Thursday, 10 November 2011

Poppies, FIFA and the Daily Mail

I bet there were sighs of relief all round at the Daily Mail offices when FIFA said England players couldn’t wear poppies on their shirts this weekend.  Journalists are among the best recyclers I know, after all why be creative when you can be lazy and just repackage the same shite you served up last year?

So it is that with no celebrities or football teams left to bully into wearing them, the Daily Mail got all angry about the fact a bunch of sweaty, smelly foreigners had had the temerity to stop our boys from showing support for our other boys in their friendly with Spain.

As the filthy right wing rag couldn’t quite swing it, it took the intervention of two of England’s finest to finally make Sepp and his chums see sense.  That’s right you can always rely on the balanced and measured members of the English Defence League to win the argument when our useless politicians have failed.

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Blatter?
The whole problem over the poppies was about whether or not they’re a political symbol.  FIFA said they were but the right-minded people at the Daily Mail clearly demonstrated they weren’t by creating such a fuss that the Prime Minister was compelled to write an indignant letter.  You can’t get less political than when the head of the Government is involved.

But that’s the problem with symbols; they can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to someone else.  The idea for the red poppy came from an American lady Moina Michael and, like the two-minute silence, it came just after the First World War when people had reason to think “fuck me, we’ve just witnessed the horrific slaughter of millions of young men, maybe we should remember their sacrifice”.

In the late-Twenties the No More War Movement put forward the idea that the centre of the red poppies should bear the words, er, “No More War”.  However, the proposal was dismissed and so the Peace Pledge Union started producing white poppies with the intention of commemorating all casualties of conflict as well as expressing the hope the world would never see a repeat of The Great War.

It’s odd that while the red poppy is deemed to be not a political symbol, the white poppy is demonized by claims that it has ‘political baggage’ because it is supposedly tarnished by the pacifist stance of its early supporters, the argument being that they tacitly supported fascism and Hitler.  Yet, appeasement was a common policy at the time and surely that is preferable to out–and-out support for Hitler and fascism as could be found in the Daily Mail in the Thirties.

The paper’s owner Lord Rothermere was a friend of both that nice Mr Mussolini and that nice Mr Hitler, he praised the Nazi regime in print and wrote an article headlined “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in support of Oswald Mosley.

That the idea to use the red poppy to commemorate the dead came from a woman and that the loudest voices calling for peace was another women’s movement is both depressing and entirely predicable.  Men are in the main violent and stupid (and let’s face it at the time there weren’t many of them left).

But what would those bloody women know, eh?  Personally, I’m surprised they’re still allowed to vote.  Let’s ask a veteran what he thinks of war.  Here’s Henry Allingham, one of the last survivors for the Battle of Ypres talking in 2008 just before his death: "I fell in a big shell hole. It stank. Arms, legs, everything, human flesh, blown to pieces, feet, hands - terrible. I hope there'll be no war, pray that in the whole world there'll be no war, nobody wins the next war – nobody.”

In the same year Henry Allingham spoke so movingly against future conflicts fish-faced dickhead Damian Thompson, the Daily Telegraph’s blogs editor, claimed that people who wear white poppies ‘dishonour our war dead’.  Somehow I don’t think Henry would have quite agreed.

The completely-non-political-in-any-way-shape-or-form red poppy/white poppy debate rears its head every time there is a period of heightened militarization.

In the Eighties while our parents were learning how to Protect and Survive and we were all getting a little freaked out by When The Wind Blows, CND and the Greenham Common wimin were telling us how nasty nuclear weapons were and that it was better to be red than dead.

That nice Mrs Thatcher (whose son let’s not forget had a tidy sideline in brokering arms deals when mummy was PM) couldn’t have agreed less and declared her “deep distaste” for the white poppy because it diverted funds from the Royal British Legion.  Again, a symbol can’t be less political than having the Prime Minister support it.

If you still don’t think the poppy is a political symbol, just imagine the outrage if one of England’s players takes to the pitch on Saturday with a white poppy stitched into his black armband.

Before FIFA relented former England captain Alan Shearer was just one of many who added his voice to the tiresome list of manufactured outrage.  Which is a little bit strange because on Saturday 13th November 1999 when he led England out at Hampden Park for the Euro 2000 play-off first leg his shirt was poppy-free.

It was the day before Remembrance Sunday and yet he wasn’t even wearing a black armband.  There wasn’t a minute’s silence.  The manager, Kevin Keegan, and the backroom staff also weren’t wearing poppies.  It’s enough to make you retrospectively vomit with rage.

What better way to remember the fallen than at a match between two home nations, supporters of which will have fought side by side?  I guess the war dead just didn’t matter so much back then.  In fact that was just one of 37 games England have played between November 1st and 15th since 1918 (most recently in 2005).  Never before has there been a call to wear poppies.

The furore over the poppy is just part of an increasing militarization of society over the last decade or so.  So now we have the reading out of the names of dead soldiers in Parliament, a tradition started by Blair and continued by Gordon Brown and David Cameron.  We had the repatriation of soldiers’ bodies through Royal Wooton Bassett.  We have Help for Heroes, one of the fastest growing charities in the country.

Remembrance Day has become Remembrance Weekend with Radio Five broadcasting from Camp Bastion on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We have a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Forces Special.  Hell, Modern Warfare 3 was even released this week.

What better way to bury the memory of two million people taking to the streets to tell Tony Blair the Iraq War was wrong?  Makes you wonder whether the two minutes really is about remembering the fallen or silencing dissent.

Shearer, where's your poppy you disrespectful twat?
If the Daily Mail really gave a shit about our service personal they could direct their campaigning energies to asking why, since the mid-Nineties, all the UK's military hospitals have been closed under first the Tories and then the wannabe Tories or why there is not enough support on offer for soldiers returning from conflict with mental health problems.

There’s an increasing air of intolerance around the wearing of poppies when it should be a matter of individual choice, which is strange because what kind of freedom have the fallen sacrificed their lives for when the only choice available is no choice at all?

If you’re wearing a poppy because you want to then fair play but if you’re wearing one because of fear of the criticism you’ll get if you don’t or because a researcher says: “Hang on a minute, Dermot, you’d better put this on” before you mug your way through another 90 minutes of vacuous shite in an ill-fitting suit then really it’s just an empty, meaningless gesture.

That’s why I have a huge amount of respect for Iain Dowie (believe me, words I never thought I’d write) for bucking the poppy-wearing trend on Soccer Saturday the weekend before last and instead sporting a purple ribbon for his wife’s charity Boot Out Breast Cancer.

So why not let our footballers choose themselves whether or not to wear a poppy?  Most probably would, some may do so simply because they felt pressured and some might, for whatever reason, decide not to.  Surely that’s the best way to honour the fallen:  By genuinely respecting the freedom for which they sacrificed their lives.

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Anonymous said...

Great article Rog. Just need some clarification on this 'freedom' thing. No one ever quite outlines what that is exactly. One freedom I can see stemming from the "Great" War is that a whole generation of the men of the ruling classes was pretty much wiped out, thereby opening up the possibility for the subsequent rise of the middle classes. I'm never quite sure of what the Hun would've had in mind for us in the UK had we lost that particular European power struggle/slaughterfest. Perhaps the Kaiser would've been just as amicable as his German cousin on the throne over here... Let the flood of enraged replies commence. C

Phil Ruse said...

The attempt at "silencing dissent" was very much in evidence this morning unfortunately.