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'Anti-war' Royal British Legion, sponsored by top arms firms

 
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 06, 2016 6:47 pm    Post subject: 'Anti-war' Royal British Legion, sponsored by top arms firms Reply with quote

The arms trade must be kept out of Remembrance Day
http://www.redpepper.org.uk/the-arms-trade-must-be-kept-out-of-remembr ance-day/

See also
http://vfpuk.org/2015/my-name-is-legion/

Andrew Smith and Matthew Burnett-Stuart from Campaign Against Arms Trade look at the role of arms companies in World War One and how they are trying to exploit Remembrance Day.
5 November 2014

thales-poppy-poster-2014
There are few industries with as much to be ashamed of as the arms trade. It is a trade that for generations has profiteered from grotesque human rights abuses and deadly wars and conflicts. Every year its weapons facilitate the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, as it hands over extortionate profits and dividends to rich businessmen that appear to care little for the damage done by their wars.

As the nation marks Remembrance Day you might expect that if there is one industry that should be keeping a low profile it's the arms trade.

Unfortunately not. Despite its history of war profiteering it has only been too happy to exploit the legacy of those who have died in conflicts and to brazenly associate itself with the annual memorials.

One arms company that has a long and inglorious history of arming some of the world's most brutal dictatorships, Thales, has taken the opportunity to brand the entrance of Westminster underground station with a poppy covered billboard.

Lockheed Martin, the world's biggest arms company, is the main sponsor of the British Legion Young Professionals' Poppy Rocks event. Unfortunately this is far from the first time that the Legion has taken money from the arms trade. The UK's biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has been a long-standing 'supporter'. In the past it has sponsored national poppy appeals and donated to fund-raising drives. It's influence is still there, but now it keep a lower profile. This year they will be sponsoring the annual Poppy Ball white tie dinner, and specific offices and arms factories will be hosting their own local events.

The Legion has been co-opted for the interests of the arms trade before. In 2012 a newspaper investigation forced the then president of the Legion, Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, to resign over allegations that former commanders were using their connections to lobby on behalf of arms companies. Kiszely himself told an undercover reporter, who was pretending to work for a South Korean arms company, that the annual Remembrance Day ceremony was a 'tremendous networking opportunity' before boasting of the access it gave him to powerful people.

Arms companies and World War One

All of these companies would rather we ignored the role their industry has played in enabling war, both during World War One and in subsequent conflicts.

The Arming All Sides project exposes the hidden history of World War One. It tells of how a global network of arms companies fuelled war by selling a new generation of advanced weapons to anyone who would pay for them.

It was this drive for profits at all costs that led British arms companies, Armstrong and Vickers - which later merged to become BAE - to sell weapons to the Ottoman Empire that would soon be turned on British soldiers.

Moreover, as international tensions created new business opportunities, some arms companies purposely created war scares in order to increase the arms race. For example, Herbert Mulliner, director of Coventry Ordnance Works, persuaded the British government in 1909, with the support of the Daily Mail, that Germany was secretly accelerating its naval programme. The scare stimulated massive naval expenditure and created an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, making war more likely. Even Winston Churchill later accepted that the claims were entirely false.

World War One was shaped by weapons. It was the first global conflict since the industrial revolution, and the new generation of mechanised arms led to devastating casualties. Attempts had been made to ban Chemical Warfare as early as 1899, but the arms trade persevered, and gas killed 25,000 on the Western front alone.

It's for this reason that the tragedies of the time should never be forgotten, let alone airbrushed over by an arms trade that is trying to give the impression of legitimacy.

The arms trade and public spaces

It is not just Remembrance Day that arms companies seek to exploit, it's also other major civic events. Only last month Guildford Borough Council took the unusual step of suspending its own ethical sponsorship policy in order to allow it to take money from arms companies for Armed Forced Day in 2015. Likewise, this year drone company Selex ES was among the main sponsors of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Arms companies have also been more than happy to associate themselves with some of the country's best known museums and attractions. The last few years alone have seen the Science Museum, London Transport Museum, National Gallery and Edinburgh Science Festival among those that have taken money from the arms trade.

Arms companies do not do this because they care about the war dead, or because they want to promote art and culture. They do it because it is good for their business. By agreeing to take money from arms companies these organisations are giving practical support and a veneer of credibility to an industry that profits from the same war and repression that they seek to commemorate.

Andrew and Matt are spokespeople for Campaign Against Arms Trade. You can follow CAAT on Twitter at @wwwcaatorguk





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9 COMMENTS


Ben Griffin 6 November 2014, 10.50

The Royal British Legion exists to control remembrance, it is in fact a huge propaganda machine. Without the arms trade money the RBL would still wage an annual campaign that has got little to do with remembrance and everything to do with encouraging the public to support the military and war without question.


Kristin 7 November 2014, 10.13

A great article, and great facts to explain our rage and sadness about arms companies that give to commemorate with one hand while taking money for more of the same war-killing with the other.

