Poppy, Pride and Politics
Today, of course, is Remembrance Sunday - a day on which our nation commemorates all those soldiers who have given their lives for our country. Quite rightly, perhaps, many people take part in services being held in churches up and down our country - and in other parts of our towns and cities including community halls, town centres and temples.
Essentially I have absolutely no problem with people wanting to mark this occasion with whatever appropriate means they want to employ. I think it is fitting that some form of event is organised on a national scale to remember the immensity of sacrifice made by thousands and indeed millions of young soldiers - many as young as the students I teach.
So I'm all for it. I really am.
However I want to take issue with those (including David Cameron and Prince William) who say the Poppy Appeal and, indeed, Remembrance Sunday are not, in any way, political.
This morning the Queen - the symbolic head of state who has no authority whatsoever - is going to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in London to honour the country's war dead. This is going to be accompanied by other members of her family, the prime minister, politicians, military chiefs and hundreds of thousand ex service men and women in uniform who have been directly involved in historical and recent international conflicts. And they'll be wearing the medals the state has bestowed on them for their heroic deeds.
Maybe I'm missing something here but it looks pretty damn political to me. I mean, how much more political can you be when you take a nation(s) to war - for whatever reason - or you voluntarily enlist in the armed forces to fight and die for your country?
Lt Gen Sir John Kiszely, of the Royal British Legion stated: "Remembrance Sunday is a time for the nation to unite in its reverence for the British armed forces past and present. When we bow our heads in reflection, we remember those who fought for our freedom during the two World Wars, but we also mourn and honour those who have lost their lives in more recent conflicts.
"Today, with troops on duty in Afghanistan and other trouble spots around the world, remembrance, and the two-minute silence, are as important as ever."
It's amazing but even the very carefully selected apolitical semantics used by people to justify the Poppy Appeal and/or Remembrance Day is loaded with political connotations. Lexis like 'nation', 'unite', 'freedom', 'duty' and 'conflict' bring us into the semantics of political speech.
And Cameron, early last week, asked the Football Association and FIFA to over turn their original decision not to allow the England team to wear the poppy. He stated he was 'disappointed' and that the poppy was all about 'the pride in the nation state'.
When you start talking about the nation state and nation building or nationhood, you are in a political minefield.
Let's look at it from a different perspective. Let's turn the table.
Would we allow the Germans to mark their millions of men and women who died fighting for Hitler during the Nazis regime? Would FIFA allow the German team to wear a symbol that embodied that sentiment?
Of course not because, quite rightly, everyone would be up in arms.
Similarly would the International Cricket Board allow the Indian cricket team to wear a symbol that represented the thousands of soldiers who have died defending the Kashmir border against Pakistan?
Of course not - because we would define such examples as political.
So it seems that we can change our definition of 'political' at our convenience. It's all to do with perspective. If it suits the government, anything can be non-political even war. And that's fine if that's what you want. But let's not kid ourselves that today has nothing to do with politics because that would be a tad patronising and an insult to our intelligence.
I believe that the Poppy Appeal and Remembrance Sunday are landmarks that are deeply political. And as such we should monitor them carefully.