With wearying predictability, the annual arguments about poppies have begun in earnest. Yesterday, it was Nicole Scherzinger who was to be branded “disrespectful” for not wearing one during the X-Factor.
Celebrities being shamed for daring to appear in public without a poppy at this time of year is nothing new, but it is grim nonetheless. There is something ugly and demeaning about it all that seems a long way away from the commemoration it is supposed to represent.
Yet in recent years there seems to be a growing pushback against this. Liberals and left-wingers seem increasingly keen to declare the poppy as a symbol of “war-hungry nationalism”, or as being “co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy”. Goodness. Privacy too, huh. Who knew.
This is complete drivel, but more importantly, it is another instance of supposedly progressive people finding themselves in completely the wrong place over culture and identity.
Just like the St George’s cross, the poppy is part of our shared culture, our heritage, and our history, and it is important to defend our common ownership of it. Symbols matter, and we must not relinquish them to the worst kinds of people; they belong to all of us and we should assert this. They are ours too.
Instead, the left/liberal instinct seems to be to cede the entire argument to the right, and then try and claim the whole enterprise is racist. Wrong, wrong, wrong. These things only become racist if you allow racists to own them. Yet liberals keep falling into this same trap, which is as counterproductive as it is foolish.
The poppy, and the act of remembrance, rightly means a great deal to a great many people in this country, the vast majority of whom are not fascists. Armistice Day is one of the times when, as a nation, we ought to be able to reach across divides and share in something bigger than ourselves. And many of us do.
Every year, I buy a poppy, but don’t wear it. For me, remembrance is a personal thing, and I don’t feel I should have to display my commitment. I won’t be told by the right that I must wear a poppy out of respect. But I also won’t be told by the left that if I choose to wear one, I’m a fascist.