When Tony Blair lays a wreath for dead servicemen on Remembrance Sunday, I hope his commitment is fully appreciated. Because he's making it so much easier to remember the trauma involved when soldiers are killed, by sending out loads of soldiers to be killed. Imagine if there were no wars for the next 50 years. There would be no one left who could remember any servicemen getting shot, and Remembrance Sunday could die out altogether, costing thousands of jobs in the poppy making industry.
And yet the whole service will be conducted and broadcast without this irony being referred to. It's as if there was a memorial service for people who have died from drug abuse, and the commentary went: "And here comes Big Tony, clearly very moved by this solemn occasion. As you would expect from Britain's leading heroin dealer. Behind him is Sammy the Smack who controls north London, and Tommy the "Scarface" Kid, responsible for getting the gear to the estates of Glasgow. And you really can hear a pin drop as he lays a wreath of roses in the shape of a syringe."
I find it very hard to wear a traditional poppy at the best of times, because of the word imprinted on the black button in the middle: Haig. This refers to the founder of the poppy appeal, General Douglas Haig, who was commander of British forces in the Somme, and as such was as responsible as anyone for the slaughter. Haig implemented the strategy of sending continuous lines across the mud at the Germans, confident that they would win eventually if he kept pouring in enough of them.
So somehow, the poppy tradition means that millions of well intentioned people remember the victims by parading the name of the bloke who caused it. You might as well get people to wear a badge to remember victims of the Holocaust with "Heinrich Himmler" stamped across the top.
To ascertain the attitudes of those who served under Haig you only have to scan the volumes of poetry written from the fields of northern France and Belgium. Typical is Siegfried Sassoon's classic verse that begins "'Good morning, good morning' the general said, as he rode up the line past Harry and Jack ... but the soldiers he spoke to are both of them dead as he did for them all with his plan of attack."
Whereas there's no record of anyone coming back from Flanders having written a musical. You could try writing one that went "nerve gas and shell-shock and shrieks for the surgeon/watching your mate getting shot for desertion/Lloyd George and bishops and generals and kings/these are a few of my favourite things," but I doubt it would be realistic.
The way Haig and other generals felt about their soldiers can be seen from their response when thousands of them went crazy through shell-shock. One soldier who was shivering wildly was asked by his general: "Are you freezing? Only drunkards and masturbators freeze." I suppose that explains what went wrong with Captain Scott at the South Pole. The weather wasn't a problem, but most of them were guzzling cider, and one said, "I'm, er, nipping out for a while - with this magazine. I may be some time."
The other thing that puts me off poppies is seeing who is the keenest on them. All this week The Sun, the Mail and The Telegraph have had a poppy on the front cover despite being staunchly warmongering publications. If The Sun had been around in 1915, they'd have backed every crazy charge over the top, and probably announced "from now until victory, every day on page three - wenches for the trenches".
And there's the church, which was instrumental in recruiting tens of thousands of young men for Haig's adventure. I suppose they must have told their congregations: "Last night I prayed, in this, our time of need, to God. And it seems that at the moment God is particularly concerned that the three fields at the back of Passchendaele post office come under British control rather than the Hun."
This may be why soldiers returned from the First World War immensely radicalised. Haig himself was quite stroppy, demanding to ride in the first coach at the victory parade, whereas the surviving soldiers must have wished he'd had this urge a couple of years earlier in the Somme.
Remembrance Day, you might think, should be about stopping more wars. But when the Prime Minister intends, 10 days after the parade, to greet George Bush on a state visit it might be that's not the plan. Still, maybe the Queen will turn up in a CND T-shirt and sing "one, two, three what are we fighting for?" when she lays her wreath.
Whereas Mr Blair is likely to say: "Because I sent our troops to war, the ones who got killed are now remembered in a state occasion, with their names on a monument. If the appeasers had their way they might have lived to be 80 and never had their name inscribed on anything. See, I've done them a favour."Reuse content