The tradition of wearing an artificial red poppy to commemorate soldiers who have died in wartime has existed since 1920 and was inspired by the famous poem ‘In Flanders Field’. The poppy has become an increasingly political symbol in recent years and is especially prominent in the UK where just about every media outlet, political party and sporting occasion promotes its use. So widespread has the use of the poppy become that to not wear one is subtly viewed as somehow being unpatriotic or unwilling to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers. Channel 4 television presenter Jon Snow famously labelled the compulsion to wear the poppy as ‘poppy fascism’.
The political correctness surrounding the tradition is so advanced and has accelerated so much in recent years that politicians especially seem to compete with each other to be seen to wear the poppy first. Consequently an event that was intended to raise funds for charity has become an annual photo opportunity in the lead up to November 11th, Armistice day.
The tradition has always caused problems in Ireland and Ulster where the British military are reviled by the Catholic population for their part in ‘The Troubles’ and especially for ‘Bloody Sunday’. In Ulster the poppy is seen as a distinct symbol of Britishness and is used almost exclusively by the Unionist community there.
The quandary for the Irish is that so many of their relatives served in the British army and served in the first world war with distinction. Given that the initial purpose of the wearing of the poppy was to recognise the sacrifice of those who died in the first world war it can be difficult to refuse what has become an increasing pressure to conform.
Not everyone does conform though. Irish soccer player James McClean of Sunderland refused to wear a poppy in a November 2012 Premiership match against Everton. The high-profile event was televised worldwide and regardless of a persons view on the matter it has to be admitted that it took a lot of courage for the 23-year-old McClean not to be bullied into submission. Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny also did not wear a poppy when attending a Remembrance Sunday service in Enniskillen on the same weekend.
What is clear now is that what was intended as an exercise in charity has been taken over by the political and media establishment to the extent that it deeply corrupted. While everyone should be able to celebrate their heritage and history the freedoms that the men and women of the first world war fought for are not at all well served by this turn of events.