PoppyI’m not normally a terribly emotional person (except when it comes to anger), but I felt myself welling up with sadness during a feature run by the BBC for Remembrance Day. The BBC is telling the stories of “The Final Few” veterans of the Great War almost 100 years ago. One of these old soldiers was re-visiting France and there was one incredibly powerful image shown: this old man sitting crying in his wheelchair surrounded by hundreds of graves marked with plain white headstones – his friends and comrades who never made it back home, and while he has made it to 109 most of these men never made it past their late teens or early twenties. That image has been lodged in my head for days now and has been a source of sadness and anger. The sadness should be obvious: such an image was incredibly moving. The anger I’ll need to explain a bit.

My anger is primarily directed at those elements of society and the media who have used remembrance and the wearing of poppies as an opportunity for self-satisfied grandstanding. A few examples:

Last year Channel Four presenter Jon Snow refused to wear a poppy on air and complained about “Poppy Fascism.” He claimed that he refuses to wear any symbol that makes any kind of statement. True, there is a national conformism about the wearing of poppies but is it worth the grand-standing? Moreover, the use of term “fascism” was highly inappropriate in the context. Think of what fascism actually is and ask yourself is social pressure to wear a poppy rightly put into that category? No. Don’t be so bloody stupid. Despite his “principled objection” to wearing such symbols on TV he fails to remember his boast about wearing the Make Poverty History wristband because that symbol was deemed “beyond contention”. What a wanker.

The Royal British Legion (who support ex-servicemen in need through the selling of poppies) remained dignified, however. They simply remarked, quite rightly, that wearing a poppy was a voluntary gesture and that Snow was entitled to his opinion. How very kind of them. It’s true: Snow is indeed entitled to his opinion but we would do well to remember that opinions are like arseholes: every fucker has one and most of them are full of shit. Even though wearing poppies is not and should not be obligatory, what sort of human being is it that can’t bring themselves, and indeed are opposed to, the public display of gratitude for those who died so we might have the right speak out in these ways. “I don’t wear any such symbols in public.” Can you say that in German Mr Snow? Fellow broadcaster John Humphreys put it well: “if there is anybody in this country who does not feel that gratitude then I think they should feel vaguely ashamed of themselves.”

A year or so ago the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown gave her own anti-poppy rant. Now, this is a woman so stupid that she probably has to be watered several times a day, but her comments pissed me off when I read them. She refused to wear a poppy on the grounds of the war in Iraq: ‘How can I wear this blood-red symbol honouring fighters [given what’s going on in Iraq].” The poppy is not a symbol “honouring fighters” you silly old twit. It’s a means of remembering casualties of World War conflicts. It doesn’t indicate support for any conflict let alone the war in Iraq. There’s no reason why the most staunch pacifist couldn’t wear one. The poppy is not a political or military symbol and it’s shameful that media commentators like Alibhai-Brown who should know better have tried to turn it into one. It’s a way of honouring war dead, of boosting awareness, and for some people is just the done thing. Whatever meaning people give it, attaching a political one to wearing or not wearing it is rather repellent. Perhaps Alibhai-Brown is really concerned with the fact that the Poppy doesn’t cater for her emotions about the “illegal and immoral yada yada yada” war in Iraq, in her own words: ‘How can this flower convey my anger over this illegal war and the anguish of ordinary Iraqis whose lives are seen as worthless?’ Maybe she should invent her own. I suggest a white polythene bag worn over the head and tied firmly around the neck or if she doesn’t want such a public display how about a large phallic shaped object worn up her poxy arse.

I could go on and on: homosexuals who want to lay pink wreaths to remember the gay dead, in another attention-seeking attempt to shove themselves in the face of everyone else with their victim complex as if until now we were all remembering everyone except all the little gay people who died; and in my own country the disrespect for war dead shown by Irish Republicans to the extent that they saw fit to set a bomb off at a memorial service in Enniskillen in 1987 killing 11 people. Fucking cowards. I don’t believe in Hell but if there is one I hope they roast in it.

I agree with the sentiments of George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But I disagree with some of the sentiments often expressed at remembrance services for the war. We often hear of old soldiers referred to as heroes. But I don’t think many of them were heroes at all, and many war survivors are much too humble to accept that label. Many of them were barely men, frightened and fighting for their lives. Their choice was to run at German trench positions or take a bullet in the head: likely death versus certain death. There was little by way of heroism about it.

We also frequently hear sentiments such as “they died so we could be free.” And true: we are free. We’re in a much better position than we might have been had the wars been lost. But the truth of the matter is that we’re not “free” in the fullest sense. We’re simply bound in more ‘civilised’ ways.” War veterans fought external aggressors, but the chief threat to our freedom is now our own government: a government that can take our money and our property, that increasingly attempts to set the boundaries of free speech and thought. The unjustified interference in our lives continues and thus our freedom must still be won. The fight for freedom continues but thanks to those old men I shouldn’t ever have to die in that struggle.

And the best way to honour their sacrifice and their struggle for freedom is to continue that struggle by other means: by reason, persuasion, and argument to build a truly free society – a libertarian society in which the pen is mightier than the sword, in which human beings are truly free.

Lest we forget.