The poppy may be persistent in appearing each year but it is a fragile flower. It is not a chunky, robust flower. Its petals are light and open wide. The red petals may be redolent of the bloodshed of battle but its structure speaks of vulnerability.
The Royal British Legion has taken ownership of the poppy as a symbol. The British Legion is a charity which must maximise its income in order to fulfil its objectives. I have strong feelings about a country that sends women and men to be maimed and killed and then fails to take full responsibility. However the question why so much care has to be undertaken by fundraising is another issue. The reality is that many of those we have willed to suffer rely on the work of the British Legion. One must admire the way the marketers of the charity have re-energised their fundraising, particularly under the challenge of newcomers like Hope4Heros who are competing in the same sector. Those former and present members of the armed forces who have protested against the increasing show-biz aspect of remembrance are right and wrong. Quiet reflection does not put money in the bank. Concerts, celebrity endorsements and attention grabbing events do. The red poppy now takes its place with the wristbands and pins of other charities.
There are those who are intent on getting us to accept (or at least not criticise) involvement in Afghanistan and before that in Iraq. To question, the subtle message is, would be to deny the bereaved a sense of noble purpose in death and to say to those who have been terribly maimed in body and mind that it was all for nothing. This says much not just about a cynical ability to manipulate public opinion but about our general paucity of understanding of meaning in living and dying. The red poppy used to legitimate wars.
Remembrance is both passive and active. It is about bringing into the present the things of the past. It is also about reshaping the present in the light of the experience of the past. The poppy, red and white, calls us to be quiet in the face of the horrors of war both for combatants and for the myriad others affected directly and indirectly. The human lust for power and economic advantage takes us into war and it does us good to shut up and reflect. The delicate, fragile poppy calls us to go on to ‘seek the ways that lead to peace’. Is that the poppy that we have crushed by the other agendas?