If you were to watch British television at the moment, you would see that virtually every public figure is wearing a small red poppy. Poppies are worn at this time of year as we approach Armistice Day. They are worn to remember our war dead and to raise money for a veterans’ charity. I’ll be wearing one on my lapel at work and at church until Remembrance Sunday.
Most people support this symbol and a slight majority will wear one. Remembering the war dead seems like a praiseworthy thing to do. There are a few dissenters, however.
A few — and I have sometimes flirted with this idea — believe that we have overly fetishised the “glorious dead” of war and by doing so continue to perpetuate the lie that to die in battle for one’s country is an honour. This sentiment serves not the troops, but their masters. The troops should be spared such dreams of glorious death.
Some have denounced “poppy fascism,” including Jon Snow, a Channel 4 newsman who last year famously refused to wear one on air. It wasn’t the poppy that irked Snow, but rather the cultural imperative to wear one even if you don’t want to. Snow makes a good point. It is unthinkable — a few radicals like Snow notwithstanding — that a public or media figure would be seen without the poppy at this time of year. I suspect, for example, that the BBC news studio keeps a large supply of new ones to apply as part of their make-up routine.
But if virtue is compelled, then it isn’t virtue. If a BBC journalist, or an MP, or whoever — and for whatever reason — does not wear a poppy, their bosses, the media, the churches, and the public should avoid any witch-hunts and let them do as they wish. That includes any, like Jon Snow, who wish to voice their opposition. For unless we are truly free to dissent without sanction, then any support for the poppy appeal, or any other cause our peers deem to be “moral,” is morally neutral and offers no moral reward.