By Jude Collins (judecollins.com)
The other day my former class-mate Eamonn McCann was on Talkback, I think it was, and typically provided a new insight into the topic under discussion. The topic was Derryman James McClean and his refusal to wear the poppy on his football shirt. Eamonn pointed out that this practice of wearing a poppy on football shirts originated only a few years ago, and mentioned how a stiff and upright soldier had marched onto the field before a Premier League game recently and laid a wreath in the centre circle McCann’s view was that this was a deliberate weaving of militarism into soccer, which had nothing to do with any war.
I was on Frank Mitchell’s show on U105 yesterday discussing the refusal of Sinn Fein to attend a Remembrance Sunday service with the British armed forces. I think there are a number of points worth considering before you decorate your bosom.
If people yield to pressure to perform some action or wear some emblem, they’ve allowed themselves to behave in a hypocritical manner. They don’t believe in what they’re doing but they still do it. Such participation sullies matters for those who do believe in the value of performing the action or wearing the emblem.
The poppy is worn here as a mark of respect for all those who have lost their lives fighting on behalf of Britain since the First World War. We know that British armed forces killed innocent people in Ballymurphy in 1971 and in Derry in 1972, and were engaged in hundreds of acts of collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, which led to the killing of innocent Catholics. Should anyone be surprised that some Irish people might not see it fitting to honour the dead of the British army?
For any sane human being, the approach to past wars should be, not “We will remember them” but “Never again.” The taking of human life on an industrial scale, which is what armies do, should be seen as a huge blot on the honour of any country. If there must be poppies worn or formed into wreaths, let them be white, to remind people that enough blood has been spilled.
The First World War was not, as is sometimes claimed, a war to save “gallant little Belgium” but a war by one established empire (Britain) to halt the rise of another empire (Germany). In this clash of imperial powers, millions were fed lies about the enemy and millions died pointlessly.
While many condemn the killing of 16 million people in the First World War, there is a tendency to see the killing of the Second World War as justified. Not so. Whatever the end, some of the means used to pursue that end were in fact war crimes. The carpet-bombing of Dresden, to terrorise German citizens, was not unique. Allied forces also fire-bombed Hamburg, Berlin, Nuremberg, Cologne, Darmstadt and Wurzburg with the same intention to terrorise.
During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), British troops rounded up around a sixth of the Boer population - mainly women and children - and held them in concentration camps that were short on food but big on disease. Over 100,000 people were interned in these camps. Some 28,000 Boers died in them.
In Kenya, members of the Kikuyu tribe were forced into concentration camps where they were systemically tortured and sexually assaulted. The number of those who died is put at anything between 20,000 and 100, 000.
These are just some of the actions of the British armed forces which every presenter on BBC Television and UTV honours when s/he wears a poppy. I have no doubt there are well-intentioned people who think only of supporting old soldiers. Maybe it’s time they looked at the wider picture and how their poppy pays tribute to so many ghastly, inhuman actions down the years.