Mike Payne is an ex-serviceman who thinks our current approach to remembrance does not fully honour all those who died.
— This is article #51 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
With the anniversary of the Great War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Remembrance seems to be more valued in society than when I served. I also sense something missing despite many thoughtful and respectful acts. I sense the voices of the dead are not being fully heard.
This year in particular there have been images of Poppies in railways stations and public places, most notably the field of Poppies around the Tower of London which is beautiful, powerful and reflective. However it concerns me that many of these displays feel like the hand of marketing, not the soul of the War Poet.
With the Poppy season extended into October you now have a situation where those in the public eye wear Poppies, indeed have to wear them, yet at the same time they are noticeable by their absence on the high street. I would expect more not less Poppies being worn given there is more support.
It’s difficult for soldiers to speak out
Maybe there is a disconnect between what is felt and how the Poppy is perceived, maybe the season is too long. Maybe it is because of the emotional and mental juggling act of not supporting recent wars, alongside a genuine desire to support those fighting them. Is there a sense we look to the past yet are not addressing the repeat patterns today?
It is difficult for serving soldiers to speak out, not least because they are willingly subservient to the democratic authority and are censored; also because they have to enter a mindset to the job.
Had I been killed on operational tour it would have been while trying, imperfectly, to create a safe framework where people could make daily choices safely e.g. pop down to M&S or vote without being kneecapped. To me that self evidently includes freedom of choice in whether or not to wear a poppy, or indeed a white or a black one.
War is not glorious
For me wearing the red Poppy includes the reality that war is primal and revolting and not glorious. For me Remembrance is best served by wearing the Poppy for a short period for collective impact, not a damp whimper over a few weeks.
In the British Armed Forces there are 10 principles of war, the first being: Selection and Maintenance of the Aim. Apply that to Iraq and Afghanistan; in Iraq there were no ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ and politicians routinely say they were deceived into voting for war because the Prime Minster misled Parliament. Yet the political class have not resolved this and all wear their Poppy. How would the dead feel about that?
What if alongside the Tower of London display was the rotting corpse of a soldier, the smell hitting the back of your throat as you look on. The reality of a dead young man, a son, brother, father, lover, friend. Where is the essence of that element of Remembrance being held? The never again, or if you must, do it properly next time.
Is it time to take the marketing out of Remembrance so that the voices of the dead can be fully heard?
Mike Payne is an ex-serviceman who now works to support people living with the hidden impacts of armed conflict or military service. For more information visit the unload website.
Also on insideMAN:
- The psychological damage that war does to men (Mike Payne)
- Remembrance poem: my voice if I had died
- All our articles on “men and war”
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
The views expressed in these articles are not the views of insideMAN editorial team. Whether you agree with the views expressed in this article or not we invite you to take take part in this important discussion, our only request is that you express yourself in a way that ensures everyone’s voice can be heard.