Opinion: Why I couldn’t wear a poppy
Remembrance Day is a yearly fixture in British life, but not everyone living in the UK takes it for granted. One German student in London mulls it over and decides that poppies are not for her
Poppies everywhere! In the past weeks, you would rarely see people in the streets of Islington without the small red flower on their chest. But not only that. In Islington, there was a parade of soldiers through the borough on Remembrance Day and the ‘Islington During The First World War’ exhibition is open until 27th November.
Throughout London, poppies were stuck on the buses and tubes and a stunning 888,246 of them adorned the Tower of London on the 11th November; one for each fallen soldier in the First World War. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, Remembrance Day was more than just a memorial day. It was a festival, so important that I wonder why 11th November has not yet become ‘Britain’ day. Still, when I think of all the buzz surrounding it, I always feel a pinch in the stomach, an irrepressible feeling of wonder.
This has probably something to do with my nationality: I am German. And as a German, you learn from the beginning of your life that fallen soldiers are not people to pay tribute to. For obvious historical reasons, of course. After all, it WAS the German war declaration that brought the First World War to escalation and cost more than 800,000 British soldiers their lives. And, as everyone knows, the German Nazi regime is guilty for the Second World War and the Holocaust, within which around six million people were murdered by people from my country. With this history on our shoulders, it is not hard to understand that war is not something Germans think of with pride.
So it comes that the whole concept of Remembrance Day feels strange to me.
It just feels unbearable for me to wear a poppy. That’s not to say that I don’t feel sorry for the veterans or that I’m not happy that we don’t live in war – quite the contrary – but celebrating it just isn’t a German thing. What’s worse, though, is that it makes me feel guilty. The Royal British Legion’s Poppy appeal has collected millions of pounds in donations this year. Everyone is donating, everyone wears a poppy. I don’t. It almost feels like a duty.
And I don’t seem to be the only one feeling this. Recently, I read ITV presenter Charlene White’s explanation on why she doesn’t wear a poppy on TV, albeit quickly justifying her view by saying her grandfather served for the Armed Forces. It seems mandatory nowadays to wear a poppy the weeks before Remembrance Day as a public figure. In Germany, not only would nobody mourn over the fallen soldiers, but nobody would even want to admit publicly that their ancestors served in the armed forces – obviously.
As I said, it might be a cause of my nationality, but feelings of pride or gratitude in connection with war, such as they were shown in the commemoration ceremonies at the Tower of London last Tuesday, leave me with a bittersweet feeling. Thanking the 800,000 dead soldiers for giving their lives is a perfectably understandable thing to do, but the way it is done during Rememberance Day, in a way, idolises them. It makes dying for one’s own country too readily acceptable and the idea of war too positive. So, I cannot help but wonder about the British national pride, on which the concept of Remembrance Day rests.