In 1914 they began leaving the slums, taking the King’s shilling, to escape the dirt and the disease, to send some worthless pennies home to feed the wives and children they had left behind in buildings swarming with humanity and rotting with piss, shit, and vomit. You may think I’m being crass, but if we could revisit those dwellings, these rude words would be the least of our worries. The government that sent them to war had caged them like animals in these hell holes to work and to die for the good of the empire and the ruling class.
The truth of the Second World War is that Britain was defeated. It was comprehensively defeated on the beaches of Dunkirk. On 15 May 1940 – at the very beginning of the British-German war – Germany’s Army Group A crossed through the Ardennes with 45,000 mobile armoured units, flanked the French and British forces, leaving them encircled and trapped north-east of Calais. On 27 May, under a horrifying Blitzkrieg assault from the air, Britain abandoned its allies to their fate as a mere 198,229 British soldiers fled thanks only to the miracle that was Operation Dynamo.
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.
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.
This little blushing flower has nothing to do with memory, and even less to do with sacrifice. Who were these boys shooting, and what reason did they have to kill? Mindless slaughter – this is what we are celebrating in this November death cult festival of insanity.
It’s a load of silly nationalistic crap, and putting Churchill on the fiver is just another reminder that they refuse to grow up.
From between the crosses, row on row, John McCrae’s blood-spattered blossom has come down to us from on high that we might remember. Remember what? The Fallen! What Fallen? All the Fallen!