The memetics and semiotics of the Poppy

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M. Spector M. Spector's picture
The memetics and semiotics of the Poppy

 

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

It's poppy time again, folks.

Yes, soon we'll be inundated with the annual orgy of official hypocrisy about war and remembrance. Politicians, generals, and the media will pitch in to reinforce some of the central myths of our neo-liberal age: humanitarian war, the idealistic soldier who dies to defend our freedoms, the inherently heroic nature of death.

It's all bullshit. And I refuse to participate in it.

Don't get me wrong. I have relatives who fought in wars, and some of them died. I have reason to honour their memory and the horrible sacrifices they made - and I do honour them.

My Canadian father and his two brothers fought in the Second Great War - you remember, the one that was supposed to save us from fascism? Big success that was.

Their father was in the First Great War. He didn't actually fight, but he was in the medical corps in France and was permanently scarred by what he saw there. That and the poison gas. And typhoid fever.

My war-bride mother lost a brother to the cold North Atlantic in 1942.

If anyone has a right to mourn and remember, it is we whose kin were maimed and killed in the service of the politicians and the generals. And yet our grief and our remembrance is hijacked every year by the same class of politicians and generals, in order to promote their own agenda. That agenda currently includes massively [url=http://www.policyalternatives.ca/News/2007/10/PressRelease1735/index.cfm... spending[/url] on military hardware, stepped-up campaigns to recruit more young men and women to go and kill strangers in another country, and aggressive public relations efforts designed to prove to Canadians that the mythic war on terror is a good thing to be involved in. Just like all those other great wars of yesteryear.

The Legion doesn't account to the public for what it does with the poppy money it raises. It appears from their [url=http://www.legion.ca/asp/docs/rempoppy/mandate_e.asp]website[/url] that the funds are spent on all aspects of the organization's "mission," which seems to include actively supporting the Red Fridays campaign, lobbying the federal government on various military-related issues, and raising further funds to buy Tim Horton doughnuts for Canadian soldiers in Kandahar.

The iconic poppy, once the wildflower symbol of the killing fields of Europe, is now copyrighted by the Legion, and has become the [i]de rigueur[/i] statement of official political correctness and conformist orthodoxy every November (The rest of the year, remember, it's the yellow ribbon. Gotta support those troops.)

I know there are many "progressive" people who claim all sorts of personal reasons for displaying these symbols, mostly having to do with family connections to the military, present or past. I used to be one of them. I wore the plastic poppy on my lapel because, dammit, I wanted the world to know of my solidarity with the victims of war. It took me years to realize that the symbol I was displaying had become burdened with so much political baggage that any value it once had as a condemnation of war had been lost. It was instead just another cultural tool in the militarization of society. Worse, it had come to [i]dishonour[/i] the memory of the war dead because of its appropriation by the warmongers themselves.

Every time I see a politician, a general, or a TV reporter wearing a poppy I am repulsed by their ostentatious effort to display concern for the victims of war, in apparent contrast to their equally ostentatious efforts - year-round - to sell us on war's merits. Indeed, the contrast is more apparent than real; the poppy has become an [url=http://news.gc.ca/web/view/en/index.jsp?articleid=356869&categoryid=16]i... part of the sales pitch.[/url] It all fits in nicely with such messages as "if we don't stay in Afghanistan and finish the job, we will be dishonouring the memory of the brave men and women who...etc. etc."

And so today I would no sooner don a Legion poppy than slap a yellow ribbon sticker on my car. I will continue to remember and mourn the victims of wars, past and present. I will pause and shed a private tear for them on November 11. But I won't be wearing that infernal poppy ever again.
---------

See also:
[url=http://thetyee.ca/Views/2005/11/09/DontWearPoppy/]Why I Don't Wear a Poppy[/url]

[ 26 October 2007: Message edited by: M. Spector ]

RosaL

[ 26 October 2007: Message edited by: RosaL ]

Michelle

Bravo, M. Spector.

Paul Gross

I wear a white poppy.

The Canadian Legion is using legal [url=http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=b6082418-4abd-4... to try to stop the British Peace Pledge Union from distributing white poppies in Canada.

I have some white poppies. If anyone in Ottawa would like one, PM me.

[url=http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/white-news1.html]http://www.ppu.org.uk/...

