THE BLOG

Why Isn't The Poppy Appeal More Inclusive?

07/11/2016 17:15 GMT | Updated 06/11/2017 10:12 GMT
Mohana-AntonMeryl via Getty Images

So it's November and the beginning of November has always been synonymous for me with the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal. Normally I am working and the appeal just drifts around me. I buy my poppy and I might watch the Remembrance service from the Royal Albert Hall or the Cenotaph if I'm free.

But this year I'm not working and I've been paying a bit more attention to the news and have been quite surprised by the levels of vitriol associated with an appeal which, for me, has always been about showing respect.

I read an interesting blog by Symon Hill on the Huffington Post UK site entitled "The Red Poppy Insults Victims of War" which seemed to sum up many of the issues that people have. Mr Hill's view seemed to be that the Royal British Legion weren't inclusive enough in their remembrance, trying to focus too much on Veterans. But since the RBL is a charity for military veterans and their families and the Poppy Appeal is meant to support those same people I was a bit puzzled by his article.

His comment that today 90% of people killed in war are civilians is misleading. Throughout history civilians are almost always the most affected by war. You couldn't say that civilians weren't the majority of casualties in World War 2 could you? Think about the atomic bombs and the Holocaust.

Some of the comments on social media seem to show a lack of understanding of what this festival is about. In fact Mr Hill suggests that people wear the White Poppy in order to remember all victims of wars.

I actually don't disagree with Mr Hill that the White Poppy is a great way of remembering War Victims, but let's have a festival to remember all of the victims of war on a different date because 11 November is not about all of the victims of war. It's about honouring those who died or were injured serving our country or our Commonwealth and it's about raising money for those who have served.

Many people seem to blame the Armed Forces for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, The Falklands and for wars generally. There seems to be a common view that since our Armed Forces are volunteer-only then they must have volunteered to go to war because otherwise they could avoid it. But this is really simplistic because anyone that attempts even a cursory bit of research on the military knows that you can't just pick and choose what you want to do in the Armed Forces. The military works because people follow the orders of their superiors.

But in the case of war their ultimate superiors are not some warmongering generals. Wars come about because of political failure. In 1982 a bunch of Generals and Admirals didn't decide to just go on a jaunt to the South Atlantic. They were ordered to go there by the Government. They were ordered to mount an expedition with limited logistics support, in horrific weather conditions and with the bare minimum of personnel and equipment. But they went because the politicians told them to do so.

Our troops didn't just decide to invade Iraq. They were ordered there by Tony Blair. I'm sure many didn't want to go, many thought the war unnecessary, but in the military you don't pick and choose which orders to follow.

If someone falls asleep at the wheel of their car and drives into a tree, do we blame the car? No, because it wasn't the car's fault. The car was simply a tool of the driver. Just as the military is a tool of politicians.

And those that rail against the military seem to forget the humanitarian work that the military do. They forget that our military deployed to Sierra Leone to help with the Ebola outbreak, that our military were peace keepers in Sierra Leone and Kosovo. That the military stepped in to help victims of the UK floods. And those people seem to miraculously forget that non-war deployments can be as tough for people in the military as war deployments. They seem not to be aware that many who served in Kosovo or Sierra Leone have horrendous post-traumatic stress disorder and need support long after they have left the military.

And therein is the real reason behind the Poppy Appeal. Because our country doesn't provide proper support for military veterans once they've left the military. The charitable sector has to do that. So the politicians who send our people to war in the first place aren't prepared to support them after they've done their duty for our country. I, personally, find that pretty disgusting and embarrassing.

I have great respect for anybody that serves in the Armed Forces, because they are all taking the chance that at some point they may have to put themselves in harm's way. Many have done so over the past 50-60 years of deployments around the world. Some died, others returned with horrendous physical wounds. Many returned with mental wounds that you can't see but are just as severe.

The Royal British Legion and other military charities are often their only lifeline and support mechanism.

Should we mourn all victims of war? Definitely. Should we disrespect our Armed Forces personnel because we disagree with the politics of war? For the same reason I believe we should not. They are not to blame for wars, but they are there to fight them. For our tomorrow, many have given their today.