Why We Won’t Wear A Poppy

Irish Citizen Army, Liberty Hall, Dublin 1914.
Irish Citizen Army, Liberty Hall, Dublin 1914.

By Jim Slaven

I won’t be wearing a poppy this year. Of course this revelation is some considerable way short of a shock. However as we are entering that time of year it is worth being clear about why we do not wear a poppy. Republicans do not support the British military and despite all the myth-making wearing a poppy is all about supporting the British military. It’s not about World War One and it’s not about remembering the dead. It is all about supporting the UK state’s war machine. Despite the near compulsion which accompanies poppy wearing in public life there are actually many very good reasons not to wear one. But after recent events in Scotland we also have another reason.

The decision of Police Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal and the military hierarchy to do nothing over the racist and sectarian hate-fest at the Ibrox ‘Armed Forces Day’ has convinced even more people that there is something seriously wrong with this country. Through social media the shocking scenes of hundreds of state forces joining in with thousands of football fans in singing sectarian and racist songs was shared throughout the world. Despite this the country’s politicians remain silent and no action has been taken. We are being encouraged to move along quietly.

However something significant has happened here. This is not just another example of football fans singing songs that other fans do not like. Although this happened at a football match this has very little to do with football. This is about state forces engaging in racist and sectarian behaviour in full uniform at a fully sanctioned event as the military hierarchy watched on from the stands. This is about the complicity of our politicians. This is about the failure of the police and investigating authorities to act. This must be a watershed moment, if not for Scottish society then certainly for our community.

One Scotland Many Cultures?
One Scotland Many Cultures?

Much of the commentary on this hate-fest has concentrated on the fact it took place at a football match. Many have highlighted the fact that Police Scotland did nothing. In the context of the SNP’s Offensive Behaviour Bill and when contrasted with their continuing harassment of the Green Brigade and other working class football fans this inaction is shameful. In the context of this flawed legislation the fact that state forces can sing about being up to their knees in our blood and the police turn a blind eye is scandalous. Or perhaps more accurately would be scandalous in any other country. The fact that the police have since said they were on their tea break at the time just adds to the view that they support such behaviour and cannot even be bothered making up a good excuse for their inaction.

These points are of course valid, particularly about the inconsistency of the policing. The Offensive Behaviour Bill was always directed at the Irish community and at expressions of Irish republicanism in particular. These events merely serve to prove that point. However this dreadful law would not be made any better if the cops arrest a few Rangers fans. Reducing this issue to a debate about football fans being offensive moves the debate onto terrain that suits the state. It also lets the military and the politicians off the hook. This is about state forces racist and sectarian behaviour and the decision of the police to do nothing about it. It is also about the silence of our politicians (SNP and Labour). Can you imagine if thousands of people were singing about being up to the necks in the blood of Jewish people or Africans? Politicians would be falling over themselves to quite rightly condemn it, yet when it’s directed at Irish people there is silence.

“They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn’t want to be broken.”- IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands MP

Another issue which as received much debate has been the songs of hate about Bobby Sands. This is a red herring. That state forces and supporters of pro British death squads at Ibrox should sing about Bobby Sands is directly linked to their fear of Bobby Sands. They fear Bobby Sands and his comrades because he represents the polar opposite of themselves. Bobby Sands selflessly chose the path of struggle in full knowledge that in such an asymmetrical conflict such a path would lead to either prison or death. For Bobby Sands it meant both and as he hungered to the death for his beliefs over 30,000 people voted for him to be their member of parliament. Bobby Sands exposed the lie of the state’s criminalisation policy and internationalised the republican struggle. Bobby Sands is an international revolutionary icon. If this was a debate about the courage, dedication and sacrifice of Bobby Sands and the IRA compared to the British Army there would only be one winner. They sing about Bobby Sands because they fear republicanism.

"Tyrants tremble before men who are capable of dying for their ideals, after 60 days on hunger strike!"- Fidel Castro Image: Bobby Sands Street, Tehran, Iran.
“Tyrants tremble before men who are capable of dying for their ideals, after 60 days on hunger strike!”- Fidel Castro speaking about the 1981 Hunger Strike.
Image: Bobby Sands Street, Tehran, Iran.

However this is not about Bobby Sands, this is about the nature of the state. This episode has revealed to a broader audience the racist nature of the British ideology and how the construction of Britishness and Scottishness continues to posit Irish as the Other. However for republicans our opposition to the UK state, its militarism and its ideology are long-standing and resolute. To wear a poppy is to endorse British militarism and no amount of myth-making and misrepresentation can alter that fact.

