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London School of Economics and Political Science Students' Union

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Poppies - an act of remembrance or a political symbol?

November 21, 2017


(Photo Credit: The Royal British Legion) 


It’s that time of the year again when you can see pedestrians on the streets of London pinning red poppy emblems on their shirts and coats, indicating Remembrance Day is round the corner. But what is Remembrance Day and what do these red poppies stand for?


Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, falls on the 11th of November each year, commemorating the end of hostilities during the last stages of the First World War. To the UK and many other countries around the world, it is a day to remember and salute the brave soldiers who fought for their country and perished during duty as a result of a brutal and tragic war. The red poppy, its colour representing the blood spilled in the war, is a token of remembrance derived from the iconic war poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a member of the Canadian armed fo


rces who participated in the war.


‘In Flanders fields the poppies grow

    Between the crosses, row on row,

  That mark our place; and in the sky

  The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.’

-In Flanders Fields (excerpt), 1915


However, the poppy has sparked controversy throughout the years. Many British public figures have been criticised by the media and the public for not wearing the poppy openly. In turn, there are complaints that the poppy is being used to generate support towards ongoing military campaigns. Veterans have also argued that the public should not pressurise people into wearing poppies.


One of the largest controversies is the use of poppies in sporting events. It is a common practice for British football teams to sew a figure of a poppy on their team kits during matches before Remembrance Day. However, in 2011, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) banned the display of poppies during matches due to them being ‘political symbols’ and ‘jeopardising the neutrality of football’. In 2016, the English national football team was subsequently fined by FIFA for defying the ban in an international match. This decision was not welcomed by the English Football Association and has even prompted a response from Prime Minister Theresa May showing her discontent towards the judgement of FIFA. Towards recently, there have been reports that FIFA will relax the ban to allow the display of poppies on armbands.


There can be different interpretations regarding the implications and usage of the poppy, but one thing is certain: the poppy reminds us of the brutality and horrors of the great war, and to avoid history from repeating itself, we should forever cherish the values of peace and friendship.

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