…To be clear, I’m not making any sort of stand or political point. I’m not desperately scouring the streets for an illusive white alternative or hoping someone will ask why I’m not wearing one so I can share my lament on the glorification of war or suggest a 9-point plan of alternative remembrance…I just keep forgetting to get one.
I’m the guy who on Sunday morning will wake up and realise he hasn’t got one yet. I’ll run across to my local petrol station hoping they’ve got some left. Sure, they’ll be the bottom of the box ones which are always a bit squashed and there’ll be no pins left but I’ll still pay my £1…no, I’ll pay £1.50 just on case the person at the till thinks I don’t care enough.
Maybe I’ll get a pin badge, or a sparkly one like those ones off of X-Factor (is there a more satisfying phrase than ‘off of’ ?) I could attach one to my car or embroider it into my shirt…the options are endless. But whatever one I choose, I will wear a poppy this year. It’s not because I long to glorify war or because I want to justify our military budget or suggest no lives have ever been lost unnecessarily. I’ll wear one because I have the choice not to wear one. I can pin on a red one or a white one. I can choose to stand on the street and observe a silence, I can choose to sit silently at my desk. I can choose to not be silent, to carry on working, put some music on. Or I can shout, bang drums or blow whistles. I get the choice.
I’ll wear one because right now I have the freedom to write this, to post it online, to share it with the world…or at least those parts of the world where opportunity, poverty or government measures don’t stop people accessing it.
I’ll wear one because the fact that in some parts of the world people are held back by opportunity, poverty or government measures can be protested by camping next to landmarks or marching or banging drums and blowing whistles here in the UK. Genuine opposition to government is welcomed, encouraged and even voted for. Questions of or concerns about the government aren’t just allowed, they’re broadcast week in and week out on national television and radio. If you don’t like the leader, you can tell him, make posters about him, draw cartoons of him and, in at least a few years time, get rid of him. Despite the cries of both the absurd extreme right and equally absurd extreme left – we are free.
I’ll wear one because whilst back in the first half of the 20th century my asthma might have got me out of it, countless others didn’t get a choice. Either by conviction or conscription they went, and today they still go. They still go to places I’m not sure they should be but I’m also not in the position where I have to weigh up the evidence and make those choices. They still go to places where people don’t get to vote or blog or protest. They still go where they’re wanted and they still go where they’re unwanted to protect and serve and when we don’t like it we can write or blog and protest all we choose because we are free. And the idea that by stopping for 2 minutes or wearing a red flowery symbol or laying a wreath somehow glorifies war is an absurdity. We remember so we don’t forget in our free society in which it’s often too easy to.
I believe that peace has to be the ultimate goal. I believe that peace has to be what we seek at all times and in all scenarios. I dream of a day when peace is the norm, of a world in which my kids (don’t get too excited mum) learn from our leaders and from us each that there are other ways besides conflict…but when that day comes I’ll still wear a poppy and I’ll still stand in silence of the people who helped us get there.
I read recently that someone felt the tagline for the poppy appeal ‘Lest we forget’ was a bad one. They suggested that without the appeal and the services and silences we wouldn’t forget. Maybe they’re right. Maybe without it all we’d still be reminded to take a moment, to reflect on those who died and who still put themselves in danger day in and day out as the world tries to figure out how to live in peace with itself and each other. But right now I’m not sure it’s worth the risk…because I still haven’t bought a poppy yet.