Young people, we are ruining so many things that it was only a matter of time before we came after the poppy.Thirty per cent “are failing to support the [Royal British Legion] campaign”, according to the Express, with the main reason given that they “feel bullied into supporting the appeal”. But it's not the decision not to wear a poppy that has ruined the memory of the First World War – it's modern day British attitudes.
The Royal British Legion (RBL) raised almost £100m in donations in 2016, with the poppy appeal accounting for half of that. It spends £50m a year on welfare services, meaning that most of the money raised from the appeal goes on much-needed care for veterans which the Government won’t provide.
We shouldn’t forget that the public’s generosity makes up for a lack of it from successive Governments that have found it much easier to send ordinary British people off to die than to pay for the consequences. Wars are often seen as sexy. Reconstruction is not.
I worry that superficial displays of caring, patriotism and sincerity in modern Britain too often hide a lack of substance. The patriotic trappings of the Leave campaigns in the Brexit referendum were a good example of this. Many Brexiteers claim to honour the victims of war while denigrating the very institutions set up to prevent future wars, showing themselves to be historically illiterate at best.
Following the Second World War, we learned to work together with our European neighbours to solve shared problems. Now, as we face greater shared problems than ever before, in the form of climate change, the refugee crisis and economic inequality – issues that are threatening the long term peace and stability on the continent – we seem to have given up on trying to find shared solutions.
Most people, I would hope, can agree on two things: that war is bad, and that we should try to minimise it. The EU was founded after the world wars with the aim of keeping peace in Europe – and yet here we are, leaving it, whilst wearing our poppies and claiming to honour the millions of victims they represent.
So how did we get here? We are at a point where a lack of critical thinking about why we wear poppies is considered a virtue. We have reified the traumatic memories of the two world wars into an empty symbol of belonging in a country that is embroiled in an existentialist crisis about its own identity.
The economic destruction and shared suffering caused by the world wars resulted in a great levelling of British society. They allowed for a period of national consensus which created a welfare state that helped millions of British people out of poverty.
Actions speak louder than words, and the first thing anybody should do if they care about their country is to pay their taxes, so that the Government can pay for public services – like caring for veterans and their families.
Yet the RBL has corporate partners like the Premier League, which is owned by clubs under investigation by HMRC for tax avoidance. Meanwhile, some of the main voices in the pro-Brexit camp have been revealed by the Paradise Papers to have been hiding their wealth offshore. When even the Queen’s estate thinks its ok to invest offshore, we have a serious social and political problem.
Who is really destroying this country? People who don’t wear poppies or people who don’t pay their taxes so we can fund public services?
Buying a poppy is the absolute bare minimum anyone should do to support veterans. You do not deserve a round of applause for doing it, nor to be booed for failing to wear one. I worry that many have already forgotten the lessons we learned from the world wars. If people really want to understand the First World War, they may be well on their way to creating a world in which they'll get to relive it.