Dear God. I’ve just come from having a, what should I call it, OK, discussion on the Nolan radio show about…Guess. Cauiflours? No. Leeks? No. Poppies? Yes.
In the babble of voices – all in favour of poppy wearing – my point was that ceremonies are conducted here annually to honour all those members of the British Armed Forces who died in various conflicts throughout the world. Since the poppy had its origin in the First World War, my guess is that that’ s the starting point and it runs all the way to today. Unionists wear their poppy with pride and attend ceremonies where wreaths are laid and soldiers stand to attention and the Last Post is played. Irish nationalists and republicans, on the other hand, see the British armed forces in Ireland, along with the RUC and UDR, as repressive forces, the armed wing of unionism. Consequently most of them reject the idea of attending ceremonies in honour of those who were part of that repression.
What to do? Let’s give each other elbow room. If you want to wear a poppy and attend commemoration ceremonies on 11 November, that’s your choice. If I decide not to wear a poppy or attend, that’s my choice. Certainly no one, least of all a public body such as the civil service or a bank or a broadcasting organisation should pressure its employees into wearing a poppy if they’d rather not. That’s to encourage hypocrisy: I think this way and even if you don’t think the same way, you should pretend you’re in agreement with me. Why? Because the way I think is right and the way you think is wrong. The Spanish Inquisition took a similar tack.
That said, I can see a situation where nationalists/republicans might wear a poppy and/or attend 11 November commemorations. It might be done as a public gesture to show that, while not sharing the views of those with British allegiance, republicans respect the right of unionists to honour their dead. The quid pro quo, of course, would be that representatives of the unionist community should attend republican commemoration ceremonies and wear the Easter Lily, to show empathy in the same way.
No commemoration of those who have been killed in conflict should be militarised. No bugle, no marching, no cannon volleys. We should be learning from the violent past, accepting or even honouring those on both sides who died during that conflict, but above all extracting from the past the lesson that we can, if we really want to, find a better way to resolve differences. Military marches or volleys of shots suggest that the tradition of violence which the dead represent is one which should be carried into the future. Was there ever more bloody-minded nonsense?
One caller to Nolan said that if people took the British pound, they should accept the poppy and all that goes with it. “If they don’t like that, they can go and live somewhere else”. Sweet suffering Saviour. No wonder this place is anchored in the past and so much thinking is: Our way or the highway. We’re supposed to learn from the past. You’d never think it when poppy time rolls round.