The common belief that Britain, acting as the policeman of Europe, went to war with Hitler to stop the Holocaust is an ex post facto justification. The Nazis’ “Final Solution” – the beginning of systematic murder as a solution to the “Jewish Problem” – did not begin until the Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942. Adolf Hitler’s opinions regarding the Jews were well known long before the war. He wrote a book outlining his antisemitism and his plans to deal with the Jews of Germany. Britain may or may not have been comfortable with this development in Berlin, but it did nothing.
Yet the poppy, from the joke it was – no matter how ordinary innocent people feel about wearing it, has been “hijacked,” or so we are told. It has now become the totem of hyper-aggressive, right-wing racist British nationalism. On the football field it has become the weapon of choice to be deployed against non-British outsiders; Irish Catholics and Argentinians – very much victims of British imperial and colonial violence – who play for English clubs. On the lapels of knuckle-dragging thugs it has become a compliment to the Nazi swastika tattooed on their necks.
Russia’s big bite has thus far been a dazzling success. In the Trump election we see that Putin has most likely purchased for himself the highest prize in international politics – the US president. US influence over the UK and the success of its cyber war in Britain and the effect of its dark money programme during the Brexit referendum has delivered for Russia a heavy blow to European unity, creating at least the possibility of an exploitable weakness. It is unimaginable Putin would not push the EU door if it failed to offer much resistance. Power – after all – abhors a vacuum.
Leadership in the west is in crisis. Post-Brexit the European Union will be faced with the necessity of further political integration and the internal resistance this will inevitably provoke. It may be decades before the EU is in a position again to move from consolidation to expansion. Brexit has put a significant dent in British soft power. The increasing isolation of London will push it closer to the point of becoming a US satellite, making it ever more likely to follow US hard power policies.
Those of us critical of the cynical use of the poppy as a recruitment tool and a means of ramping up militaristic British nationalist sentiment have found ourselves under serious fire for daring to question the neutrality of the symbol. With the obvious exception of elected right-wing unionists, people are expected to meekly accept the unassailable truth of the poppy as an emblem of remembrance for everyone who has died in all wars.
The truth is that Spain has narrowly avoided an armed conflict in Catalunya, and no country has done more to provoke a war in Europe in recent decades than has Spain in Catalunya. Thanks mainly, we can be sure, to the misguided trust of the Catalan leadership in the honest brokerage of the EU and the European states this has not happened. Yet, now having learned this lesson, we cannot be certain that any similar event will end so “peacefully.”
Once upon a time “poppy day” was an annual event most of us slept through, marked by an irrelevant old woman putting down a wreath at a pointless monument to violence in London. A box of cheap red paper poppies would appear in our classrooms at the start of the month and the teacher would tell us some patriotic lies about brave soldiers and we could “remember them” at the cost of just 5p a poppy. It’s all different now.
If you are thinking what I am describing here is apocalyptic, you’re right. This is apocalyptic. Not in the modern sense of an end of the world, but in the proper sense; an unveiling – a cataclysm between the ages, a laying bare and an unleashing of the aggressions that the dying age has stored up in sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Yes, I fear we are about to reap the whirlwind.