The Plastic Hippo

November 11, 2010


Filed under: History,Literature,World — theplastichippo @ 1:21 am

The war to end war officially ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 92 years ago. An estimated 10 million combatants died with a further 20 million wounded. Even now, 8 million are still classed as “missing” and the number of civilian deaths will never be known. Today we are asked to remember them.

The sacrifice and horror endured during the carnage remains unimaginable and the futility of a slaughtered generation is something we should never forget. We should also remember the courage and loss brought about by subsequent conflicts, not least the second war to end war. There is something rather sad in the fact that in 1939, Armistice Day was moved to the nearest Sunday to November 11 so as not to interrupt midweek war production with a two minute silence. There is more to remembrance than wearing a poppy with pride.

Channel 4 news reader Jon Snow has found himself in a spot of bother over comments he made on his blog regarding what he described as “poppy fascism”. At best, his choice of words was insensitive, at worst, offensive, but he has a valid point in terms of compulsory compassion. He argues that wearing a poppy is a matter of choice and not obligation and refuses to wear one on screen. This is in marked contrast with just about everyone else who appears on television who from early October onwards are fitted with a poppy along with the lapel mic prior to going on air. The moral imperative seems to be that not to do so would cause offence.

There has been a noticeable trend in recent years of people wishing to demonstrate their charitable giving. Plastic red noses on car radiator grills remain displayed long after the appeal has closed and huge comic cheques are presented to Children in Need with a rather indecently large emphasis on the name and logo of the corporate interest doing the giving. The amount donated is usually a tiny fraction of the advertising budget of the major players and allowing a few employees to spend a morning in a bath of baked beans is not going to harm profit margins.

This ostentatious manifestation of good will was partly pioneered by Margaret Thatcher during her years as Prime Minister. Older readers will remember that by late September she would appear in public sporting a poppy the size of a dinner plate, encrusted with diamonds and edged with gold leaf. The message was clear; I have spent more money on this and therefore I care more than you do. The logical result of all this is that it seems that the judges on some God-awful talent show were sporting designer poppies at 100 quid a throw and the half-wits on Strictly Come Dancing had poppies sewn into their costumes as some sort of after thought. It should be pointed out at this point that the hippo only tunes in to that programme to see Anne Widdecombe make a bigger fool of herself than she ever did in the House of Commons. Oh…and watching Felicity Kendal…it’s like being crushed to death with rose petals.

The Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal provides outstanding and invaluable help and care for our armed forces past, present and future. It is a charity that we have a duty to support. However, if a nation state orders its men and women to go and fight, the nation state has a responsibility to repair the broken bodies and the broken minds of those who happily march off to hell on our behalf and are fortunate enough to return. After serving their country, they should not have to suffer the further indignity of reliance on charity.

Those of us, like Jon Snow, who donate but choose not carry the badge are accused of being uncaring or, in some cases, unpatriotic. Others choose to wear a white poppy in remembrance of all those that died in conflict and have as a consequence become targets of ridicule and hatred. After 92 years, H G Wells was wrong when he said that the First World War was the war to end wars. British armed forces are fighting and dying in Afghan poppy fields.

Many years ago, at the height of the Vietnam War, a sixth form prefect in a school in a grim, northern city was told to read the lesson in the Armistice Day assembly. He was given a reading from Homer to recite:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:

mors et fugacem persequitur virum

nec parcit inbellis iuventae

poplitibus timidove tergo.”


How sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country:

Death pursues the man who flees,

spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs

Of battle-shy youths.”

Instead, he decided to read the following and as a result, came within a whisker of being expelled. It is worth noting the date of the death of the author.

Dulce et decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest
began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. . .

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est

Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen – born March 1893 – died in action, November 4 1918.


1 Comment »

  1. […] hat tip: The Plastic Hippo This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Repent at […]

    Pingback by Remembering… | Councillor Bob Piper — November 11, 2010 @ 10:31 am | Reply

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