The Poppy as Ticket to The World

The door opened and 30 small faces turned to the guests. Some of the older children had ben sent around the school with a collection tin and a blue tray. In this tray were dozens of small, red poppies. Each 7-year-old reached a sticky hand into their pocket and fumbled with the golden coin they had been entrusted with. The rattle of pounds in the box was overwhelmed by the voices of excited children pinning on a small, paper, poppy.

Royal_British_Legion's_Paper_Poppy_-_white_backgroundA squad of tiny soldiers with our badges proudly on our chests. Or raw wounds, bleeding.

Overpraised, overpaid, overeducated. My generation found itself in university and profoundly loses itself each weekend as vodka stains the piss-soaked streets. We were promised the world and our parents were the generation capable of providing it. It’s a world of infinite possibility, at every turn a choice or an opportunity for personal freedom. Taught one thing but Google already rendered the lesson irrelevant.

Marched for peace and camped for justice and now our boys march for injustice in a far-land. It is clear that the authorities have no ear for this generation, only a thirst for their wealth. Yet Generation Y makes a difference by purchasing fairtrade, organic products which regrow the rain forests and their bosses ask them how their weekend was. It’s a culture of authenticity and mutuality plastic wrapped in a redemptive experience. No, this generation is not like the one before.

A world of environmental abuse and “yes, boss” and “you have my vote” and hiding our money and asking no questions. Paedo-Priests and Pervert-Presenters, lying politicians and greedy corporates. This baby has boomed and our baby is bust.

My generation lives in the shadow of the Boomers. We were raised by the children of the 20th century’s greatest tragedies. The boomers, rooted as they are in the events of their youth, embody so much of the truth of their age. Namely, the truth of two global conflicts and the collapse of socialism. Their parents overcame the end of the world, the collapse of Western civilisation and the Boomers bore witness to the great cost. Traumatised men who lived as the waking dead. Widows who raised a family alone. Children displaced. Bombs. Nukes. The boomers saw the cost of their own future.

So it is with the contradictions of tragedy and victory, survival and death, that these people pin a red poppy to their chests each year.

Yet my contemporaries were raised in the paradise forged by the Boomers. We were presented with poppies year in and out and told that people “gave their lives for our freedom.”

Well, who were they? Why were they fighting? What did they lose? What did that mean?

These are the questions left unasked. Since they are unasked, we summon the answers from the aether. The vague notion of being saved from some unknowable evil is reenforced by the zeal of the remembrance–as if the gravity of the Wars can be captured in a solemn march, or a poem, or the testimony of a veteran.

Remembrance for my generation is rooted in saving face. It would be a disgrace to disagree or to question, and so every justification is paraded every year unopposed while we weep the great cost of war. In being so removed from the conflicts, the rituals surrounding the remembrance of them become increasingly elaborate. It is our yearly sacrifice to the scarcely remembered death of a generation.

I do not think awareness diminishes the fact of the Wars, nor their lasting impact on the world. Rather it is this rootless ritual which has become an untruth. As the last living witnesses pass on, the stories told about the war become myths to justify our basest notion of “freedom.” Any opposition to that myth is tantamount to treason.


It is a betrayal of our common humanity that we remember one telling of the War at the exclusion of the others. When I was a boy, I was taken on a trip to Belgium to see some of the sites of the great wars. We visited that Allies cemetery. It was a great hillside full of proud white stones, all upright in neat rows.

We visited the German war grave in the same region. It looked something like this.

This mass grave contains 24,917 soldiers of whom 7,977 remain unknown. The names of those known are on the surrounding basalt blocks.
This mass grave contains 24,917 soldiers of whom 7,977 remain unknown. The names of those known are on the surrounding basalt blocks.

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