Thank you!


David Leach 7 November 2014, 11.48

To think that my great grandfather my Grandfather ( Who lost his left arm in action ) his brothers also my father and his eight brother and one sister all joined the armed forces they all fought in many campaigns across the world at great risk to life and limb . They were all conned and lied to being told they were fighting the WAR TO END ALL WARS ! Creating a better safer and more abundant future was said to be theirs in the future ?That Not being so in my fathers case after being demobbed in 1948 after being recalled in 1938 having previously done his national service as a single young man then being married in the early 1930s being a father to four young children before the outbreak of WWII then two more children during the war and three more boys 1945 -1948-1952 . To find out he had contracted Cancer from dust and chemicals used in these periods of armed forces service to his king and country ? With no know restitution or help from the HOVERMENTALITY of the armed services or government ! They that served for LIES and DECIET of these SELFISH GREEDY SELF SERVING WAR MONGERING PSYCHOPATHS IN POWER !


Hugh Donnelly 9 November 2014, 10.50

I have reading a lot recently about the influence of big business in politics. Not surprising they also use charities to meet their objectives. Charities need to be completely transparent otherwise genuine people will mistrust them and stop giving. Money truly is the root of all evil.


Pat Tamler 10 November 2014, 12.11

Why is the creator of the gun to be blamed for what his customers use it for? And what about all the major research contributions in technology in our everyday lives the research departments of these organisations bring? It is not even mentioned here. Part of this ‘arms trade’ money goes on research that in the past it has been seen to be from The Internet itself, to GPS, to sophisticated technology in our mobile phones. What about our everyday benefits in civilian world that these companies eventually bring? What about the financial help they provide to the country? Wasn’t this worth mentioning in this article?


Ian Saville 11 November 2014, 10.48

Pat, it is absurd to think that the only way one can carry out research into socially useful technology is as a by-product of an industry devoted to finding more and more efficient ways of killing. How about making the socially useful stuff the focus of research, and leaving the arms companies to pick up whatever harmful by-products come from that?


Jeff 12 November 2014, 15.59

Royal British Legion should disassociate itself forthwith from any Company involved in the arms trade.


Owen 21 November 2014, 16.28

The Remembrance Sunday/Help for Heroes movement has nothing do to with preventing war and everything to do with celebrating it

Ironically the current fetishisation of “Our boys” may well make it more difficult for governments to wage war and send them to kill or be killed.


kokociel 5 December 2014, 10.29

Ian, technologies such as GPS are not going to receive investment for the promise that we can send up all these expensive satellites so that people can navigate to the shops a bit more easily. There often needs to be one excellent, well-funded use case to get such projects off the ground: regular people could only ever receive such technology as a spin-off

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 06, 2016 6:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Robert Fisk: Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-do-t hose-who-flaunt-the-poppy-on-their-lapels-know-that-they-mock-the-war- dead-6257416.html

Robert Fisk @indyvoices Saturday 5 November 2011
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I turned on the television in my Damascus hotel room to witness a dreary sight: all the boys and girls of BBC World wearing their little poppies again.

Bright red they were, with that particularly silly green leaf out of the top – it was never part of the original Lady Haig appeal – and not one dared to appear on screen without it. Do these pathetic men and women know how they mock the dead? I trust that Jon Snow has maintained his dignity by not wearing it.

Now I've mentioned my Dad too many times in The Independent. He died almost 20 years ago so, after today, I think it's time he was allowed to rest in peace, and that readers should in future be spared his sometimes bald wisdom. This is the last time he will make an appearance. But he had strong views about wearing the poppy. He was a soldier of the Great War, Battle of Arras 1918 – often called the Third Battle of the Somme – and the liberation of Cambrai, along with many troops from Canada. The Kaiser Wilhelm's army had charitably set the whole place on fire and he was appalled by the scorched earth policy of the retreating Germans. But of course, year after year, he would go along to the local cenotaph in Birkenhead, and later in Maidstone, where I was born 28 years after the end of his Great War, and he always wore his huge black coat, his regimental tie – 12th Battalion, the King's Liverpool Regiment – and his poppy.

In those days, it was – I recall this accurately, I think – a darker red, blood-red rather than BBC-red, larger than the sorrow-lite version I see on the BBC and without that ridiculous leaf. So my Dad would stand and I would be next to him in my Yardley Court School blazer at 10 years old and later, aged 16, in my Sutton Valence School blazer, with my very own Lady Haig poppy, its long black wire snaking through the material, sprouting from my lapel.

My Dad gave me lots of books about the Great War, so I knew about the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo before I went to school – and 47 years before I stood, amid real shellfire, in the real Sarajevo and put my feet on the very pavement footprints where Gavrilo Princip fired the fatal shots.

