cenotaph, London. Armistice Day 1920

At remembrance time many things are forgotten. Amongst these is the fact that the red poppy was originally a simple fund raising symbol for war orphaned children in France and was subsequently tried out as a fund raising symbol for the Legion in Britain.

Its original success owes to various factors not least the reluctance of the post war WW1government to adequately support the tens of thousands of injured soldiers and the wide-spread sympathy for the men most of whom were forced (compulsorily conscripted) to take part in the appalling events of World War One.

Since then the red poppy has 'acquired' meaning and power well beyond a simple fund raising flower and reached a stage where public figures dare not appear on live television without a red poppy pinned to their chest. Fortunately for those anxious for their public image red poppies are in plentiful supply in television studios to those who otherwise would not have thought of wearing one. Remembrance Day had become a corporate event that few in public life dare not visibly acknowledge; it trades on death and misery as it grows its empire in all directions.

‘The poppy brand and all it represents,' says the Legion, 'makes The Royal British Legion an ideal charity partner for cause related marketing initiatives. Partnerships include products such as beer, wine, whisky, batteries, biscuits and CDs. Our trading subsidiaries Royal British Legion Trading and Poppy Direct, can give your company access to a 'warm' target audience.'

for his sake wear a red poppy
This British Legion slogan like so many marketing slogans is a fiction.We sort of know what it means even if what it says is plainly non- sense. All marketing and promotions carry meanings (often amorphous and imprecise) beyond the surface one; in the case of the red poppy its years long association with Armistice Day and later Remembrance Day has invested it with a complex of values to do with pain, death, sorrow, bereavements and much more. The once simple fundraising flower has grown in the caring hands of the British Legion into a brand which now many fear not to be associated with, but benefits biscuit and beer manufactures.

Look at the photographs of remembrance ceremonies in earlier years and see the variety of wreaths of all shapes and sizes, see the mounds of all kinds flowers that represented peoples taste and finical resources and look at today’s ceremonies with their carefully stage managed wreath laying and the neat rows of clones of British Legion standard plastic wreaths now available all the year round and for all occasions from dropping in the sea to leaving in cemeteries and outside crematoria across Europe.

The legion's Poppy Travel now takes hundreds of schools on 'educational' trips; much fun no doubt but look at the messages attached to the poppy wreaths that are left behind: 'rest in peace now that you are all in heaven together' is from an English school in a German cemetery. Kind thought perhaps but problematic not only on theological grounds.

what's there to criticise?
This depends on ones view of the institution of war. For those who see war as an outdated practice and time for the military to be mostly abolished the use of the red poppy beyond simple fundraising is deeply problematic.The Legion says it is 'neutral' on war but its wholehearted supports of the armed forces which are the instruments without which war would not be possible gives the game away. Neutrality on war is a non sequiter.

Jan Melichar

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