Ray Girvan, in a comment to my "Remembrance Day" post on Friday, made several good points with which I agreed, whilst arriving at slightly different behavioural results.
I am, in principle, a pacifist. It's a principle which i believe must always and everywhere be continuously striven for. At the same time, in world where war remains a regrettable reality, I acknowledge that we must decide how to act in the immediate present. I rarely support (indeed, usually vociferously oppose) foreign wars, but back in April I reluctantly supported NATO military operations in the face of threatened genocide in Libya. Three and a bit years ago, I described military forces as being like bacteria: simultaneously both essential to life and the source of many of its problems. Nevertheless, I do not waver from the view that pacifism is the ideal towards which we should always try to steer.
This year, for the first time in a quarter century or so of wearing a white poppy, I encountered aggression because of it. I have always had people disagree with me, sometimes criticise me, but always in a civilised manner – which is fine, and almost always valuable besides. Four days ago, I encountered the first person to tell be that I am "a fucking faggot" and threaten to stuff the white poppy down my throat. While this wasn't a pleasant encounter, I regard the uniqueness of its occurrence as a generally positive aspect of the society within which I live.
There is another side, though ... what my friend Maureen (a one time European Union administrator) yesterday called “poppy fundamentalism”. I like her term better than “poppy fascism” which, in my opinion, devalues language. Whatever we call it, however, the phenomenon is the same: treatment of a (red) poppy on one's lapel as a shibboleth. Either you wear it or you are somehow suspect.
I agree with the British Legion's expressed viewpoint, three years back, that it doesn't have a problem "whether you wear a red one or a white one, both or none at all".
Joan Smith, writing in her Independent on Sunday column today, sums up my view of this: “The dead we honour won our freedom to disagree”.