But as the years passed, old Bill Fisk became very ruminative about the Great War. He learned that Haig had lied, that he himself had fought for a world that betrayed him, that 20,000 British dead on the first day of the Somme – which he mercifully avoided because his first regiment, the Cheshires, sent him to Dublin and Cork to deal with another 1916 "problem" – was a trashing of human life. In hospital and recovering from cancer, I asked him once why the Great War was fought. "All I can tell you, fellah," he said, "was that it was a great waste." And he swept his hand from left to right. Then he stopped wearing his poppy. I asked him why, and he said that he didn't want to see "so many damn fools" wearing it – he was a provocative man and, sadly, I fell out with him in his old age. What he meant was that all kinds of people who had no idea of the suffering of the Great War – or the Second, for that matter – were now ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic and British when it suited them, to keep in with their friends and betters and employers. These people, he said to me once, had no idea what the trenches of France were like, what it felt like to have your friends die beside you and then to confront their brothers and wives and lovers and parents. At home, I still have a box of photographs of his mates, all of them killed in 1918.

So like my Dad, I stopped wearing the poppy on the week before Remembrance Day, 11 November, when on the 11th hour of the 11 month of 1918, the armistice ended the war called Great. I didn't feel I deserved to wear it and I didn't think it represented my thoughts. The original idea came, of course, from the Toronto military surgeon and poet John McCrae and was inspired by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, killed on 3 May 1915. "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row." But it's a propaganda poem, urging readers to "take up the quarrel with the foe". Bill Fisk eventually understood this and turned against it. He was right.I've had my share of wars, and often return to the ancient Western Front. Three years ago, I was honoured to be invited to give the annual Armistice Day Western Front memorial speech at the rebuilt Cloth Hall in Ypres. The ghost of my long-dead 2nd Lieutenant Dad was, of course, in the audience. I quoted all my favourite Great War writers, along with the last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, and received, shortly afterwards, a wonderful and eloquent letter from the daughter of that fine Great War soldier Edmund Blunden. (Read his Undertones of War, if you do nothing else in life.) But I didn't wear a poppy. And I declined to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate. This was something of which I was not worthy. Instead, while they played the last post, I looked at the gravestones on the city walls.

As a young boy, I also went to Ypres with my Dad, stayed at the "Old Tom Hotel" (it is still there, on the same side of the square as the Cloth Hall) and met many other "old soldiers", all now dead. I remember that they wanted to remember their dead comrades. But above all, they wanted an end to war. But now I see these pathetic creatures with their little sand-pit poppies – I notice that our masters in the House of Commons do the same – and I despise them. Heaven be thanked that the soldiers of the Great War cannot return today to discover how their sacrifice has been turned into a fashion appendage.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2016 1:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hedge fund investor 'doubles money' on Tower poppies
Just a third of the money raised by last year's Tower of London display went to charity.
Jennifer Offord By Jen Offord November 6, 2016 11:51 GMT
http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/hedge-fund-investor-doubles-money-tower-poppi es-1590115

The Tower of London's Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red Armistice display, which was on display last year, made a significant profit for hedge fund investor who helped finance the project, it was revealed on Sunday.

Ben Whitfield, a former executive of Olympia Capital Management, made between £2m-£3m ($2.5m-$3.76m) while artist Paul Cummins took home almost £7.2m, which would likely have made him a profit The Sunday Times estimated.

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After other costs – such as £1.36m for the Tower's management organisation and 5% VAT to HM Revenue and Customs were deducted – just £8.4m of the total £23m raised from the display was paid to charity. It had been claimed that more than £15m was raised for service charities.

Cummins, who's ceramics company which created the poppies sold to members of the public for £25, told the Sunday Times, "It would not have been possible to create the artwork," without private investment.

A spokesperson added that Whitfield was paid "in line with what would have been expected from any high-risk, large-scale project".

The 888,246 ceramic poppies – one for each of the First World War fallen British and Commonwealth servicemen – which filled the Tower's moat last year would have cost around £2.50 to manufacture. Sources told The Sunday Times that the £7.2m paid to Cummins' company was significantly higher than costs incurred by the artist.

The revelation will do little to instil public confidence in charity donations, as Just Giving netted a 5% fee for each donation. In September, the Sunday Times also cast doubt over the use of Libor fine funds given by the UK government to veterans' charities.

tower of london poppies
Members of the public paid £25 to 'plant' a ceramic poppy at the Tower of London in remembrance of fallen servicemenJohn Stillwell/AFP
The UK government announced this year that funds from fines levied on banks for Libor rate-rigging would go to charities. At the time, then-chancellor George Osborne said: "I am proud to be supporting causes that will make a real difference to those dedicated to serving their country. It is right that funding from those in the banking industry who demonstrated the worst of values goes towards people who display the very best of British values."

