Podcast Episode #6: Notes on Remembrance & Poppies

Red poppies in a field.

Editor’s Note! We were supposed to run this last weekend. But had an issue with WordPress. It’s running this week and we’re getting used to the CMS’ new block format. So the blog will be slightly different going forward.

Remembrance Day on Thursday 11th November was a different affair in the UK in 2021, with more focus on what this event has become.

Many on social media platforms pointed out the day is now heavily entrenched in jingoism, where the act of wearing a poppy has lost its original meaning.

The result? We weigh in with some musings, mainly as a way to flag up an all-time classic work of literature and a video game that promotes a positive way to reflect on the First World War.

Episode #6: Respectful Remembrance

Older generations may wonder what’s wrong with wearing a poppy all of a sudden.

Well, for many it’s now viewed as a patriotic duty to wear a poppy and show you’re pro-Britain, pro-Brexit, pro-Tory, pro-everything wrong with modern England.

To become one of the tabloid reading nationalists who’ll bellow “INGERLUND!” at the Euro 2021 final in London, whilst simultaneously drunkenly trashing the city. And then posting racist abuse online in the face of defeat against Italy.

When Remembrance Sunday comes around again, all of a sudden there’s a sense of enforced civility and national pride.

All to showboat English exceptionalism and demand respect.

BBC correspondent Ted Harrison wrote in 2016 for The Guardian Wearing a poppy was a pledge of peace. Now it serves to sanitise war:

“In an utterly unintended way the remembrance customs now serve to sanitise war and even to make the military option a respectable political option. Judged from the perspective of those first wearers of the poppy – that the red flower should be a declaration of hope that wars should never happen again – the poppy has been a sad failure …

Today, millions still wear the poppy every autumn, but millions choose not to. It has become a cause of social division as each year the debate is rehearsed as to what the poppy really symbolises, and under what circumstances it is appropriate to display it.”

This is a contentious and emotive topic, but the reality is the two World Wars are starting to become a more distant speck in human history.

And are, in fact, proving an opportunity for political factions to spread misinformation about both events. Or to use them for propaganda purposes.

Stripped away from all that to focus on the First World War, we’re calling attention to two books. Storm of Steel (1920) by Ernst Jünger and All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by Erich Maria Remarque.

The interesting thing with these two classic war texts is the response by a certain Adolf Hitler. He viewed one as deeply patriotic and a call to arms, whilst the other was seditious and burned in Nazi book purges.

Both are worthy books for reading about this topic. But Remarque’s is particularly effective and we think should make for mandatory reading at schools due to its potent anti-war message.

As we mention in the podcast, remaining thankful for wartime sacrifice isn’t something we should do occasionally.

It’s more of a continuous appreciation. And one to think about, as time passes, to ensure we don’t plunge into World War III.

With all the technological advances these days, and 100,000+ atom bombs in storage ready for use, that one would be beyond hellish.

Lest we forget, then, but let’s just remember for the right reasons instead of turning it into a showboating exercise.

Remembering World War I

All of which brings us to Ubisoft’s pensive Valiant Hearts (2014). Going forward, we think this type of thoughtful project is a positive way to consider the war.

We baulk a little at some of the depiction of wartime in video games, with the Call of Duty series basing often historic (and awful) battles around light entertainment.

Really, we can’t say we like play those games as it’s too grounded in reality. It makes us uncomfortable going into that thinking, “Yeah, that’s a fun game!”

We’ll still to films and books. Documentaries such as They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) by director Peter Jackson are reflective and very well considered.

For this piece, we did some research into the very first WWI films. We believe the very first one was The Little American by Cecil B. DeMille from 1917. Before the war had even ended!

It’s about an American woman falling in love with a German and then French soldier.

Given the nature of the technology at the time, it was a silent romantic drama with a budget of $166,949. Pretty high for the time. It starred Mary Pickford, Jack Holt, and Raymond Hatton.

Yes, that’s the full film right there. One of the reasons why we love YouTube is for its easy access to historical records like this.

The US entered WWI on April 4th, 1917. The Little American launched in July 1917 as a propaganda picture. It was designed to cheer everyone up and keep the public spirit high.

Many WWI films ended up like that and could be particularly antagonistic towards the enemy.

The result is the film remains incredibly biased. But it’s an interesting comparison of wartime propaganda to the stance the Tory government government takes in peacetime.

Pin on the poppy. Act solemn. Talk about respecting the dead. Then run a government that plays loose with the lives of citizens, whilst propping up the wealthy with fantastic tax breaks.

Dispense with some gibberish!

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