Today is Remembrance Sunday.

I always like to attend the annual Remembrance Service, wherever I happen to be. There is something about the civic ritualism of it – tempered with good British humour – that I appreciate. For the last few years, I’ve attended the event in Oxford. The city puts on an excellent civic service that is very inclusive, with representatives not just from the Christian faith, but also those of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and even Humanists. There were additionally representatives from European cities, including the German city of Bonn – an acknowledgement of the international scale of the suffering caused by conflict. As far as I could see, there was no glorification of war, as is sometimes suggested by detractors, only a recognition of the dead and many prayers for tolerance, justice, and peace.

Around this time of year there is always the usual spat of tiresome articles about the wearing of the poppy. The ‘Poppy Police’ brigade of the Daily Mail scream about the importance of wearing the poppy and abuse those who don’t; the Anti-Poppy crowd – mostly led by The Guardian – sneer at the flower as symbolic of war-mongering and nationalism. I mostly try to ignore this seasonal element of the culture wars. The arguments never change, are never resolved, and (in my opinion) are not meant to be. I’m pretty convinced that it is mostly a manufactured debate created in order to generate clickbait and newspaper sales, but perhaps that is just my cynicism talking. In everyday life people don’t seem to care that much about it – certainly I’ve never seen anyone stopped in the street and confronted over their poppy-wearing habits.

OXFORD WAR MEMORIAL ST GILES'.JPG
The Oxford War Memorial (courtesy of War Memorials Online)

I personally like to wear a poppy at this time of year. For me, it reflects remembrance of the casualties of war – regardless of specific conflict, or indeed, nation – and a recognition of their sacrifice. I will not pretend that all these men (and women) were ‘heroes’ or saints, nor that all of them sacrificed their lives willingly, nor that all the conflicts were justified – but I will not pretend the opposite is true either. These wars were unimaginably complicated and vast, and I never like to reduce such great events into simplistic black-and-white statements. I don’t wear the poppy for any political reason, only in recognition of the sufferings of those who served.

I do not expect anyone else to wear one, nor should anyone be forced to; surely that would make the whole point moot, akin to being forced to salute a flag. The arguments over to-wear-or-not-to-wear bore me, and to be honest are also somewhat irritating. I have no idea why people are so obsessed with governing the lives of others – if you wish to wear something, wear it. If not, do not. If others choose otherwise, live and let live. Is it not as simple as that? I wonder what the dead would have said on the issue.

Regardless of your personal opinions, I wish you the best on this poignant day. I only ask that you remember the dead in whichever way you think best.