Concerns raised by the Times in September ranged from criticisms of techniques used by one of the beneficiaries to questioning the existence of another. The Times said The Warrior Programme, which received almost £1m, used "dangerous" treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, practised by a trainer who had no formal qualifications.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2017 11:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Red poppies and the arms trade
PAUL ROGERS 12 November 2014
A vast blood-red memorial in London evokes war's victims. Behind it stand the weapon-makers that could create millions more.
https://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-rogers/red-poppies-and-arms-trade

The huge field of ceramic poppies around the moat of the Tower of London has had a profound impact over the past few weeks, representing more than 888,000 people from Britain and its then empire killed in the 1914-18 war. It has taken the red poppy symbol to a much greater prominence, but the very use of this symbol and its link with remembrance has changed over the years.

Until around 2000, the annual experience of remembrance in Britain in early November had marked military overtones, even if it was essentially still being about remembering the military dead. For the best part of a decade the emphasis then seemed to move subtly away from the military dimension and more towards an anti-war sentiment. Perhaps this was the impact of the few very elderly survivors of the war still living, most notably the remarkable Harry Patch, and their evident attitude of regret and even detestation of war. It may also have been affected by the concern across so much of the population at the loss of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What was unusual but in many ways understandable was that the anti-war element in national culture was directed at the wars and the politicians who ordered them and not at the military. If anything, the popularity of the army actually increased. People were able systematically to draw a distinction between unpopular wars and the people who fought them - some dying and many more maimed for life.

This attitude lay behind a surprisingly wide satisfaction at the coalition government’s failure to gain a parliamentary vote in support of military action against Syria in late August 2013, and it represented a change of mood which was a clear worry for the government. Part of this has been met by a greater emphasis on the soldiers, with parades through towns and cities becoming more common than in recent decades, and it may also lie behind the ministry of defence’s substantial budget for military education in schools.

The gun and the flower

Where the tension comes to the fore, if not currently with great publicity, is one aspect of the annual "poppy appeal" - the ready gaining of sponsorship from some of the world’s largest arms companies. There are a number of examples, including the very striking Red Poppy hoarding at Westminster underground station which is sponsored by Thales, a singularly large French arms company with a substantial branch in the UK. Another is probably the biggest single celebration of the autumn, the Poppy Ball on 30 October 2014, sponsored by BAe Systems, the world’s third largest arms company, behind Boeing and the leader, Lockheed Martin.

Which brings us to Lockheed Martin itself, a primarily United States company with a turnover of $36 billion in 2013. Its British offshoot is Lockheed Martin UK, which sponsors another prestigious event: the Poppy Rocks Ball, held this year at the Honorary Artillery Company in London on 25 October and aimed, if that is the word, at young professionals as part of a process of raising awareness among a younger generation.

So where does Lockheed Martin actually come from and how does it link with the UK defence posture? Its origins lie with the 1994 merger of the Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta, the latter being one of the main US arms companies in the 1960s and 1970s with a particular speciality in developing and producing long-range nuclear missiles. These included the Titan 2 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) the most powerful nuclear missile ever deployed by the United States with a single 9 megaton warhead, over 700 times the explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb.

In the latter part of the cold war, both sides went for multiple smaller warheads on each missile. When Martin Marietta merged with the Lockheed Corporation in 1995, much of the expertise went into Lockheed’s work in producing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). The most recent of these is the Trident D5 SLBM deployed by the US navy and the Royal Navy; the latter has four Vanguard-class missile submarines, each capable of carrying and firing sixteen missiles, these constituting Britain’s nuclear force.

For many years now, intercontinental nuclear missiles have typically had multiple warheads, each of which can be aimed at a different target. One of Lockheed’s Trident D5 missiles can theoretically carry twelve warheads in what in the jargon is termed a multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV); since each boat can carry sixteen missiles, that gives a theoretical total of 192 warheads. In practice, it is believed that the UK system normally operates with eight missiles and a maximum of forty warheads, and some sources suggest just three warheads per missile.

Taking this minimum figure, since each warhead is believed to have a 100 kiloton force (i.e. equivalent to 100,000-tons of conventional high explosive), this means that one missile can target three cities with warheads eight times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb that killed 100,000 people.

Thus a single missile can easily kill far more than the 888,000 men and women represented by the red poppies encircling the Tower of London. Some may see an irony in Lockheed Martin UK sponsoring the Poppy Rocks Ball, but perhaps the real irony is that neither Lockheed Martin UK nor the Royal British Legion sees the irony of it.



About the author
Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy's international security adviser, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 28 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His latest book is Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins (IB Tauris, 2016), which follows Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010). He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers

A lecture by Paul Rogers, delivered to the Food Systems Academy in late 2014, provides an overview of the analysis that underpins his openDemocracy column. The lecture - "The crucial century, 1945-2045: transforming food systems in a global context" - focuses on the central place of food systems in human security worldwide. Paul argues that food is the pivot of humanity's next great transition. It can be accessed here

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2017 10:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The poppy has become a symbol of racism – I will never wear one again
The Entente Cordiale which sent my father to France is now trash beneath the high heels of Theresa May, yet this wretched woman dares to wear a poppy

Robert Fisk @indyvoices Thursday 3 November 2016 09:30 GMT
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/poppy-symbol-of-racism-never-worn- one-never-will-robert-fisk-remembrance-day-first-world-war-second-a739 4976.html

The Every Man Remembered sculpture in London, commemorating First World War soldiers Rex
Yes, the boys and girls of the BBC and ITV, and all our lively media and sports personalities and politicians, are at it again. They’re flaunting their silly poppies once more to show their super-correctness in the face of history, as ignorant or forgetful as ever that their tired fashion accessory was inspired by a poem which urged the soldiers of the Great War of 1914-18 to go on killing and slaughtering.

