The red or ‘Flanders’ poppy has become the ubiquitous emblem of British war commemorations, yet it is also becoming more hegemonic and militaristic: the poppy’s meaning has always been contested, but its dominant interpretation has become increasingly intolerant. Building on literature on the poppy and war commemorations, on pacifist approaches to security studies and on militarism, this article sketches a pacifist critique of the poppy’s increasingly hegemonic militarism.
It starts by sketching out a history of the poppy’s contested meaning. A first-order critique then reflects on the hegemonic poppy narrative’s internal dissonances, on the selective memory which it reveals, and on the blinkered horizon of compassion and identification which it promotes. A second-order critique exposes the broader political and ethical consequences including for the military-industrial-entertainment complex, for liberal institutionalist projects, and for veterans.
The final section reflects on the resulting unease that can be triggered by the poppy’s hegemonizing function in British civil religion and calls for poppy commemorations to better accommodate deeper reflections on the causes of war, militarism, and the potentially complicit role played by war commemorations.
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