One (more) Small Step

soapbox over on soapboxrants has entered the fray over poppies, (for the earlier blogpost see here) and a comment of his in the discussion has driven traffic in this direction, so I thought I’d return the favour (for what it’s worth).

The wearing of a poppy is a peculiar thing and it came up in conversation today with a friend. He told me a story of an uncle of his from the streets of East Belfast who trod water for an hour off the coast of France, holding the head of a cousin above the waves until he was rescued and brought home.

An astonishing story of remarkable courage and familial devotion and one worth remembering and retelling.

Was he fighting for England/Ireland, or some great nationalistic idea, or simply struggling to survive? Is his ordinary heroism  the kind that is celebrated and remembered at the cenotaph in Whitehall each year, or is it the need that nations and governments have to glorify the decisions to go to war and to ensure a steady crop of recruits for the next one? And here’s a hard one, is there any moral equivalence between what I perceive as the glorification of war and sacrifice at the cenotaph, and the promise of a posse of virgins waiting for me in the afterlife?

Can I by wearing a poppy remember ordinary heroes like my friend’s uncle, but at the same time distance myself from the national remembrances?

And then at a personal level, how much of this moral debate am I using as an excuse to cover a much dirtier secret, which is my sectarian attitudes to things British? And if I wore the white poppy is that not equally a provocative act, which done in the wrong way could be judged sectarian?

Wearing a poppy is a hard thing. At least it is for me, and I didn’t wear it yesterday without many years of consideration, nor am I sure whether I’ll wear it next year…I’ll probably have to go through this all over again. But I agree with soapbox when he raises the ludicrousness of Juande Ramos wearing one, or BBC newsreaders (locally here in NI or nationally) wearing one because it’s BBC ‘policy’. Surely it should be a matter of individual choice if its to mean anything at all?

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