But that’s no longer quite the point, for I fear there are now darker reasons why these TV chumps and their MP interviewees sport their red compassion badges on their clothes.

For who are they commemorating? The dead of Sarajevo? Of Srebrenica? Of Aleppo? Nope. The television bumpkins only shed their crocodile tears for the dead of First and Second World Wars, who were (save for a colonial war or two) the last generation of Britons to get the chop before the new age of “we-bomb-you-die” technology ensured that their chaps – brown-eyed, for the most part, often Muslims, usually dark skinned – got blown to bits while our chaps flew safely home to the mess for breakfast.

Yes, I rage against the poppy disgrace every year. And yes, my father – 12th Battalion The King’s Liverpool Regiment, Third Battle of the Somme, the liberation of burning Cambrai 1918 – finally abandoned the poppy charade when he learned of the hypocrisy and lies behind the war in which he fought. His schoolboy son followed his father’s example and never wore his wretched Flanders flower again.

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0:54

Sky News presenter questions Breitbart editor over poppy
Oddly, the dunderheads who are taking Britain out of the European Union on a carpet of equally deceitful lies – and I include Theresa May and her buffoonery of ministers – are guilty of even greater hypocrisy than the TV presenters whose poppies, for just a few days a year, take over the function of studio make-up artists (poppies distracting viewers from the slabs of paste on their TV faces). For the fields of Flanders, the real mud and faeces and blood which those vile poppies are supposed to symbolise, showed just how European our dead generations were.

British soldiers went off to fight and die in their tens of thousands for little Catholic Belgium, today the seat of the EU where Nigel Farage disgraced his country by telling the grandchildren of those we went to fight for that they’d never done a day’s work in their lives. In France, British (and, of course, Irish) soldiers bled to death in even greater Golgothas – 20,000 alone on the first day of the Somme in 1916 – to save the nation which we are now throwing out of our shiny new insular lives.

The Entente Cordiale which sent my father to France is now trash beneath the high heels of Theresa May – yet this wretched woman dares to wear a poppy.


READ MORE
In the carnage of Aleppo children die on both sides of the city
When Poles fought and died alongside British pilots in the 1940 Battle of Britain to save us from Nazi Germany, we idolised them, lionised them, wrote about their exploits in the RAF, filmed them, fell in love with them. For them, too, we pretend to wear the poppy. But now the poppy wearers want to throw the children of those brave men out of Britain. Shame is the only word I can find to describe our betrayal.

And perhaps I sniff something equally pernicious among the studio boys and girls. On Britain’s international television channels, Christmas was long ago banned (save for news stories on the Pope). There are no Christmas trees any more beside the presenters’ desks, not a sprig of holly. For we live in a multicultural society, in which such manifestations might be offensive to other “cultures” (I use that word advisedly, for culture to me means Beethoven and the poet Hafiz and Monet).

In pictures: 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' poppy installation in London
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And for the same reason, our international screens never show the slightest clue of Eid festivities (save again for news stories) lest this, too, offends another “culture”. Yet the poppy just manages to sneak onto the screen of BBC World; it is permissable, you see, the very last symbol that “our” dead remain more precious than the millions of human beings we have killed, in the Middle East for example, for whom we wear no token of remembrance. Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara will be wearing his poppy this week – but not for those he liquidated in his grotesque invasion of Iraq.

And in this sense, I fear that the wearing of the poppy has become a symbol of racism. In his old-fashioned way (and he read a lot about post-imperial history) I think my father, who was 93 when he died, understood this.

His example was one of great courage. He fought for his country and then, unafraid, he threw his poppy away. Television celebrities do not have to fight for their country – yet they do not even have the guts to break this fake conformity and toss their sordid poppies in the office wastepaper bin.

_________________
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TonyGosling
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Joined: 25 Jul 2005
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Location: St. Pauls, Bristol, England

PostPosted: Wed Oct 03, 2018 12:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Never Again: The Poppy Brand
http://vfpuk.org/articles/never-again-1918-2018/never-again-the-poppy- brand/

The Poppy Brand: Fitting National Remembrance in a Shopping Cart
By Silvia Binenti

In light of the progressive commodification of national memory and in anticipation of the imminent ‘urban poppification’ for Armistice Day, I aim to unwrap the ‘remembrance product’ and critically assess its back label.

