Honouring the dead by wearing a red poppy does not endorse war

Either wear one with pride or don't - but spare me your personal justification

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The Independent Online

An extraordinary thing happened last week: an art installation caused crowd and traffic chaos, bus diversions and the closure of the nearby Tube station, Tower Hill.

I am, of course referring to the First World War ceramic poppy installation, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, by the artist Paul Cummins in the Tower of London. By Armistice Day on 11 November there will be 888,246 ceramic poppies planted, one for each British and colonial death during the war.

An estimated four million of us will have seen it by then, myself included. Via social media, I can tell that dozens of people I know have been too. Perhaps surprisingly, it has cut across generations.

That’s one of many reasons why I don’t care if it’s “art” or not. Nor can I agree with the critic, Jonathan Jones, who described the installation as “fake, trite and inward-looking”, partly because it “only” commemorates the 888,246 who died on “our side”. His suggestion that it’s “too pretty” is bizarre. The massed ceramic red poppies really do look like a moat filled with blood. His criticism of  “a deeply aestheticised, prettified and toothless war memorial. It is all dignity and grace” is telling.

What is wrong with “dignity and grace”? How can a memorial that has inspired millions to come and reflect be “toothless”? Jones only reinforces how out of touch the liberal media elite is with the general public. I was reminded of this at my own website this week when we argued over whether or not to put a poppy on the homepage masthead. Let me pause here to say how much I hate “poppy fascism”. That said, High50 decided in favour of the poppy. So did i. There are arguments to “die in a ditch” for, but whether or not one should commemorate the brave souls who did so literally in the trenches is not one of them.

I do not understand how wearing a poppy in innocent remembrance can offend anyone. Nor, do I comprehend the need for those ridiculous white poppies. How is honouring those who died any kind of endorsement of war? Wear your poppy with pride – or don’t. But if you choose not to, spare us the personal justification. Because, sometimes in life, it really isn’t always all about you.

Stefano Hatifeld is the editor-in-chief of High50.com