Poppy campaign has no right to demand conformity

The implication that we are universally obliged to wear a poppy crosses the line

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I can live with a bit of light poppy fascism. Charities can't just appeal to our self-interest like most of the other organisations competing for our money, and so we can't as a rule blame them if they resort to other tactics, even if those tactics are designed to make us feel bad. If the celebrity remembrance three-line whip likewise feels a little forced, the ends just about justify the means. The Royal British Legion is working, after all, for people who've put themselves in harm's way for our sakes, in circumstances we mostly can't imagine. I can tolerate a certain amount of sanctimony from their most ardent supporters in exchange.

Like just about everyone, I wear a poppy. I also think it would be OK if I didn't. But the Royal British Legion, it seems, feels differently. I draw this conclusion from the ad I saw on my way to work yesterday, which went further than anything I've seen before. It showed a man's suit jacket, with a cut-out poppy shape on his lapel apparently showing through to the frame behind. "SOMETHING MISSING?" it asked, in reproachful capitals. "DON'T FORGET YOUR POPPY." On the street below, a gimlet-eyed little old lady handed out white feathers to the insufficiently grateful. No, that bit isn't true, but it might as well have been.

Most charities understand the line that sits between reminding us of our social obligations and suggesting that if we fail to support their cause, we're scumbags; this campaign plainly crosses it. The unpleasantness is in the implication that this is a universal obligation, that anyone who isn't wearing a poppy is guilty of a great moral wrong.

There are tons of reasons that one might not wear a poppy

In fact, there are tons of reasons that one might not wear a poppy. There are good ones, like giving your money to another charity closer to your heart, or making a stand about your discomfort with a symbol that has bled into a kind of generalised, unthinking militarism; there are bad ones, like laziness, or miserliness, or an excessively powerful commitment to fashion. The point is, none of us are obliged to answer to the Royal British Legion for any of them.

Somehow, that organisation and some of its supporters seem to have confused their right to make an urgent call on our generosity with a right to demand universal conformity to their expectations. It is, frankly, creepy. Accordingly, while I'll stick my money in the collection box, I'm not going to wear their symbol this year. It's not a grand political statement; I just don't want the others not wearing one to mistake me for one of the absolutists who think they should be ashamed of themselves.

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