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Should we feel obliged to wear a red poppy?


Yesterday was Remembrance Day, which marks the Armistice that brought the First World War to an end in 1918. The poppy which blossomed in Flanders after the war is the commemorative symbol used,  famously the subject of the poem In Flanders Field. In the UK, The Royal British Legion sells red poppies to raise money for their Poppy Appeal, which funds the welfare of ex-service men. There is an unwritten rule that public figures and TV presenters must wear these red poppies in the lead up to Remembrance Day. However, this has been criticised over the years, being called ‘Poppy Fascism’, and this year the news contained many examples of TV and sport personalities not wearing them. So should celebrities and the rest of us feel obliged to wear a red poppy?

Whilst I believe that commemoration and remembrance is extremely important because it allows us to think about the horrors of past wars and therefore hopefully learn from them, I think people should make their own choices about how they want to commemorate as it is such a personal thing. This choice is essentially taken away from public figures and celebrities. ITV New reader, Charlene White, justified her refusal to wear a poppy because she didn’t believe in one charity getting more air-time than others; stating that she wears a poppy in her private life. She received sexist and racist abuse for this decision, which is completely inappropriate and as Charlene herself has said the abuse pretty much goes against what millions of men and women have fought and died for – freedom of speech, expression and choice. Wigan footballer, James McClean, refused to wear a poppy last year and this year because he feels that it would be disrespectful to the innocent people in the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland; for many Irish nationalists the wearing of the red poppy represents an active endorsement of British imperialism in general.

Ultimately the most important thing is that there is awareness about the atrocities of the First World War and subsequent conflict. This can be achieved by documentaries and dramas leading up to Remembrance Day, when there is a two-minute silence for us to remember and contemplate those conflicts and also by buying a poppy if you so wish. Some people wear a white poppy, a symbol of peace, which allows them to commemorate the past sacrifice whilst not condoning present future conflict. I personally bought a poppy because of the fantastic work The Royal British Legion do for the welfare of ex-servicemen, but this is my choice. We should all be allowed to choose what charities we support, including celebrities, and people need to respect everybody’s choice.