There has been a huge fuss these past few days about whether people should or should not be wearing a red poppy. A few years ago Jon Snow, the Channel 4 News presenter, created a stir about whether wearing a red poppy on TV for Remembrance Day mattered or not. In a statement for the Channel 4 website, Snow said:
“I am begged to wear an Aids ribbon, a breast cancer ribbon, a Marie Curie flower…You name it, from the Red Cross to the RNIB, they send me stuff to wear to raise awareness, and I don’t. And in those terms, and those terms alone, I do not and will not wear a poppy. Additionally there is a rather unpleasant breed of poppy fascism out there – ‘he damned well must wear a poppy!’ Well I do, in my private life, but I am not going to wear it or any other symbol on air.”
Personally I like and admire Jon Snow. Indeed I think he is one of the nation’s best broadcast journalists – if not the best – and rightly commands huge respect from both his peers and the public at large.
But on this issue I think he was just plain wrong. What is wrong with wearing a “symbol” on air? Why not make an exception? Jon’s logic appears to be: “I can’t publicly promote all of the causes that I am asked to support so I will not support any of them.” This is a bit like arguing that because I can’t give to all of the charities that ask for my help I won’t give to any charity.
The poppy is the symbol of remembrance. We do not diminish anyone by wearing it, least of all the veterans. Diminishing the debt we owe our predecessors would be accomplished by resigning ourselves to the notion that we cannot comprehend what happened. We undermine the notion of Remembrance Day by lack of reflection, not flippantly wearing, or not wearing, a poppy.
Focusing on the future is done by reflecting on the past; earing the poppy symbolises that one, at the very least, acknowledges the past. A poppy has never been a substitute for action – no symbol ever is – but we must be sure that what the poppy symbolises is not lost on those who seek to build upon our freedoms.
So I will be wearing my poppy this November. Out of pride? No. Out of respect and gratitude? Yes. Why? Because the act of remembrance and the wearing of a poppy is a very small price to pay.