One of the most frequently repeated myths is that the poppy is only about the First World War and not about subsequent conflicts. While the origins of the poppy may lie in WW1, it most definitely is used to promote subsequent and present day British militarism. Indeed the poem from where the poppy symbol originates, In Flanders Field by Canadian John McCrea, is very clear on the issue.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I should be clear at this point I would not wear a poppy even if it was only about the WW1. A war about which James Connolly said:

Yet this is war: war for which all the jingoes are howling, war to which all the hopes of the world are being sacrificed, war to which a mad ruling class would plunge a mad world.”

James Connolly, along with others like John MacLean, was correct about the First World War. He was correct then and remains correct today. People may ask what of the many, many Irishmen who went to fight for the British Army? Well, I’m sure many of them were fine young men and if their families wish to remember them as individuals I have no problem with that. But let’s be clear they are on the wrong side of history. Many believed British propaganda that this was a war about the rights of small nations. Many others believed British claims that following victory in the war Ireland would be granted self determination. However the British state lied, deceived and reneged just as Connolly predicted they would. The Irishmen who fought for Britain were, in Connolly’s words ‘duped’. Connolly’s analysis of the First World War was correct and the people who fought for the British Empire were wrong.

“Should the working class of Europe, rather than slaughter each other for the benefit of kings and financiers, proceed tomorrow to erect barricades all over Europe, to break up bridges and destroy the transport service that war might be abolished, we should be perfectly justified in following such a glorious example and contributing our aid to the final dethronement of the vulture classes that rule and rob the world.”- James Connolly

Neither is the poppy only about remembering. You only have to look at the royal family lining up with the political elite at the cenotaph to see that this is state sponsored glorification of British militarism. It is also a huge fundraising drive which allows the state to abdicate its responsibility to war wounded and instead allows the state to redirect money into new weapons and new training to boost their current wars. This is not about remembering as an act of saying never again. This is not an act of remembering the horrors of war. This is an act of endorsement for Britain’s war machine, past and present.

So my advice is don’t wear a poppy. Wear a badge of James Connolly or Bobby Sands instead.


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  1. Hey Jim Do you know where I can get a John McLean badge? In the past even as a republican I have worn a poppy in memory of my dad and uncles Celtic fans one and. all. However I’m sure if my dad were still here, he would say that the gross misconduct of those Rangers fans who insulted every Roman Catholic comrade who has ever worn a British Army uniform by their vindictive and hate fuelled actions was the last straw and I won’t be wearing a poppy this year or any year in the future.

    Yours for a better fairer Scotland.

    Love And Best Wishes
    Gayle X

  2. As a Brownie (young Girl Guide), I sold poppies and proudly stood beside my father, a RCAF vet, on Armistice Day as his Canadian Legion branch honored the young farm boys who never returned from war. I have always associated the poppy with honoring my father, who, by the way, met and married a beautiful Irish woman (from a Republican family) during WWII. This article has totally made me realize how skewed my thinking has been. Standing beside my father in that tiny park is what I will remember – and that only. The poppy is no longer relevant.

  3. Many years ago I would wear a poppy in honour of my grandfather, senselessly maimed at 19 years of age on the Somme. Today it has become a symbol of political correctness. It has been hijacked by politicians in Britain and Northern Ireland.

    Furthermore, the funds it brings in no longer support hapless conscripts caught up in World War Two and post war colonial engagements. It is used to support professional soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly these are unjust wars but If the state finds it necessary to send troops there then they should take responsibility for looking after them. In any event the taxpayer pays.

    Of couse, I have sympathy for poor and ignorant boys unable to find a job and who end up ‘taking the Queen’s shilling’. But the modern army is less and less like that. Most soldiers will admit that they go into the army with their eyes open.

    The army and the poppy appeal have become politicised. In Scotland, witness the scenes at Ibrox and the furore when Celtic chose to support their own charities rather than be forced into the poppy appeal. Now every talking head on TV HAS to wear a poppy. It wasn’t always like that.

    I won’t wear a poppy because I don’t support the government and the army it uses to enforce its will. I won’t wear a poppy because somebody tells me I should and that it’s disrespectful not to. I won’t wear a poppy because I don’t like what it has come to symbolise.

    My grandfather was a naive and uneducated boy who realised too late that he had made a mistake. I know from his subsequent politics that he sought to rectify that when he was discharged and of no further use to the army. But his wounds never healed and he died in his early 30s as a direct result. In those days there was no welfare state and no widows pension for a woman whose husband had died, not in the war, but because of it. My grandmother was left to get on with it.

    So I won’t be wearing the poppy this year or ever again. I know my grandfather would have approved.

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