[img]http://img26.exs.cx/img26/3677/whitepoppy2.jpg[/img]

[ 26 October 2007: Message edited by: Paul Gross ]

Lard Tunderin Jeezus Lard Tunderin Jeezus's picture
Farmpunk

Odd, I think the poppy is a symbol of death, not war. I remember death, not sacrifice. I remember people on both sides being blown to bits, shot to hamburger, gassed, incinerated.... Poppies grow on the graves of dead people, not just dead soldiers.

The selling of the poppy as a military symbol is troublesome, for sure. But this has the feel of a manufactured, posed, stance.

From Spector's link:
"I like to think that it would have been possible to open their eyes to reality if more people had stood peacefully opposed to their actions.'

I'm fairly sure that the Nazis and their soldiers had a firm grasp on reality. Killing people does that. The Allied soldiers, I am guessing, also knew what they were doing. It's hard to shoot someone and not understand the consequences of the action. It's hard to firebomb Dresden and not feel the heat.

More from that pompous bit of self serving shit Spector posted:
"Faced with the Nazi menace, what were we to do? Mahatma Gandhi, who also faced oppressive imperial forces during his lifetime, said, "Non-violence is a weapon of the strong.""

Non-violence is the weapon of dead people. Gandhi would have died. Dead people don't have the option of fighting for fuck all.

Good work by Clay McLeod. Use the Nazi example and then add this: "When faced with oppression and injustice, sometimes it can be easier to lash out in violent reaction - one that will further propagate the conflict, perhaps sowing seeds of future conflicts - than to react in a constructive, non-violent way that will actually resolve the conflict, giving rise to things such as true freedom and democracy."

So... the Nazis were reasonable people?

I'll be wearing a poppy.

[ 27 October 2007: Message edited by: Farmpunk ]

The Wizard of S...

I was just like some of you lot when I was 14 too. A rotten, bitter punk who hated all authority and especially the military. My social studies teach was a colonel in the army and taught school on the side. I bought a surplus army jacket and painted a big black peace sign on the back, just to piss him off. It worked too, bigtime. It wasn't the peace sign that bothered him. It was the fact a civilian was wearing part of an army uniform. Apparantly that's some kind of an insult or something. So, if you're still in that mindset, and you really wanna piss on the graves of our veterans this Rememberance Day, go down to your local army surplus store and pick yourself up an army jacket. Me, I'll be wearing a poppy. I'm not 14 anymore.

[ 27 October 2007: Message edited by: The Wizard of Socialism ]

Unionist

quote:


Originally posted by The Wizard of Socialism:
[b] Me, I'll be wearing a poppy. I'm not 14 anymore.
[/b]

Happy 15th birthday!

Michelle

[img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img] [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]

BTW, anyone who thinks that the Allies fought the Second World War in order to stop the Holocaust needs to get their head checked.

That said, I obviously think the Nazis needed to be stopped. But I won't wear war symbols from a Legion that promotes militarism and racism today.

Paul, I like that white poppy. Good for you!

Michelle

[url=http://blog.thismagazine.ca/archives/2006/11/white_poppies_u.html]Red poppies were politicized long before white poppies came on the scene.[/url]

quote:

"I've had nasty calls from veterans. I've been harassed," Marya Nyland of the international peace organization Women in Black told the Globe and Mail. "They feel that the red poppy should be it. Why shouldn't there be room for both?"

Harvey Shevalier, a regional president with the Royal Canadian Legion, told the Globe and Mail that Nov. 11 should not be politicized, which is what he says supporters of the white poppy are doing.

Unfortunately, politicization of the red poppies happened long before the arrival of the white poppies. When someone criticizes those who don't wear poppies, no matter the reasons, the red poppy becomes political. When people feel obliged to wear red poppies because it's the right thing to do, even if it implies something they don't support, the poppies are politicized. The very semiotics of the poppy are political.


ocsi

I used to wear a poppy when I was young. I used to go down to Gore Park in Hamilton to watch the veterans parade on November 11. I was moved.

But the number of wars have increased since then. And I though wearing a poppy would somehow help to bring peace to the world. It didn't! It won't.

I stopped wearing a poppy many years ago and I will only wear one when the military and their supporters take them off. I'm not holding my breath.

