To all the old men in British Legion ties; to the astonishingly young men and women in army uniform; and to the even younger people in army cadet outfits:

No, I won’t be buying one of your paper poppies. Because this is what they make me think of… they make me think of nature’s beauty. Something like this:

Poppy field

And then they make me think of this:

Those who fought and died or suffered in wars deserve our pity because they were misled and exploited. They deserve that we should understand and remember their experiences, and wonder at how they had the courage to live through the unimaginable and to do what they thought was right and needful, what the exploiters said was right and needful.

But a poppy is not about pity for the victims of militarism, and it is not about remembering unimaginable horror. It is not about questioning the rightness or the need.

A poppy is about supporting a vision of militarism in which the men and women who were its pawns are transformed into its noble heroes. They are honoured, not pitied. And, as we remember, we are asked to feel, not horror, but gratitude.

  Have you forgotten yet?…
  For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same – and War’s a bloody game…
  Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
  Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz –
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench –
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’
  Do you remember that hour of din before the attack –
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
  Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.
  (“Aftermath”, Siegfried Sassoon, 1920)
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