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MIGHT AND RIGHT

16-11-2009

poppy

Now the dust has settled on Armistice Day, Dave Woodhall reflects on the rise and rise of military madness.

Until a few years ago, Armistice Day was a relatively low-key affair. It was observed by those with a connection to the military although most of us ignored it. I knew that in the immediate post-war period everyone had stopped to pay tribute at the eleventh hour, but those days had long gone. World wars were things of the past; the younger generations knew nothing of conflict and had no great desire to find out.

Then suddenly, those days are back. The nation once more comes to a halt to spend two minutes in silent reflection. But while it’s undoubtedly a good thing that we should remember those who made the supreme sacrifice to enable us to enjoy the life we live today, I can’t but wonder whether the current fad for all things militaristic is done for the right reasons or whether there’s not some disturbing undercurrent.

Since the invasion of Iraq the public conscious has been invaded, if you’ll excuse the term, by a growing militarism. Solders weren’t being paraded at football grounds after the Falklands War, nor have we experienced Live Aid-style nationwide fund raising before now. The Sun’s overtly jingoistic coverage of the Falklands was criticised at the time but they seem to have just been ahead of their time.

The Hope for Heroes ethos, admirable though it may be, strikes me as being accompanied by a laddish, almost aggressive atmosphere of support for ‘our boys.’ I’m reluctant to introduce a racist element into such a sensitive subject, but I do wonder how much of the nation’s newborn preoccupation with the military stems from their current fight against what is seen in some quarters as the all-pervasive growth of Islam.

After all, the English Defence League with its strident anti-Muslim message grew out of demonstration and counter-demonstration at a military parade.

And although I happily buy one every year I’m not too keen on what Jon Snow called poppy fascism. In the days before November 11th you’d probably see maybe two or three people in every hundred wearing poppies in everyday life.  Yet everyone on television was doing so.

Are they more respectful than the rest of us? Or were they pressurised into wearing a poppy because not to do so would lead to a volley of complaints from the Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells, Tipton and Truro?

If, as I suspect, the latter is the case, then surely paying tribute because you feel your career might suffer otherwise is worse than not paying tribute at all.

I’m left with an uneasy feeling that for many people the act of remembrance is turning into a part of the social calendar, just after Bonfire Night and before switching on the Christmas lights. You pay your respects in the same way as you might leave a bunch of flowers at the site of a fatal accident – everyone else does it and you don’t want to feel left out.

It’s undoubtedly a worthy cause, but maybe not always for the right reasons.

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