[img]http://www.warresisters.org/images/peace_symbol.gif[/img]

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Someone else who disagrees with me. The Mayor of Solihull, England has thrown his [url=http://tinyurl.com/2ukdfp]full support[/url] behind this year's Poppy Appeal:

quote:

"Today our forces are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and are also serving in many other parts of the world. Whether or not we agree with the wars the fact is that the decision to be out there was not taken by the people on the ground. They are there to serve this country and it is up to us to support them to the best of our ability."

[ 28 October 2007: Message edited by: M. Spector ]

Unionist

quote:


Originally posted by M. Spector:
[b]Someone else who disagrees with me. [/b]

I don't have to go overseas to find people who disagree with me. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

RosaL

quote:


Originally posted by The Wizard of Socialism:
[b]I was just like some of you lot when I was 14 too. A rotten, bitter punk who hated all authority and especially the military. [/b]

That's not how I'd describe myself but I'm not going to argue this on an "ad feminam" level.

If it was just about WWII, I'd wear a poppy, because whatever the intentions of the rulers, that war put a stop to the Nazi state. But the poppies aren't just about WWII. They're about a whole series of wars and what they say is, "Their deaths were for something good and true and noble. And the deaths now are for something good and true." But they're not - (WWII aside) they died and are dying for one imperialist project after another, not just for nothing but for something worse than nothing. They died in the service of their oppressors, just as medieval serfs fought and died for their lords.

And actually (though I honour the good intentions of the people involved) this is why I won't wear a white poppy either. The people behind that campaign appear to describe the cause of war as poor methods of handling conflict. To me that's a dangerous cover-up of the real problem. The problem (I think) is imperialism, not a failure to deal with conflict in constructive ways.

I didn't begin to understand any of this when I was 14!

Michael Hardner

The red poppy is the traditional symbol used to honour our veterans, and as such I will wear it.

All of the questions raised by wearing of the white poppy are valid.

[ 28 October 2007: Message edited by: Michael Hardner ]

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

quote:


Originally posted by RosaL:
[b]If it was just about WWII, I'd wear a poppy, because whatever the intentions of the rulers, that war put a stop to the Nazi state.[/b]

...the one in Germany, anyhoo.

The Iraq War put a stop to the Baathist state, whatever the intentions of our rulers.

The Afghanistan war put a stop to the Taliban state, whatever the intentions of our rulers.

RosaL

quote:


Originally posted by M. Spector:
[b]...the one in Germany, anyhoo.

The Iraq War put a stop to the Baathist state, whatever the intentions of our rulers.

The Afghanistan war put a stop to the Taliban state, whatever the intentions of our rulers.[/b]


I'm not sure the Taliban or Sadam come close to being comparable to the Nazis and I'm not sure what followed their overthrow in either case is any sort of improvement. But it's a good point and I'll have to give it some thought.

wage zombie

Does anyone have a line on white poppies in Toronto?

Farmpunk

M Spector: "Someone else who disagrees with me."

Wow, do English Mayors now frequent babble, or has M Spector been in communication with this person? I think I'll email him and find out.

Michelle

quote:


Originally posted by wage zombie:
[b]Does anyone have a line on white poppies in Toronto?[/b]

Ditto...I'd like to find some too. I'm thinking about ordering some, but they likely won't get here on time. Should've thought of it a couple of weeks ago, I guess!

AMSabourin

Veterans cherish a growing tradition

Richard Watts
Times Colonist

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Air cadets and other Cowichan Valley residents will be adorning the graves of veterans this weekend with small crosses decorated with poppies and, in a special Vancouver Island tradition, little sprigs of cedar.

It's a practice that began in the Cowichan Valley in 1926, led by local members of the Royal Canadian Legion.

But while the poppy tradition is well-known -- they're a reminder of the wild poppies that grew in the First World War battlefields of Flanders, Belgium -- the origins of the Cowichan cedar are almost lost.

They could be a stand-in for the green foliage of the poppy plant, a symbol of life or simply a tribute to the thriving cedars of Vancouver Island.

[url=http://www.canada.com/components/print.aspx?id=baed8e68-520b-4800-83ef-2... Times Colonist[/url]

remind remind's picture

Just an old fashioned love song playing on the radiooooooooo.....

Unionist

quote:


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.