The Poppy Appeal

The Royal British Legion (RBL) launched the first Poppy Appeal in 1921 as part of a national fund-raising campaign aimed at supporting veterans and civilians directly affected by the First World War. Since then, every year millions of people across Britain have pinned the red flower to their lapel during the first two weeks of November leading up to the Armistice Day (today known as the Remembrance Day or Poppy Day) – a solemn occasion “to remember and honour those who have sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom” (RBL, 2017).

The symbolic use of the poppy is inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae (1919), a Canadian army doctor whose verses moved the spirit of the post-war public. Poppies, as originally conceived, were hand-made by wounded soldiers at the Poppy Factory, symbolically called ‘the Factory of Remembrance’ – now a living memorial in the London suburb of Richmond (Gregory, 1994). In 1922 the success of the first Poppy Appeal exceeded the Legion’s expectations: publicity posters reading ‘Buy a Poppy for Remembrance Sake’ appeared all over Britain and around 30 million poppies were sold (Saunders, 2014: 119).

By the late 1920s, wearing the red flower had already become a central part of the public ritual of remembrance and almost a moral obligation towards the collective trauma of war still so fresh in the collective memory of the nation. Yet, as post-war pacifist movements started to gain momentum, questions over the tendency of the poppy to embody jingoistic sentiments and its inability to symbolise the regret over war casualties started to emerge. Most notably, in 1926 the Peace Pledge Union created a white version of the symbol, a visual pledge against war whose motto ‘No More War’ inscribed in the black centre of the flower replaced the prosaic ‘Haig Fund’ of the red precursor (Saunders, 2014: 157). However, just as the white poppy grew evermore popular, a new world conflict soon unfolded, thereby revitalising the significance of – or perhaps the need for – the remembrance poppy in Britain. After 1945, the symbol effortlessly became the emblematic protagonist of acts of remembrance, not only in commemoration of the two world wars but also of the British conflicts that followed.

Today, the fundraising appeal of the Legion represents one of the most successful charity campaigns in Britain and its red symbol is a banal accessory and urban adornment of the autumn. The image of the poppy, as a fragile but resilient flower that grows out of the broken ground of battlefields, both mirrors and calibrates national sentiments of loss, grief and healing. The Legion – self-proclaimed as ‘the national custodian of Remembrance’ – is the storyteller of such national tale of collective memory. By directing and zooming into the various scenes of commemoration, the charity makes the red poppy the guest of honour at times and an unnoticed participant at others. However, while its blood-red petals are firmly rooted in the national psyche of Britain as a bitter yet comforting symbol, in the last couple of years a recognised social pressure on public figures to wear the poppy, acts of rebellion against its geopolitical resonances and the increasing commodification of Remembrance have generated a new curiosity around the significance of the symbol. There are indicators that Remembrance-tide is destined to become a divisive issue, offering an entryway to contemporary dilemmas of national belonging and consumption culture.

The Brand

The Remembrance Brand is both a concept brand – namely, it promotes the preservation of the abstract and symbolic value of collective memory – and a commodity brand – as it is associated to an actual service and trademark supporting ex-servicemen and women (Briciu and Briciu, 2016). While the poppy has long been an iconic national symbol, the Legion formally trademarked its brand in 2001 (GovUK, 2017), whereby inaugurating the marketing orientation of its fund-raising strategy and awareness campaigns. The relatively recent ‘poppification’ of Remembrance – namely, the visual protagonism of poppy-inspired products and the year-round promotion of the brand – seems to be the result of the progressive corporatisation and (charitable) commodification of Remembrance fiercely pushed by the Legion in the last few years.

The Legion launches a new Remembrance ‘collection’ every year, as most branders do. Throughout the years the brand has carefully mirrored events of popular geopolitics and its identity has been attentively designed around the context, goals and challenges of modern memorialisation. In 2009, for instance, the prosaic ‘For their sake, wear the poppy’ campaign was hazarded after the Iraq war, while a heavily family-oriented strategy was adopted in 2013, when families were reuniting after British troops withdrew from Afghanistan. Most recently, preparations for the 2014-18 centenary have marked the beginning of the new strategy of the Legion, which culminated in 2016 when the public was invited to ‘rethink Remembrance’. In this regard, in 2014 the Legion’s Marketing Director, Gary Ryan, affirmed: “From a PR perspective there’s no better time to make changes to our marketing than over the next two years” (Joseph, 2014). Then, I would add, there is no better time to start reflecting upon the social implications of such changes.

Remembrance for sale?

