The Poppy Appeal was left red-faced on Monday after Downing Street added a digital poppy to a questionably unblemished photograph of David Cameron on its official Facebook page. The blunder let Twitter users run their imaginations wild. Soon memes were being posted and pig-gate’s sequel was aired: #Poppygate.
But somewhere – wedged between mockery and an embarrassed Prime Minister – a sinister truth emerged. The Poppy Appeal has gone too far. The cultural pressure to wear a poppy is now so great that we are witnessing what Jon Snow described as “poppy fascism”. Wearing a poppy is no longer a free choice; it is a stifling requirement. Failure to don this tricoloured shape on a lapel will result in a tirade of unpleasant Tweets.
This dictatorial notion is most apparent in public life, where notables are subject to the social media guillotine unless they conform.
Last weekend, Irish footballer James McClean maintained his refusal to wear the poppy. In his eyes, wearing the poppy would disrespect the people who died on Bloody Sunday. Indeed, the 2010 Saville Report itself concluded that British paratroopers shot and killed fleeing unarmed civilians.
So, was McClean respected for his well-reasoned opinion? What do you think? A Twitter-storm soon ensued as the player was branded as “scum of the highest order”, “a terrorist sympathiser” and it was recommended that he should be put in a “hole full of rats”. Basically, lovely comments from the ever-understanding British public, all good-hearted people who just want to do something nice for our fallen heroes.
Other than siphoning off likely EDL members, McClean has made a good point. The British Royal Legion organises the Poppy Appeal. David Cameron has insisted in the past that wearing the poppy is not a “political act”. But surely – when all the profits go to past and present British Legion personnel or their families – that’s a lie. The poppy has clear political connotations and should not be bullied upon the shirts of those who disagree with what it represents.
This militant poppy-pinning alarmingly ignores the atrocities committed by British forces. In the same totalitarian vein, we should make every Argentinian residing on British soil wear the poppy. Maybe, if we avoid mentioning the General Belgrano, they won’t notice. After that, a poppy should be placed on the jackets of unassuming Dresden tourists – who cares about some 25,000 people who died there at the hands of the British RAF?
Pacifists are also a gigantic UV light to the swarming flies of poppy enforcers. Most pacifists do mourn those that died in wars; they simply refuse to donate to an appeal that they perceive to glorify war. For example, by accepting sponsorship from arms companies like Thales and Lockheed Martin.
The poppy is no longer a delicate flower; its powerful petals have become a parliamentary instrument of fear. The poppy has become as ruinous as its opiates to the citizens of a free democracy. We should always remember the fallen. But those soldiers died for our freedom of expression – and with our culture of inflexible obligation, we are abusing their final wishes.