Belfast Telegraph

Row over poppy goes against all that it stands for

By Liam Clarke

Yesterday was Armistice Day and I wore a poppy. That is something I haven't done normally since childhood, though I have contributed and also worn one when attending a remembrance service.

On its website, the Royal British Legion says: "The poppy represents sacrifices made in the defence of freedom; and so the decision to wear it must be a matter of personal choice. If the poppy became compulsory, it would lose its meaning and significance.

"We are thankful for every poppy worn, every shop that allows poppy collections and every employer that permits the poppy to be displayed - but we never insist upon these things, or claim a natural right. To do otherwise would not only be contrary to the spirit of remembrance, but all that the poppy stands for."

They refused to join in the protests against Lidl for not selling poppies and Brian Maguire, a spokesman, said the Poppy Appeal was "a time for remembrance, not for protest". The Legion said that nobody should be "named and shamed" over the issue.

When I say I am wearing a poppy, strictly speaking it is a metal poppy badge that says 1945-2015. Like many people, I don't feel comfortable to identify with every action and conflict British armed forces were involved in (one former soldier is currently being questioned about three murders on Bloody Sunday).

Yet the fight against fascism is a war which looks both necessary and unavoidable. The alternative was worse.

My uncle, Tom Clarke, died in 1944. He was an RAF volunteer from Co Monaghan; his plane came down over jungle in northern India. We don't know how. He is commemorated in Ranchi cemetery, Bihar, though it is not clear if the body was ever recovered. I never knew him; older relatives say I am like him in personality, but I will never know for sure.

Anyone with both a heart and a brain will have mixed feelings about war and the killing of opponents. Few of us are complete pacifists, most would defend their loved ones, though most see that war and the mass slaughter it involves is an evil to be avoided where any alternative course remains.

Those who are injured must, however, be cared for and helped to reintegrate into society. The Legion provides valuable support services and social clubs for the ex-service community - an important means of personal support after the traumas of war.

Poppies aren't a simple issue. People often have mixed feelings and it is better to do what you think is right than to try and find faults with others.

Many people have relatives they remember and honour and they should be left to do so, or not, as they see fit.

As the Legion suggested, securing freedom from compulsion and tyranny is the only real justification for war.

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