The poppy enjoys an impressive recall rate (97% according to the Legion’s website), yet in 2013 the Remembrance Brand ranked lower than newer bereavement military charities, such as Help for Heroes, in the Charity Brand Index (Third Sector, 2013). Consequently, the Legion launched a pivotal commercial strategy that largely marked the merchandising shift of the Remembrance Brand. A new Head of Trading, E-commerce Director and Events & Campaigning Manager were recruited, new commercial partnerships were created and order fulfilment services were outsourced (ECOMD, 2014). In 2014, the brand was relaunched under the LIVE ON™ trademark, in the hope to convey a refreshening image and emphasise the welfare work the charity carries out throughout the year but is not so well-known for (RBL, 2017c). Around the same time, the online ‘Poppy Shop’ went live, quickly becoming a key platform of retail that today sells a whole new range of products – from pieces of clothing (such as “I Love Poppy” t-shirts), home gifts (“Mini Poppy Jute Bag will have you looking good and feeling great”) and sport fandom accessories (“Premier League Poppy Pins: Show your support for both your team and troops”) (Poppy Shop, 2017).

The #PoppySelfie campaign, the ‘Poppy Rocks’ compilations, the Poppy Ale (donating 10p to the Legion for every pint you pour) are all examples of the innovative promotional solutions employed by the Legion. And as the Daily Mail notes, “[i]f you feel that paper and plastic is a little bit last year, there is plenty of scope to update your poppy before Remembrance Day” (Kisiel, 2010). The design and distribution of the new Poppy Pin came to almost replace the ubiquity of the cheap assemblage of plastic of the traditional poppy (Rawlinson, 2014) and the Legion itself describes the pin as their most successful product: “[T]he perfect culmination of product and brand” (Vizard, 2017). The so-called ‘bling poppies’ – fine jewellery and limited design collection also available on the Poppy Shop for up to £750 – attracted strong media attention, as they were endorsed by high profile figures and featured heavily in TV entertainment shows such as X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing (Rawi, 2011). Remembrance Festivals themselves were turned into entertainment shows, where glamorous artists annually perform prior to the two minute silence (Andrews, 2011).

As part of this growing commercial strategy, throughout the years the Legion has also developed and progressively strengthened meaningful corporate partnerships. ‘Cause related marketing,’ as advertised on their website, is described as the chance to link external corporate products to the Remembrance Brand, representing a commercial opportunity to “help increase sales, build customer loyalty, retain or recruit customers” (RBL, 2017d). In 2016 alone, Sainsbury’s (a core ally of the charity) raised over £3.2 million for the Legion through store collection and poppy inspired merchandise (RBL, 2017e). Moreover, in 2014 the retailer’s yearly Christmas TV advertisement was produced in partnership with the Legion and told the story of the 1914 Christmas Day truce between British and German troops in ‘No Man’s Land’ (Sainsbury’s, 2014). On the one hand, the moving advertisement sends out the hopeful message that ‘even in war there is humanity’, on the other it depicts a romantic idea of one of the most brutal battlefields of the conflict, and a charitable image of Sainsbury’s. While being described as “possibly […] the best Christmas advert of all time” (Pocklington, 2014), the promotional video made the top 5 most complained adverts in 2014. The Advertising Standards Authority (2014) received 823 complaints (none of which were upheld) objecting to the way war history had been co-opted by a supermarket with the ‘shameful’ complicity of the Legion.

In light of this diversified commercial strategy, in 2014 the Legion won the ECMOD Direct Commerce Awards (2014), in 2016 it received the Enterprise Award in the third sector and LIVE ON™ was voted as the UK’s most trusted brand (Third Sector, 2016). More importantly, the commercialisation of the brand lead to a double digit increase in income and order value (ECOMD, 2014). To use the words of the Head of Retail Trading, John Norton, the charity has sought “to create more varied products to take us into more places so more people can find out a bit more about what we do” (Vizard, 2017). Beyond the fundraising potential of this commercial diversification, the insinuation of material objects naturally contributes to the symbolic aim of the ‘national custodian of Remembrance’ to spread portable objects of memory. However, while the plain poppy has no immediate, practical function in the everyday life of the wearer and its role is almost entirely symbolic, fashionable or practically functional merchandise that simply happens to be poppy-themed arguably distract the consumer from the evocative image of the nation, lacking the same symbolic potential of a simple pin. In this view, such objects become an even more banal and stretched reminder of the nation and its collective memory. This might accentuate the distinction between the distribution of portable lieux de mémoire and the sale of simple commercial objects available in the Poppy Shop.

Despite that, Norton comments that the charity only took a “light approach” to retailing and marketing so far, and this new merchandising turn “should not commercialise Remembrance” (Vizard, 2017) like some critics pointed out (see Samuel, 2010; Wallop, 2014). After all, the Legion is simply keeping pace with the dominant culture of consumerism to raise funds for a cause the consumer supposedly supports. Interestingly enough, however, in the most recent version of the Legion’s website, the online visitor is faced with two options: to “donate” or to go to “the Poppy Shop”, each respectively matched by a love-heart and a shopping cart icon. The consumer, thus, is given the option to generously embrace the value of remembrance or to buy it. However, can the consumer actually buy memory, or even the national identity associated with it? If national traditions are ‘invented’ (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983), in the modern era of commercialisation they could arguably also be sold and bought. In their most recent strategy briefing, the charity explicitly seeks new ways to ensure that the public actually owns a personalised piece of remembrance and “get everyone to 2 degrees of separation from a personal connection to WW1.” As part of the ‘Every Man Remembered’ project, the consumer will be able to shop for a piece of remembrance as well as a personal war story to go with it. For instance, the Passchendaele 100 Poppy Lapel Pin – limited item produced for the centenary commemoration of the battle on July 2017 – not only is materially made of “the very essence of the battlefields that the brave men fought upon” (Poppy Shop, 2017), but also comes with a Commemorative Certificate illustrating the story of a fallen British soldier – 60,083 Passchendaele pins for the 60,083 soldiers who died in the battle.

