Remembrance should be an act which promotes peace in the world, a cessation of hostilities and commemoration of all loss of life regardless of race, colour or creed. Sadly, this is not what the Royal British Legion's current Poppy Appeal is about.
As a society, we are forced to acknowledge that charities and voluntary and community organisations need to professionalise - they simply have to, as part of that move, engage in BS (I wont say it), to build capacity and improve delivery. To survive.
However, some organisational changes are a misstep. New coke, or Classic Coke; the Nokia N-Gage or Gerald Ratner deciding to do some impromptu marketing. Some changes we end up regretting, quite seriously. The focus of the Poppy Appeal appeal has shifted in recent years to include an active and current supporting role in what can arguably termed illegal wars of aggression; it no longer solely serves veterans and families from the two World Wars. Regardless of our personal view or religious disposition, we certainly have a responsibility to recognise the real facts surrounding the allocation of funds raised on behalf of an organisation such as the Royal British Foreign Legion - for example £50m expenditure on supporting personnel in theatres of conflict today. Yes, one might just consider this to be politically or philosophically controversial.
As a parent and school governor, I was a little taken aback after receiving a letter this week from our local primary school. Parents were 'informed' that their children will be going, during school time, class-by-class to directly market and fund-raise on behalf of the Royal British Legion. Aside from whether parents should have been asked permission and perhaps also aside from whether publicly funded school time should be used to fund-raise and market for such causes; the letter let slip about my greatest fear. Poppy Fascism.
When a headteacher writes that by 'wearing their own poppy’ children can more easily relate to the significance of this important event, clearly something is not right. It's probably safe to assume in any event that he meant a red poppy, not a white one. Since when are children a homogeneous group, and since when are we as adults - or are we merely trying to create one? The idea that only by the wearing of a poppy we can relate and understand the importance of global conflicts is puerile, narrow and so intellectually vapid that it does a disservice to those who lost their lives, those who are suffering today and the discourse that needs to occur on the issues.
Neither am I against the troops, nor am I a pacifist. Platitudes about my late-grandfather's service in WWII and a glowing recollection of Brasso-ing medals shouldn't need stating. But there again, this is 2011. And in 2011, a Muslim needs to tread very carefully indeed when publicly commenting on anything relating to the support infrastructure for British troops. So often today, the crystal clarity and moral fortissimo of the Muslim voice is stifled with subservience, indignation and apology. The new house negros.
However, let's be clear. WWII was a very different conflict to modern wars of aggression and the fourth generational warfare which has recently been waged in theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The spectre of 1 million dead and 4 million displaced, Abu Ghraib, war crimes and the total destruction of Fallujah (the City of A Thousand Mosques) are presumably not going to be argued en par with defending our nation from Nazi totalitarianism.
Should people wish to wear poppies, so be it. There is no compulsion in belief and this remains their prerogative, which as a courtesy should be accommodated. This is not an argument about the wearing of poppies in absolute terms - although that may well have some legs. The Poppy Appeal is certainly happy to take money from the BNP. This is thrust into our homes with the BBC's practice of pinning a red poppy on to virtually everyone on their TV shows. 'Tis nothing if not propagandist. Presumably accusing state run media of 'bias' is no more idiotic than bemoaning the cow for dropping a pat in its own field because it isn't 'toilet trained'. They will even digitally add a poppy if you're not wearing one. Take a second to think about that utterly IngSoc move.
And a warning to those teachers, parents and educationalists: school children carrying out sales and marketing activities in school time on behalf of any outside organisation, be it our Royal British Foreign Legion, is questionable at best. It is very dodgy territory indeed to create a situation where some will and others will not, where social and peer pressure is being brought to bear along controversial and politicised lines. Regardless of the offence it can cause, for some children the experience can be extremely confusing and alienating. After all, it is doubtful whether you are having a discussion on whether those Glasgow Celtic fans should be allowed to unfurl their banners against celebrating 'proddy terrorists'. After all, for what other reason did we send so many of our men folk to die? But after all, it's nearly Christmas time and there's nothing wrong with a little rendition of Jingo Bells.
We pause to wonder what will be the future of a UK bereft of war warmongering and support industries. So quick to demonise other nations for their blood lust, we Brits always overlook the log in our own eye as we gorge our appetites on innumerable war monuments, national military events, marches and towns which - almost Victorianesque in the ephemera of war death and dying - revere the repatriated dead.
Perhaps we do need a public discourse on our national priorities as part of also figuring out where we stand in the world. With little or no manufacturing base in the UK, we have traditionally placed a quarter of our ambitions on the shoulders of our banks. Even Marx recognised that naked capitalism without a moral framework is doomed. No decent economist could disagree. We should be in no doubt: the disgracefully swollen numbers of newly recruited interns within the British penal system are all set to become the workhouses that the nouveau-economy will be built upon. When in doubt, go Dickensian. Tories if nothing else, do Upstairs Downstairs better than anyone. Just look at the child poverty stats.
Having broadcast some of these thoughts publicly this week, it's good to know Benjamin Zephaniah agrees. Poppy Fascism is just one of the pillows currently over the face of democratic debate. With our last gasp we can perhaps do no better than to offer a caveat to the next generation: whatever you do, think, and whoever you end up being, be better than us.