Remembering… and why I wear a poppy

All wars are crazy… yet they happen all the time. 

As far as I can look back in the often-tragic history of humans, I see not one period absent of conflict. (As I type this, 47 countries are in conflict for one reason or another.)

No one reading this believes war is a good thing. 

Yet everyone reading this could get caught up in one because a politician decides war is the only option. 

At that point, you face your own options: You can take up arms as required by the new laws or you can refuse to do so. 

Those who take up arms are praised by the propaganda of the time. 

Those who refuse are vilified and their families and friends bear the same propagandized shame. 

In other words…

When war comes, you can’t win no matter your choice.

And that’s why I wear a poppy. 

(I care nothing for the official explanation, which is that poppies are used to remember those who have given their lives in battle, and are the flowers which grew on the battlefields in Flanders after world war one ended.)

A poppy emblem reminds me of how my father’s father read the posters and pamphlets that said the German was now his enemy — and that, if he joined up, the war would probably be over before he finished training. 

It was an easy decision for him to join up, receive a King’s sovereign as reward and a kiss on the lips from a pretty actress paid by the recruiting agency. 

He was 17, pretended he was 19, and went off to war that very same moment when he fell for the mass hysteria in front of Liverpool Townhall.

My Grandfather George was shot in the forehead and rendered blind for 6 months. 

Somehow, he recovered his sight and was sent back to the front where he was soon felled by mustard gas. 

He survived the war and later married his childhood sweetheart. They had one child before he died from the after effects of the gas.

I wear a poppy to remind myself of his innocence and loss. All I have is an old sepia photograph of a scrawny man wearing thick spectacles. 

My poppy is my only link to him and what his country tricked him into doing. 

I don’t want to forget how easily a young mind can be manipulated and how a son and father and husband can be so easily dispensed with by politicians. 

I don’t want to forget that he did what he thought was right: He thought he was fighting for my freedom. 

Whatever the truth of his war, he did that for me. When I touch my poppy I remember him.

I wear a poppy also for my mother’s father. 

By all accounts, he was a clever man. I never got to meet him because a bomb fell on his head in the Liverpool blitz of 1941. He was too old to be conscripted, so worked on battleship engine design. 

The war found him and ended him anyway — 

And all because one British politician and his mentor, a German monarch in the British Royal family, decided to send bombers to terrorize German citizens for which the German high command retaliated and blew up my grandfather. 

Not one German or one Briton disliked each other… and yet they spent 6 years blowing each other to smithereens.

My poppy reminds me how an innocent man I never met became a casualty of the madness and that it is all madness.

I wear a poppy to remind me of it all… the madness of war, the foolishness of politicians, and the sleepiness of the human that allows these things to happen over and over. 

I wear it to remind me of how lucky I am to have never been touched by conflict. 

I wear it to remember the grandfathers stolen from me.


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