Britain’s Poppy Fascism
By Finian Cunningham
October 29, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "Sputnik"
- It’s that time of year again – when Britain’s “poppy
fascism” dominates public life. Television presenters are perhaps
the most conspicuous exponents, whereby the paper facsimile of the
little red flower must be donned on all lapels.
Now weeks ahead of the official commemoration day,
more and more Britons, including TV personalties, are pinning the
poppy in public.
It may seem innocuous,
but there is a disturbing authoritarianism to the increasing custom.
Those who don’t wear the symbol commemorating Britain’s war dead are
liable to be castigated and abused for being “traitors”.
The BBC is a classic example. The publicly owned
state broadcaster says that its presenters and reporters have the
option of not wearing the red poppy. But in practice such is the
peer pressure and jingoistic mood of modern Britain that all BBC
staff will have to conform to a personal display of the red floral
tribute. Bet on it.
Some brave television figures refuse to go along with
the established “norm”. It was Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow who
coined the phrase “poppy fascism” a few years ago when he was
publicly berated by BBC journalists and other media outlets
for refusing to don the flower during his nightly broadcasts. It
remains to be seen if the Channel 4 news anchor will this year cave
to public pressure – a pressure which seems to be growing every
Ever since 1919, Britain and its Commonwealth
states, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand hold Remembrance
Day on November 11.
It marks the armistice of the First World War
in 1918. The first commemoration was held by Britain’s King George V
who wore a red poppy, thus inaugurating a tradition that continues
to this day. The delicate flower was commonly seen on the
battlefields of Belgium and France and came to symbolise the
millions of soldiers killed during the four-year-old war.
Across Britain, Remembrance Day is marked by sombre
ceremonies in towns and cities during which poppy wreathes are laid
at war memorials. The biggest event is held at the Cenotaph
in London’s Whitehall. Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister David Cameron
and other political leaders will be among the chief dignitaries,
along with senior members of Britain’s armed forces.
So what, you may ask, is objectionable
about Britain’s annual Remembrance?
In its early observance, the
event was indeed a momentous mourning for the millions who died
in the First World War. It was an occasion to vow “never again”
should mankind be plagued with such horror.
However, the massive demonstration of grieving and
repudiation of war has since given way to an obscene glorification
of war. The danger of such co-option was there from the beginning
when King George V led the first Remembrance Day. For the British
monarch – whose cousins included Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II and
other European aristocrats – personified the basic background to the
conflict. It was an imperialist squabble that exploded into a
conflagration that consumed up to 18 million ordinary civilians
among the warring nations.
From the very outset therefore, the British
commemoration was an opportune way to rehabilitate the monarch and
the state’s ruling class who had largely precipitated the war,
along with their European elites.
It is a heinous indictment that only two decades
after the end of the First World War, the world would be plunged
into an even greater conflagration of the Second World War, which
resulted in nearly 80 million dead – more than four-fold more. The
subsequent war had its antecedents in the imperialist rivalries
of the first. Why a second more terrible war should happen was
because the war-making imperialist state apparatus had never been
held to account. The British rulers were able to deftly reinvent
themselves in the eyes of their public as “victors” instead of being
seen, as they should have been, as warmongering villains.
To be fair to honourable exceptions, many genuine
anti-war Britons were aware of the disgraceful and dangerous
co-option by the ruling class. During the 1920s, a movement began
which saw war remembrances conducted with white poppies, instead
of the red ones that came to be associated with the official event.
White poppies are still worn to this day and that tradition has been
reinvigorated by campaign groups like Stop the War Coalition.
Nevertheless, Britain has become a discernibly
more jingoistic country in which the red poppy has taken on an
Orwellian symbolism. Television presenters are dragooned
into wearing it, schools and workplace are expected to display it.
It has become a badge of loyalty to the state, and those who decline
to wear the poppy are fingered as treacherous or disrespectful to
A major cause of the
cultural shift is that Britain has become a more warmongering state
over the past 20 years. True, it was always a belligerent state,
playing the bulldog role to the more powerful and even more
warmongering United States.
But former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s criminal
partnership with Washington in invading Afghanistan and Iraq has
unleashed a virtual permanent state of war. British troops are still
stationed in Afghanistan and will be for at least another year.
Blair’s warmongering has been continued by David Cameron who
launched NATO strikes on Libya in 2011 and who is moving to deploy
British warplanes to bomb Syria – without the consent of the Syrian
When Cameron joins Queen Elizabeth in laying wreathes
at the Cenotaph in London, they will be followed in their footsteps
by former British prime ministers, including Tony Blair. Together,
they will be honouring not only the dead of the First World War,
but British veterans who took part in all subsequent wars, including
the destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and countless other
colonial wars in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Britain’s dirty
war in Northern Ireland will also be exonerated.
In other words, this is not a solemn regret
for the dead or for war.
Not a bit of it. It is the warmongering British
capitalist state apparatus indulging in an exercise of sanitising
Britain’s history of illegal wars, including its present role
in Syria. It deifies the war criminal class, which is then
“authorised” to keep repeating its crimes. If that’s not fascism,
then what is?
Britain’s official war commemoration is certainly
not a fitting tribute to victims of war. Because if it were then
there would a commitment to stopping wars. But as history shows,
Britain’s warmongering has proliferated over the years. That in turn
is because the upper echelons of British class society use war
commemorations as a cloak to hide their vile belligerence.
A fitting Remembrance Day would be for British
citizens to call for the prosecution of Tony Blair and David Cameron
as war criminals.
But when British news channels are falling
over themselves to wear red poppies out of unthinking “loyalty” or
fear of being labelled traitors – that shows how disturbingly
authoritarian and conformist British society has become.