The Poppy Dilemma: Is The Poppy Losing Significance?

Ed Angeli

For a symbol which should be as black and white as anything, the poppy has become one of the most polarised points of expression in recent years. The simplistic red and green design has fuelled words such as ‘fascism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ to enter the debate over how the poppy is represented in public, only made more controversial when there are groups who seek a financial benefit from the symbol; this isn’t what men and women died for when fighting for their country.

There has, therefore, become a list of unwritten rules of how and why we wear a poppy; people are criticised for wearing it too soon, as critics suggest some are making a false statement to give off the right intentions: ‘See, look, I am a good person, I’m wearing a poppy’. Reasons like these, to demonstrate political correctness, are devaluing what the poppy represents, and displaying naivety as to the whole point of what the charity is about.

Still, there’s been whispers that the poppy is in decline in terms of the British public buying them and donating to charity; not the case as figures would suggest from the Royal British Legion. Money raised for the poppy has fluctuated, but it appears to have remained steady/improved over the last seven years:

If you rewind further back to 2005, poppy sales were nearly half the amount of what they were last year, as the Royal British Legion reports just £23.5million was raised from poppies that year.

So why has it become such a divisive talking point in recent years? The festering of ‘poppy fascism’ this year can be seen when the backlash on social media comes in for the likes of Moeen Ali who was pictured without a poppy – despite him being seen with one on earlier on in the day – and it happened to fall off at an unfortunate time.

This hatred projected on the social media is part of the problem. Such vile messages spreading across the internet, fuelling Islamophobia is coming back to the responsibility of the poppy; it is seen as a symbol in decline because people are using its significance in the wrong way; to project the wrong messages.

There is then the poppy being used as a financial gain for corporations. The display at the Tower of London in 2014 which commemorated the 100th year before World War I began saw a remarkable display remember the lives lost fighting in The Great War. Despite the display being a great success and raising £15million, it was later discovered that only £9.5million of this went to charity; the rest in the hands of whoever was looking to gain a reward out the poppy’s meaning.

This, rightly so, infuriated both current and past war veterans:

“People should not be making money out of our war heroes who have died in action. The only money made from it should be going to charity – no question.”

Former British officer Colonel Richard Kemp, speaking to the Daily Mail

It’s another example of the symbol trying to represent and do ‘good’ in serving past and current war members, but ultimately being exposed as a good gesture to lead to financial benefit.

The poppy’s message is meant to be one of peace. One which remembers war and supports those involved rather than encourages violence and bloodshed; since the turn of the 21st Century people argue this is not the case.

The poppy does not just remember those who fought in World War I and II, it’s a symbol for those in the armed forces today; men and women who have been sent by the powers that be of George Bush and Tony Blair to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq in the war on terror; this violence is still something that continues to stain the poppy’s meaning. It’s the reason why people refuse to wear and support it, as they argue the poppy itself is supporting these wars.

These objections against such wars, and against the poppy itself, has seen a rise in sales to the white poppy; a poppy produced by the Peace Pledge Union founded in 1934. Its message is of anti-war and sales for the symbol reached a record-high of 110,000 in 2016.

Regardless, although such a poppy represents anti-violence and peace, it is the original poppy’s importance to those who fought in World War I and II and continue to fight today that is the basic principle of democracy and the country’s sovereignty.

To give rise to such movements, and continue to denounce the importance of the original symbol founded in 1921 is to forget about what happened in the 20th Century. The saving grace is that financial contributions continue to remain high, and continue to grow despite the increased polarisation of what the poppy represents.

Its message is clear; its message is to remember those who have suffered and support those who have died for us. It’s fitting that this remembrance weekend sees the English and German football team go head-to-head at Wembley; we’re sure all the right sort of messages will be conveyed at the game itself.

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