[i]Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918[/i]

Jingles

You hippys should be grateful. If it wasn't for our boys standing up to Fritz, we'd be singing "God Save the Kaiser"! If you godless commies had your way, we'd have a German monarch!

remind remind's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Jingles:
[b]You hippys should be grateful. If it wasn't for our boys standing up to Fritz, we'd be singing "God Save the Kaiser"! If you godless commies had your way, we'd have a German monarch![/b]

well jingles, you finally revealed yourself completely, your stay will now be about as long as ams's will be.

Lard Tunderin Jeezus Lard Tunderin Jeezus's picture

[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Windsor]Besides, by then we had already had a German Monarch for decades....[/url]

[ 28 October 2007: Message edited by: Lard Tunderin' Jeezus ]

RosaL

quote:


Originally posted by Jingles:
[b]You hippys should be grateful. If it wasn't for our boys standing up to Fritz, we'd be singing "God Save the Kaiser"! If you godless commies had your way, we'd have a German monarch![/b]

I don't think having a German monarch is any worse than having an American monarch or a Canadian monarch, for that matter. The problem isn't the nationality of the monarch but the monarchy itself (speaking metaphorically as well as literally).

Michelle

[img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img] [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img] I think Jingles was joking.

RosaL

quote:


Originally posted by Michelle:
[b] [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img] [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img] I think Jingles was joking.[/b]

heh. I like the technique even though I'm not good at recognizing it. But I've always wanted to respond to that argument! [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]

Jingles

*Ahem*

I Was Joking.

Thank you.

P.S. Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg would prolly get it.

bliter

Well, demonstrating the peace process here, maybe I'll wear both a red and a white poppy...maybe...no poppy at all. A pink poppy? Yea, why not.

I've never gotten off too much on the nobility of WW2. One must consider what led up to it. One should ask themselves why an important member of the German leadership would fly to Britain early in the war.

I refer to Rudolf Hess. I wonder what was rejected that might have saved millions of lives. The man's unjust, lifetime imprisonment adds to the suspicions.

Michelle

You think his lifetime imprisonment was unjust? He ran Auschwitz. If the guy had nine lives like a cat and got nine life imprisonment sentences, it wouldn't be unjust.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Michelle, I think you're confusing him with [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Hoess]Rudolf HцЯ[/url].

But I agree that Hess got off lightly.

Jingles

quote:


He ran Auschwitz.

No. He was in a British prison by 1941, after parachuting into England for unofficial peace talks, long before Auschwitz opened.

He was a political functionary, and tried to end the war.

From Wiki:

quote:

'My coming to England in this way is, as I realize, so unusual that nobody will easily understand it. I was confronted by a very hard decision. I do not think I could have arrived at my final choice unless I had continually kept before my eyes the vision of an endless line of children's coffins with weeping mothers behind them, both English and German, and another line of coffins of mothers with mourning children. "
—June 10, 1941 (from Rudolf Hess: Prisoner of Peace by his wife, Ilse Hess)

[ 28 October 2007: Message edited by: Jingles ]

RosaL

I think I'll remove this.

[ 28 October 2007: Message edited by: RosaL ]

Michelle

Oh! Sorry, I thought they meant the other guy. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img] My mistake. Rudolf Hoess's last name is spelled a few different ways depending on whether you use the umlaut or the "double-s" character, so I thought he was the one bliter was talking about.

I should also have known, though, because Rudolph Hoess didn't get a life sentence - he was sentenced to death and was hanged in front of Auschwitz.

Apologies, bliter. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 28 October 2007: Message edited by: Michelle ]

bliter

Accepted.

Thank you Jingles. I assumed that the Hess name was universally known - certainly by those who post here.

With the frequent, lightning reaction I'm just glad that I wasn't banned and that I'm able to reply.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

OK, so we're still waiting for your reply.

Do you think Hess's sentence was unjust?

Michelle

I did know about Hess. I just forgot about it because we were talking about Auschwitz a day or two ago, so Hoess's name was foremost in my mind. Again, sorry for the mix-up, but I don't think I was rude to you or anything, bliter.

As for Hess's sentence - I just read the Wikipedia article on him since I only knew his name and that he was the guy who spent the rest of his life as the only prisoner in an entire jail. I remember hearing about it when I was a kid, because he died when I was a teenager, but I didn't remember many details about him except that he was one of Hitler's inner circle.

According to the Wikipedia article, many people felt that his sentence was inhumane. I don't know what I think, frankly. He apparently tried to broker peace, and it sounds like it's pretty well undisputed that the guy was insane. And apparently he was mistreated by the guards and possibly murdered in the jail.

