Feature

United Kingdom: Judging each other's patriotism

Those people who chose instead to wear a white poppy, which symbolizes pacifism and honors the civilian war dead, were vilified as near-traitors, said Joan Smith at The Independent.

Joan SmithThe Independent

Honoring our nation’s fallen soldiers has become compulsory, said Joan Smith. People traditionally observe Remembrance Day, which fell last week, by wearing a red poppy. The gesture is supposed to be optional. But this year, with British troops fighting in Afghanistan and just returned from Libya, the pressure to wear one has become an “ugly hysteria.”

Every television presenter and newscaster, as well as every politician, had a poppy pinned to a lapel. People replaced their Facebook profile photos with poppy pictures. British officials even browbeat international soccer officials into allowing the England team players to break uniform rules and sport armbands with poppies. Those people who chose instead to wear a white poppy, which symbolizes pacifism and honors the civilian war dead, were vilified as near-traitors. One columnist even labeled them “sanctimonious prats.” Those who wore no emblem—who, like me, are uncomfortable with glorifying dead conscripts as heroes—were sneered at as unpatriotic.

This “coercive compassion” has been a feature of British life since 1997, “when anyone who didn’t express extravagant distress over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was regarded as shockingly heartless.” Can’t we let it go? It should be possible to honor the dead “without bullying or abusing the living.”

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