Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Appeal of the Poppy

My American students and the employees of Unity College have been wondering why I'm walking around at work with a cheap paper poppy on my sweater.

But I got tired of the American hyper-politicized ridiculousness about service and Remembrance and decided that, durn it, I'm British, I always was British, I always will be British, even if I chose to live in New England not Old, and I would have to have my own, private (if necessary), good old-fashioned British-style Remembrance Day.

Here in the States it's become purely offensive to me how the entrenched the political posturing about "supporting our troops" has become. And how far removed from the simple sentiment of being grateful for service and sacrifice made by others in your name. Stupidity reins on the left and the right, and in the middle the great mass of Americans seem as if they could care less.

So the British Legion's annual poppy appeal has come to symbolize for me how this particular season should be celebrated.

How many British people wear a British Legion poppy this time of year? I'm not sure, but it's probably a very large majority, a massive consensus that cuts across party lines and social, religious, and ethnic classes.

Why do the British wear their poppies? To remember the 3-4 million servicemen of the home islands and former colonies who gave their lives in World War I and II, and to celebrate the service given by everyone who has ever served in the British armed services.

Without which we might easily still be a vassal state of Nazi Germany, or we might easily have been overwhelmed by a Soviet attack, without which the Falkland Islanders would have been forced to become Argentine citizens and probably second- or third-class ones at that, without which Northern Ireland would probably have been reduced to rubble, and without which there would be no possibility of a democratic Iraq or Afghanistan at all.

For myself, I gave what in the end will probably be about ten percent of my life to the Royal Air Force, and particularly the Mountain Rescue Service, and lost only my immaturity, my virginity, which I was desperate to lose anyway, some belly fat (which somehow has now returned to me), and most of both ACL knee ligaments in the process. Out of this bargain, I gained the confidence necessary to pursue advanced studies and work on the most difficult problems in the world, as well as the more mundane but invaluable ability to make or fix just about anything I want to.

It was a good deal and I'll never regret it.

Although I would like those ligaments back one day.


  1. Mick, Very well said. I remember in Pa. you would see a lot of poppies worn. Now here in Va. you don't see any. I don't think the VFW even gives them out.


  2. Thanks Dick. I did do a little research. I found out that the American Legion still has a Poppy Appeal, but nowhere near as successful in terms of participation as the British and Canadian Legions.

    I just lost my poppy -- fell out of me pocket. Oh well. Next Year.

  3. And, seen on Comedy's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Stewart's Brit sidekick, was seen wearing just such a poppy on the night of the eleventh November.

    So this is a very "cool" campaign.


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