And yet...he was Hitler's deputy and was one of the inner circle who planned and carried out the Holocaust.

My answer is - I don't know whether it was unjust, but I probably won't be losing any sleep over it.

[ 28 October 2007: Message edited by: Michelle ]

jas

Wow, what is it about Remembrance Day that brings out the worst in so many so-called "progressives"? Not at all what I would have expected from Farmpunk.

quote:

Originally posted by Farmpunk:
Non-violence is the weapon of dead people.

quote:

So... the Nazis were reasonable people?

I'll be wearing a poppy.


Holy crap.

The white poppy sounds like a good idea. OR there's the old "for every woman raped in every war" button in the shape of a poppy.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Michelle: I was talking to bliter. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 28 October 2007: Message edited by: M. Spector ]

bliter

M. Spector

quote:

OK, so we're still waiting for your reply.

Do you think Hess's sentence was unjust?


I almost asked, "To whom is your question addressed?"

I'd already referred to my perceived injustice toward Hess. I feel no differently.

I'll not deny the brilliance of Winston Churchill but think he was very possessive of the war.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

So you have just outed yourself as a Nazi sympathizer.

Fidel

quote:


Originally posted by bliter:
[b]I'd already referred to my perceived injustice toward Hess. I feel no differently.

I'll not deny the brilliance of Winston Churchill but think he was very possessive of the war.[/b]


Ernst von Weizsacker was sentenced during the trials, and he was one of the Oster conspirators whose warnings to Downing Street were ignored in 1938. There were Germans in the Wehrmacht waiting for the order to assassinate Hitler. One of them described Hitler as "evil incarnate" and that there was still time to kill him before it was too late. Chamberlain referred to them as "anti-Nazis" who weren't to be trusted.

My mother's family endured war rationings, the night raids and old Churchill's ramblings over the radio. My grandfather Albert, himself a coal miner then, didn't think very much of Winston Churchill since the coal miner's strike of the mid 1920's. Churchill suggested that the army be brought in and wobbling miners dealt with by machine guns. Churchill and Franco had certain things in common.

Farmpunk

Sorry, Jas, I do fail to measure up to the high standards of progressive thought from time to time.

If you read my post you'll see that I think the poppy is a symbol of death. It's certainly been co-opted as a military symbol. But now the poppy issue has become, as Spector alluded to, an annual event where certain progressives get to jump up and down and talk about "semiotics" and "memetics". An interesting tactic to gain support for one's movement, no?

Does not wearing a poppy count as activism?

bliter

Cut the crap, M. Spector.

First you press me for a reply to a question not asked. Then you produce this deliberately offensive post:

quote:

So you have just outed yourself as a Nazi sympathizer.

Michelle

quote:


Originally posted by M. Spector:
[b]So you have just outed yourself as a Nazi sympathizer.[/b]

That's really offensive. Lots of people, including Winston Churchill, felt the sentence was unjust. So did his prosecutor. Doesn't make them Nazi sympathizers. It's not a black and white issue in this particular case. Please don't make thses sorts of comments about other babblers.

[ 29 October 2007: Message edited by: Michelle ]

Caissa

Hess was probably mentally ill.

radiobirdman

I wasn't aware of this issue until very recently, and I'm still not sure where I come down on it. My perception of the red poppy was formed when I was very young, and until recently I never thought to question whether that perception was wrong.

Every year in elementary school everyone would gather for Rememberance Day and listen to a presentation from a WWII vet. The emphasis was always on "never again", and the veteran would speak about the horrors of war, seeing friends killed, etc. So to me, the red poppy and Rememberance Day always had an anti-war message to it. I'm still not sure if I had ascribed a meaning to the red poppy that it never had, or if the meaning has been perverted over time. I guess I have some more reading to do before I make up my mind.

West Coast Greeny

Over time, the message "never again" seems to have slowly faded away with the memories of the horrors of WWII. It seems to have been replaced with the phrase "support our troops"; a phrase that by itself I support.

The problem I have with "support our troops" is the context in which (neo-)conservatives place it. When they say "support our troops", they usually mean at the same time "stop questioning our war".

Using our emotional attachment to our soldiers to send more soldiers to die in unjust wars. Perverse.

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