Poppies seem to spring up on people’s lapels earlier each year, and on younger lapels than ever before. Walking through London Bridge tube station last night I saw them on teenagers, and then later that evening caught a few minutes of an inane interview of Girls Aloud (a pop band apparently) on the BBC and several of them were sporting the little red blossom.
Of course I know all the multiple and multiplying associations that could unfold from the petals of this little bit or remembrance (it is a sort of trinket, the issues are certainly trinketized). Poppy-war, Heroin & war, Fashion, Charity, Symbolism, Hypocrisy. Out of respect for the dead, we should start with the carnage adn waste of so many lives in Çanakkale Savaşları, aka Gallipoli, where thousands of soldiers were sent to the fields of eternal sleep – not the pretty sleep of the Dorothy in a field on the way to Oz kind, but a more wicked wizardry of military strategy in a stupid imperial war, run by kings and generals, endured by regulars and innocents on both sides.
Dorothy’s dream inside a tornado is relevant today. She is about to be released again in a remake, but for pc reasons the remake will not include the munchkins. My version of Dorothy re-imagined would immediately transport us not to Oz or Gallipoli, but to the killing fields of Afghanistan. Under the tarpaulin, huddled in the dust, afraid and under-equipped, young recruits on their third tour of duty, a tin man, a scardy-cat lion, a fellow made of straw – Toto, come back Toto… somewhere over the rainbow… And it has been a long long nightmare for the Afghan people – the humanitarian aid packages are now forgotten, the humanitarian bombing goes on (with an anthropologist helping write ‘counter-insurgency guidelines’ and advising on the battle to win/destroy hearts and minds). That the battle is brought to the imperialists by the resurgent Talaban is not reason to still sustain a long duration battle plan. Among the reasons given by Bliar for attacking Afghanistan in the first place was to eradicate heroin poppy production. That this has failed spectacularly, and his soothing words about restoring the education of women, and the bollocks about the capture of Sheik Osama – the other two objectives – these reamin, how shall we say, ‘incomplete’. This is surely not just circumstantial evidence in a far longer war crimes charge sheet. Whatever happened to the three strikes and you’re out metaphor? And to think Bliar can intervene in the Middle East to good effect – they are havin’ a laugh.
I guess we mostly remember poppy not as echo of the static death embrace of armies in Flanders, but through versionings of death as heroism in the cinema. All Quiet on the The Western Front (1930), Paths of Glory (1957, Kubrick dir. with Kirk Douglas) the trenches and beaches of the Dardanelles – near the site of Troy, and this comes as metaphor because of films that support the nation – the Australian Film Commission funds a jingoism which thrives on cinematic recollection (blame Gallipoli 1981, Peter Weir, dir. with Mel Gibson), and though we like to mock the stiff upper lisp inanity if the military that sent so many troops to pointless charge of the light brigade type death, there is also much to mock in some of the ANZAC tradition marches. With style and humour, Fiona Nicoll has an excellent book that relates Returned Service League, RSL, marches and the Aussie ideal of ‘mateship’ to the carnivalesque of Gay Mardi Gras in Sydney – From Diggers to Drag Queens, Pluto Press. But even that old routine – the One Day of the Year – has worn a bit thin – as we watch our rugby players before the recent world cup, just like the cricket team before them, draw (insufficient) sporting inspiration from a visit to the trenches. Sport is also heck, buy a poppy for Team Oz.
World War 1 is long gone, but that lost generation fodder for the insane destructive wars of Capital must be revived, renovated and renewed over and over. The remembrance date (Nov 11 – but also 25 April for ANZACS) is rehearsed for new wars, and we must acknowledge the charge that brings out a special strain of charity: poppy pins for veterans’ aid collection, emotive posters (on the tube again, posters of an old guy on a park bench with his missing ‘mate’ outlined in floating red flowers), and the Queen and other piggy pollies waddling over to the Cenotaph to lay wreaths for the fallen. Live on television, this comes with almost no debate. In England debate would be unseemly – all the while as more and more are slaughtered in the global war that these very same crocs (Labour Party, ruling class, military brass) perpetrate. Tears for the dead they can spare. Yet their hypocrisy wears thin these days, and at even the most modest or small c conservative levels there are questions being asked about troop welfare, troop support, and adequate compensation for their own maimed fodder. But a debate that would pin responsibility on any decision maker is not likely. Only remembrance – a tamed and contained memory, a blank memorial façade, an anaesthetized festival of hypocrisy and cynicism.
‘We support the troops when they turn on their officers’ was a slogan seen on a photo I posted here recently, but this has not grabbed hold of anyone by the scruff of the coat, even as the old fashioned war veterans associations and the like are ‘up in arms’ about establishment contempt for their dead and wounded. Of course we have not attended, and can barely conceive of a way to attend, to the civilian casualties, the people of Afghanistan, of Iraq, and all those subject to the everyday terror of our contemporary total war capitalism on the streets here (Charles de Menezes) or on the streets there (how many killed today?). Buy a poppy because we are the numb, we are living war, we wear it as fashion, Girls Aloud teach it to their teen fan base. Patriots all Dorothy. Worse than the drug. Tin-Zombies. Lions of Halloween. Straw-man Fiends.