I was in Glasgow city centre earlier than usual last Friday morning and in the middle of Buchanan Street was a larger trailer, the sort that open up to become a pop-up food stall or ticket office. This one hadn’t yet opened but the front bore the slogan “Poppy Scotland Official Merchandise”. That would be poppies then? I tweeted my amusement at this grand statement for what must surely be just a van full of paper poppies but a friend commented, “you’re in for a surprise Karen”, and she was right.
When I passed by that way again later in the day the van was open and revealed all manner of stuff, some poppies right enough, but also tea-towels, tee-shirts, hoodies, pin badges, mugs, pens, umbrellas and so on.
When did it become OK to commercialise conflict and why?
If I was minded to make a donation of £9.99 to Poppy Scotland I’d much rather buy a paper poppy, cost to the charity less than 1p I’m guessing, than purchase a poor quality tee-shirt costing the charity much more than a penny and, therefore, reducing the amount of my money that actually goes to support whatever it is Poppy Scotland does.
And the surrounding streets were full of earnest young people wearing tee-shirts with the Poppy Scotland slogan, “supporting our heroes”. This on the day that a judge released a recording of a British soldier murdering an injured Afghan citizen. If ever there was a day to get across the message that not all soldiers are heroes then Friday was it. For clarity, a hero is, according to the dictionary, “a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements and noble qualities”. Setting all soldiers up as heroes is an affront to real heroes by devaluing the term.
Becoming a soldier is a job, or as the army website recruitment says, “leaving school this year and looking for adventure, skills and training?” A job for which young men and women are well paid. It may, under certain circumstances, be a dangerous job but a job nonetheless. Doing something dangerous does not automatically make it heroic. And the MOD owe these young “adventure seekers” a duty of care and, like all employers, to make the job the least dangerous it can be.
The government lining up behind slogans claiming soldiers as heroes provides cover for the fact that they have sent young men and women to fight illegal wars. It is a fig leaf for jingoism.
What happened to respect, equality and dignity? Before the mass merchandising if we wanted to support Poppy Scotland, and the clue is in the name, we could buy a poppy. I may have bought mine for 1p and you may have bought one for £10 but in pinning them to our lapels we were both the same. But now we are encouraged to flaunt support by way of tee shirts and other expensive merchandising.
And freedom of choice?
If we do not display support then the poppy police are straight on to it. It appears that it is compulsory to wear a poppy if you are on the BBC, whether it is a news programme, entertainment or merely as a guest on a chat show. Many football teams wore specially designed tops including poppy motifs and the back page headlines were of two teams pilloried for not observing a minutes silence ahead of their matches; matches held on 9th November not matches held at the eleventh hour of the eleventh month, the traditional moment to pay silent respect.
So I will never buy or wear a poppy again. If I choose to make a donation it will not be to the poppy chuggers with their slogan filled merchandise, I will do so by putting coins in the collecting can of the veteran soldier standing quietly and with dignity and holding a tray of paper poppies.
karen is managing editor at http://www.the3rdimagazine.co.uk