Well here we are again, that time of year when the poppy police are out in force, checking our lapels to make sure we're suitably attired with a red poppy that is now unofficially mandatory. Bad enough a mere ordinary mortal defy those metaphorical brownshirts and choose not to wear one, but do so while in the public eye and you face the prospect of being targeted by that modern day equivalent of a mob of pitchfork-wielding avengers, the right wing press.
This year the intensity of emotion surrounding the poppy has reached even greater heights, what with those over at FIFA daring to ban them from the shorts of the England and Scotland teams when they meet in their World Cup qualifier on November 11, which by some quirk of the gods happens to be the actual anniversary of Armistice Day. FIFA's attempt to interfere, on the basis that it considers the poppy to be a political symbol and therefore in contravention of the world football governing body's rules, is just more grist to the mill of the chest-beating Brexit bombardiers, providing them with a golden opportunity to burnish their patriotic credentials even more than usual in the run-up to Remembrance Day.
This being said, there is both a serious and insidious side to this annual ritual, one that has taken on the mantle of a national shibboleth. It is that at bottom the trumpets, monuments, and fanfare are not designed to mourn the dead but instead to glorify the nature of their deaths - by extension, extolling the virtues of militarism and the nation's martial might. This is even more relevant when we consider Britain's recent participation in wars and conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya - wars in which not only British soldiers but also thousands of civilians have been killed or maimed, those for whom there is no monument or ritual of remembrance. This is without taking account of the myriad other wars this country has waged throughout the history of an empire that should be a source of shame rather than celebration.
No amount of facile right wing propaganda can conceal the truth that lies behind the hypocrisy that prevails at this time of year - namely that Britain's role in the world as a colonial power has been an ignoble and eminently malign one, and that the apotheosis of militarism which this annual ritual engenders acts as a recruiting sergeant to encourage succeeding generations of young working class men, starved of opportunity and prospects at home, to join up and likewise be slaughtered on the altar of national prestige and degeneracy.
Even when it comes to the one war in Britain's modern history that was morally justified in being waged, the Second World War against fascism, there are truths attached that dare not speak their name. The first of these is that were it not for the savage peace terms forced on Germany in the wake of the First World War, Hitler's rise on the back of the destitution endured by millions of Germans would probably never have taken place. The second is were it not for the subsequent years of appeasement that was largely driven by the sympathy and latent support for the Nazis on the part of a significant section of the ruling class in this country, he would likely have been stopped at a far earlier stage in his ambitions.
If anything, this time of year reminds us that we are a nation and a society suffering from an addiction to war. Breaking this addiction requires that we first undergo a sea change in our attitude to war and how we view those who have died in previous wars. The bandying around of words such as 'sacrifice' and 'heroism' at this time of year, usually by well fed, privileged politicians and commentators who most probably have never experienced as much as a punch in the face much less combat, reveals an atrocious lack of understanding of the terror these young men experience in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. The notion that an 18 or 19-year-old from an underprivileged background signs up with the resolve to sacrifice his life for his country is grotesque. They sign up looking to escape the drab and dim prospects offered them at home, seduced by the illusion of excitement and adventure abroad.
At that age you consider yourself invincible, imbued with a sense of your own immortality, and as such are malleable and open to the propaganda that feeds the militarism that has so poisoned our cultural values. No amount of training could possibly prepare these young men for the horrors of war, for the sight of their mates being blown apart beside them, the sight of women and children slaughtered; and no amount of bugles and parades could ever compensate those who return maimed and/or psychologically damaged as a consequence, whereupon they are left to the tender mercy of charity. This is why the real enemy of the young men who continue to be sent to kill and be killed overseas are those who send them. Come Remembrance Day they will be standing in front of the cenotaph with poppies the size of tennis balls pinned to their chests.
Refusing to wear a poppy is not to be unpatriotic or disrespectful of the far too many young working class men that our blood-soaked ruling class have used as cannon fodder throughout the nation's history. Refusing to wear a poppy is to refuse to be a pawn in their game.