In Defense Of James McClean's Poppy Snub

The neo-patriot poppy brigarde's criticism of James McClean's refusal to wear the symbol is at best misguided and at worst hypocritical...
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The neo-patriot poppy brigarde's criticism of James McClean's refusal to wear the symbol is at best misguided and at worst hypocritical...

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So what were the key talking points from another weekend of the beautiful game?  Perhaps that QPR are in danger of becoming a manager’s graveyard?  Or that Liverpool are heading in the right direction despite being overly-reliant on Luis Suarez?  No, it’s that Sunderland’s James McClean is a ‘terrorist’ because he had the audacity to not wear a poppy.

His club, Sunderland, have been quick to tell us that the decision was his alone but here’s the thing; what Sunderland didn’t say resonated much louder: exactly how many of their players who did wear a poppy did so through personal choice?  Maybe the majority, and I have no problem with that, but how many did so because they felt pressure, not from Sunderland, but from the baying mob of neo-Patriots ready to shout spite (or is that spout sh**e) over their decision?  By the way I was talking about Twitter not the Daily Mail, but, hey, if the cap fits…

Over the years the paper has goose-stepped its way to the vanguard of the campaign to Press gang the great and the good of the worlds of football and celebrity to wear the hallowed poppy.  And they were there again referring to McClean as “controversial” just to make sure no one was fooled into thinking he might have a valid point.  Not only did I read Tweets labeling McClean a ‘terrorist’ (tiresomely predictable) but also a ‘Muslim’ (just f**king stupid).  In among these, the neo-Patriots growled that it was all being about ‘respect’.  Yet they failed to explain what exactly we’re supposed to be respecting while also failing to explain with anything approaching clarity why we should all wear a poppy or, at least, what is wrong with not wearing one.

The poppy appeal and the two-minute silence (another tradition which fell out of favour but which has recently returned with a vengeance) were started in the aftermath of the First World War.  In the 1920s the No More War movement suggested adding the words “no more war” to the centre of the poppy but this was rejected and so the organisation started producing white poppies.  It was then the red poppy’s aggressive cultural land-grab began and the white poppy was demonised as having “political baggage” due to its links with pacifism and some women lost their jobs for wearing white poppies.  This is all a bit odd given the red poppy is consistently defended and portrayed as being non-political and the fact support for appeasement was widespread in Britain in the run-up to the Second World War (as was anti-Semitism but we like to airbrush that from the history books too).

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So here’s who the red poppy does commemorate: British army combat victims. And here’s who the red poppy doesn’t commemorate: civilian dead and wounded and the military victims from other countries.  Nor does it subscribe to the call for peace which the white poppy explicitly does.  I don’t know about you but if I’m going to pay my respects to the casualties of war I won’t just focus on the goodies, I’ll give some thought to the baddies and the collateral damage as well.  Ultimately they’re all victims.

Now, McClean has not yet articulated the reason he chose not to wear a poppy (although the very idea that he should be forced to do so is itself laughable) however let’s suppose that he did, in that case the reason might include the words “Bloody Sunday Massacre”.  McClean grew up on the Creggan estate in Derry from which came six of the 14 unarmed peaceful protestors killed by our heroic boys on that fateful day. I’d say McClean, an Irish Republican has at least six very good reasons why not to wear a poppy.

Is it really a “lack of respect” to refuse to honour an organisation which murdered innocent civilians on your doorstep before covering-up the exact circumstances of what happened, let alone acknowledging blame?  “But,” the neo-Patriots say as the froth of indignation drips from their mouths “what about the 49,000 Irish soldiers who died fighting with the British in the First World War?”  What about them?  Those 49,000 soldiers died protecting freedom and personal choice.  Should we trample across their graves simply so we can get the nod of approval from The Daily Mail and the meatheads on Twitter?  Surely the best way of honouring the fallen is to preserve the freedom they fought and died to protect and let footballers and celebrities - anyone in fact – freely decide for themselves whether or not to wear a poppy.

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If McClean doesn’t believe in what the Poppy stands for then wearing it to “avoid a fuss” or “because he should” or because, like most people, he doesn’t know what it represents or because he is too scared of the consequences of not wearing one, well, then it’s just a dishonest, empty gesture.  And how, exactly is that showing respect?

That the poppy has become such a politically contentious symbol over the last decade or so has happened in tandem with the insidious militarization of society.  Did Bobby Moore ever wear a poppy on his club or country shirts while he was playing?  What about Bobby Charlton?  Or Peter Shilton?  Or Tony Adams?  Or Alan Shearer?  The fact is none of them did.  Did they lack respect for the fallen?  I doubt it; it was simply a non-issue in their day.

At least McClean didn’t get arrested unlike a 19-year-old man from Canterbury who was arrested for posting a picture of a burning poppy on Facebook on Sunday.  He was remanded in custody on suspicion of committing an offence under the Malicious Communications Act.  Similarly, in March last year Emdadur Choudhury, a member of Muslims Against Crusades, was fined £50 for burning replica poppies on the previous Rememberance Day.  Yet conversely none of the seven men filmed burning a copy the Koran in a Gateshead pub car park in a YouTube video in September 2010 were prosecuted.  The incidents have produced an interesting set of equations: (British men x 7) + Koran + fire = no prosecution.  Muslim man + fire + poppies = (conviction + fine).  I guess some symbols are just more sacrosanct than others.  Ah well, at least we all know where we stand.