There was always going to be a stigma around poppies. The concept of war seems outdated in an age that prides itself on social consciousness and progress, in a generation which challenges the impact of patriotism. Even conventional values of ‘sacrifice’ and ‘national pride’ are growingly being seen as more harmful to society. Now criticism has captured this red flower. A pocket-size image used to remember ‘sacrifice’ can now be considered a new tool for military and political agendas across the world.
In today’s social climate, this issue concerns people. In the workplace, some feel obliged to wear the poppy; it is worn as a formality which appeases an employer rather than for a cause they resonate with. For others, it completely goes against their values to the point that they cannot be convinced by social pressures. Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic refused to wear a poppy in 2018; for him it is a visual reminder of the NATO bombings in Serbia during his childhood. In the case of Matic and countless others, the poppy has evidently become an unsavoury symbol yet is still imposed on everyone in a world of work formalities and peer pressure.
Nevertheless, Matic also highlighted a key point; despite his decision not the wear the symbol, the message is something he sympathises with; ‘for anyone who has lost loved ones due to conflict’. Yes, it is a symbol of past conflict, but it also promotes a feeling of togetherness through which we move forward. It is clear that anybody residing in a country affected by such conflict can wear the symbol as a reminder of what has and currently is being sacrificed to maintain community.
Through these reflections, we soon realise what might be seen as an obligation in the workplace is a necessity for many . Furthermore, many survivors and descendants of survivors may have no other means through which to cope with the trauma of conflict. To have an annual campaign to respect their struggles is essential if we are to mourn or celebrate social progress.
But is the poppy still having the same impact?
The sense of community the poppy symbolises has changed drastically for veterans like Harry Leslie Smith, a WWII RAF veteran, who sees ‘the spirit of my generation’ to have been abused by politicians to give legitimacy to the wars of today. He believes that symbols like the poppy are a means for ‘eroding democracy’, with politicians drawing from the work of the Royal British Legion for veterans as emotive propaganda. Quite frankly, he has a point. There are definitely instances of poppies not only being commodified as a fashion statement, but as a way for nationalist political parties to garner support and sympathy for what Smith refers to as ‘dubious wars’.
Yet, what would people prefer? The poppy was not designated to glorify conflict. Its relevance stands with the remembrance of what remains from conflict: survivors, casualties, peace, ceasefires, fires that still need to be put out. Donating to The Royal Legion and other veteran charities by buying poppies is supporting an unequivocally moral cause, especially for soldiers returning from isolated battlefields who immediately need funding for housing, jobs and medical support. This is visible in London, with the local Haig Housing Trust doing amazing work providing soldiers the equal opportunity to access property and community benefits. Patriotism has been witnessed to propagate war, but compared to cultures where patriotism is forced as an ideology through physical oppression and hate speech, the solidarity of this tiny symbol represents outweighs any sort of political power it’s accused of having.
There are a variety of poppies. These range from purple to commemorate animals killed in conflict, black to commemorate the sacrifices of black, African and Caribbean lives, or a white poppy to symbolise peace. There’s even a rainbow poppy, designed to commemorate the service of LGBT+ soldiers. Through these different symbols, we can see that the poppy has various meanings to the millions of people that choose to wear one. The white poppy demonstrates that people wish to challenge war and promote peace. However, for whatever cause, the poppy is still being worn, and I think it highlights just how necessary it is to remember the numerous lives sacrificed whilst still considering the importance of maintaining peace.