Remembrance Day and Brexit

This year, I made this little blue and yellow poppy and posted a photo of it on Twitter. I knew that this might prove controversial and also that some people might take offence. To them, I offer the following arguments:

Marking 11 November as Remembrance Day has a long international history. Many countries mark it. In Belgium, where I’ve lived for many years, it’s a public holiday. It does not ‘belong’ to the Royal British Legion nor to the UK, and I feel it has been appropriated in Britain by people who want to make it about the country’s current armed forces. That’s not what it is to me. To me, Remembrance Day is first and foremost about the awful horror, stupidity, and waste of the First World War. Then, by extension, it’s about the Second World War, and the way European civilisation turned in upon itself in fratricidal conflict. That’s what Remembrance Day is to me, and while I respect other people’s wish to make it about something else, something more than that, or something less than that, I reject their wish to impose their interpretation on me and everyone else. My understanding and experience of Remembrance Day is as valid as and arguably historically more valid than theirs.

Those who serve in the military are public servants who make great sacrifices for their fellow citizens. In the modern era, they are volunteers, so they have chosen this path knowing that it might entail great sacrifice. However you feel about the state’s use of arms to achieve its objectives, I think this choice by individuals is worthy of respect, and I do respect it. Respect that is forced isn’t really respect, though, is it? So-called “poppy fascism” (by which we mean pressure to conform in wearing a poppy) is, I think, fundamentally disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to people who serve in the armed forces because it poisons public debate around their service; it’s disrespectful to those who so pointlessly gave their lives in the First World War; it’s disrespectful to those who gave their lives in the Second World War to fight *actual* fascists, and defend our fundamental freedoms; and it’s disrespectful to all the other public servants who make sacrifices on a daily basis, even if those sacrifices are (thankfully) rarely mortal.

Given my personal views set out in the previous two paragraphs, it can hardly come as a surprise that my understanding of Remembrance Day is intimately bound up with my passionate belief in the European Union. To me, the EU flag is a far more potent symbol of Remembrance than a poppy. To me, Brexit is an offensive act of disrespect for the sacrifice of millions in past European wars. As soon as the idea occurred to me, I felt I had to make this EU poppy and show people that I had made it. This is the very opposite of trivialising Remembrance Day. Brexit trivialises Remembrance Day. And to the author of the Spectator piece who feels that talking about Brexit politicises Remembrance Day, I can only say that Remembrance Day is and always has been profoundly political, and his article only serves to prove that.

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