Why I won’t be wearing a red poppy

Last updated 13:04 23/04/2010

I won't be wearing a red poppy this Anzac Day. It's not that I don't respect New Zealand soldiers who fought and died in battles overseas and neither is it because I don't respect the welfare work of the Returned Services Association, which is funded in part from poppy sales.

And neither is it because Veterans Affairs Minister Judith Collins made nasty gratuitous comments attacking peace activists for selling white peace poppies in association with Anzac Day.

My concern is that the red poppy and Anzac Day itself has become associated so closely with World War I. The Gallipoli landing on April 25, 1915, marks the day and almost 100 years on we are still encouraged to see this war as an honourable battle of blood, death and sacrifice. We will once more be lectured on Anzac Day with predictable speeches from our political leaders who will tell us that those whose lives were lost "died for the freedoms we enjoy today".

It's not true. This is the Great Lie from the Great War. It's a phrase which has meaning for World War II but has nothing to do with the mindless, jingoistic madness which led a generation of young New Zealanders to be decimated on the far side of the world. World War I was a clash of empires where war fever was whipped up by the political elites on both sides and young men in their millions fought to the death.

New Zealand did the madness better than most. Per head of population we sent more people to fight than any other country. Nowhere in human history has a greater number of soldiers travelled a greater distance to fight a war. It could be something to be proud of if it related to the fight against fascism in World War II but not when it is applied to the imperialist battles on the beaches of Gallipoli and the trenches in Belgium and northern France.

Two of my great-uncles died in the Great War on the battlefields of Europe and I think it's deeply disrespectful to them to say, as we do each Anzac Day, that their deaths were for some greater good.

I recall when the last British veteran from World War I died a few years back he commented to the effect that the war was wrong and the lives of those who fought and died were wasted. He was right.

Anzac Day should not be a day to glorify the deaths of those whose lives were thrown away by "patriotic" politicians and incompetent officers. We owe it to those who died to teach young New Zealanders that, in the words of one British politician, "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel". George Bush and Tony Blair are just the last in a long line of politicians who lied and used patriotic sentiment to whip up war fever on behalf of their big corporates.

We won't be hearing that at Anzac Day. Somehow the impact of the Great War was so profound here that even 100 years on we still need the comfort of the Great Lie.

It seems it's also still too soon for this country to honour those who campaigned and struggled to prevent New Zealanders wasting their lives in that conflict. When New Zealand schoolchildren know the name Archibald Baxter as well as they know the name Gallipoli then we will know we have done our fallen soldiers their greatest honour.

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131 comments
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Oh Dear Lord   #1   01:23 pm Apr 23 2010

Oh Dear Lord

John Minto is master manipulator isnt he...able to turn sacrifice of many lives on the battlefield into an evil.

the_fridge   #2   01:26 pm Apr 23 2010

Gosh could you be any more sour?

As time's gone by Anzac day has become LESS about WW1 and to an extent less about WW2 as those soldiers pass away it has become more about celebrating any NZ soldier who died in battle and fought for NZ whether that be on behalf of another country or not.

Ben   #3   01:31 pm Apr 23 2010

I'm not wearing a red poppy because I don't like the way the RSA have arrogantly claimed ANZAC Day for themselves. ANZAC Day should be a day for all New Zealanders and Australians to reflect on war and how it affects our soldiers. If some people come to the conclusion that the best way to respect our soldiers is by continuing to push for the peace the soldiers were fighting for, then more power to them. I don't see what right the RSA has to try to take that away from them.

Madison   #4   01:47 pm Apr 23 2010

John isn't pushing this all as an evil, he is pushing it as a massive mistake, similar to many others since. The idea is remembrance of those gone, an attempt to honour them that they gave their lives and the idea that we keep the knowledge of the horror and death that is created by war in hopes that we don't forgot how bad war is. It is to encourage peace. I don't think John is disrespectful of those killed in the wars but that he is worried ANZAC day is being used to glorify war in much the same way movies do currently.

If only everyone really did learn we'd all be better. A great quote from a horrible TV series: "Here's to those comrades who died in the war to end all wars, my friends who died in the war after that and for all those dying in this war now since we can't seem to learn. May we never have to worry about making that sacrifice one day."

Sal   #5   01:54 pm Apr 23 2010

While (as happens on occasion) I agree largely with your opinion on this, I'm wearing a poppy. For myself, and I suspect a large proportion of Kiwis, it's not about glorifying war or sacrifice, but about acknowledging and honouring those who have died purportedly fighting for their country but (usually unbeknownst to them) more likely as pawns in some petty capitalistic bid. The RSA do good work and I respect them, and I hope that their presence on our streets is not only a reminder of our past but a reminder that we can avoid further loss of life in future.

Had any white poppy collectors been visible, I would delight in wearing both colours.

Dave   #6   01:55 pm Apr 23 2010

Hear Hear! Less time spent congratulating our wartime 'achievements', and more time spent on figuring out how we can all live together. The very idea of awarding someone a VC for killing a bunch of blokes on a battlefield, yet had he done the same back home, would have been locked up, is the greatest and most pathetic irony of war. The sooner we forget about the whole thing and move on the better, lest more precious young lives be wasted!!!!

poopboy   #7   01:55 pm Apr 23 2010

Fair call John. It is interesting how ANZAC day has changed in recent years as we have moved past the reality and into the era of mythology. Most people attending parades have no personal experiences of war, or of the atrocities and sacrifices on all sides. While this is natural in a society where war is mostly distant in time and space, it is also important to critique.

I will be wearing a red poppy.

Rodger   #8   02:09 pm Apr 23 2010

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scandral", is I believe the words of one Dr. Samuel Johnson. Another saying of his more fitting for you is "what is written without effort is read without pleasure". Go you old soldiers who thought they were fighting a war to end all wars!!!

Rex   #9   02:10 pm Apr 23 2010

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, huh, John? But I think you are falling into the all to common trap of applying current values and mores to previous generations.

I am wearing a poppy to honour the generations of young men who thought they were doing what they had to. And to acknowledge that it was a quirk of fate that allowed me to be worried about acne and girls and stuff at 18 years old instead of bullets, shrapnel, bombs, etc.

Ben #3

Oh please. The RSA are simply looking after the old soldiers. No-one else is. And, while I consider myself a pacifist, I have way more respect for old soldiers than I have for young peaceniks.

Peace Movement Aotearoa admitted they were hanging off the RSA's coattails and the RSA was perfectly right in trying to brush them away.

Karlos   #10   02:13 pm Apr 23 2010

Good point Ben #3. Just like everyone deals with grief in their own way, people have the right to reflect on ANZAC day in their own way as well - no one should be able to say their way is the only "proper" way.


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