With this wide commercialisation of the brand, since 2011 – when the factory in Kent began the mechanisation of production – most poppy items are now produced at industrial scale or outsourced to the charity’s partners (Saunders, 2014). Consequently, the ‘enchanted’ idea of wounded soldiers behind the production of objects of remembrance has been delusioned and, contrary to popular belief, even the vast majority of ‘traditional’ poppies are no longer hand-made by veterans. In this regard, an article published in the Legionary – the magazine of the Canadian Legion – remarks the crucial difference between veteran-made and factory-made poppies: “The disabled veterans in Vercraft and the Red Cross workshops are creating true memorials, while a poppy replica produced under ordinary commercial competitive conditions is nothing more nor less than an artificial flower” (quoted in Saunders, 2014: 134). The ‘emotional dryness’ of industrial production can potentially create an affective rupture between the producer materially making the object and the consumer. Only the Richmond factory remains still active as an almost entirely symbolic site of memory visitable by tourists. In this way, the visitor can still appreciate the material affection of the symbol through the preservation of its fetishised modes of production.

The Poppy’s Politics of Representation

For some, the increasing commodification of Remembrance jeopardises the ability of the poppy to be a meaningful part of the national material culture. For example, some of the Remembrance jewellery aforementioned are actually sourced from China, consequently the absence of the label Made in Britain can potentially disrupt the ability of such products to also stand for a hypothetical Brand Britain.

The UK does not have an official national day that unites the whole country and currently, in the search for one, Remembrance Sunday is one of the most quoted candidates (BBC, 2013b). As a matter of fact, Remembrance celebrations offer a powerful ritualistic language that still draws from the three traditional institutional pillars of the nation: the monarchy, the armed forces and the Established Church. According to Elgenius (2005), national commemorations are most powerful when religious elements are present, due the ‘sacredness’ of patriotic sacrifice and the religious symbolism of death. The grave music played by the massed bands (such as Beethoven’s Funeral March and Purcell’s Dido’s Lament); the silent and solemn behaviour of the participants, the official funeral clothing of public representatives all manifest the sacredness of this collective secular funeral. The red poppies on the chest of all participants emphasise the unity among the living and the red wreaths on the war memorials signal the connection with the dead.

Today, this ceremonial ritual of collective mourning still offers the (challenging) context to the Legion’s work currently aiming to reinvent the identity of the Remembrance Brand: “Forward, not backward looking. Life, not death affirming. Hopeful, not despairing” (RBL, 2016). In the attempt to update and rejuvenate the brand identity, the charity’s core strategy for the five years leading to its own centenary in 2021 aims to make Remembrance more generationally relevant and more ethnically inclusive. The Legion is well aware that most of its supporters tend to be over 70, white and male and this affects the perception of the brand. The ‘Women at War 100’, for example, seeks to highlight the historical contribution of the female corps and auxiliary work during the Great War, while giving adequate attention to new generations of service-women (RBL, 2017f).

However, if the significance and the work of the Legion has to carry on in the future, the engagement of young people represents a priority in the Legion’s approach to the centenary, especially in light of the inevitable and forthcoming extinction of the old guard of veterans. The challenge for the charity is to emotionally connect young people, who are distant from the idea of war, to new generations of young soldiers, who do not face mandatory conscription and fight in wars that the public do not always approve of (see Gribble et al., 2015). With this goal in mind, the awareness videos released in 2016 – as part of the ‘Rethink Remembrance’ campaign (RBL, 2017a) – overimpose the stories of old veterans with those of younger soldiers, in the attempt to shift the empathy from the former to new generations of veterans on which the Legion currently spends £1.7 million a week (Vizard, 2017).

In light of the evolving politics of representation in multicultural Britain, moreover, the dominant narrative of memorialisation has been challenged and new efforts have been made to bring back to memory minor battles, as well as the contribution of foreign nationals who fought alongside Britain. The ‘custody’ of Remembrance invested to the Legion is defined in the Royal Charter as applying to those “on active service to the Crown” and this extends to the Commonwealth Forces and the citizens of Commonwealth ancestries now living in the UK (McCulloch, 2017). While older memorials, like the Thiepval Memorial, often omit the names of black South Africans who contributed in the war, the Legion seems committed to ensure that UK BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) groups enjoy their equal right to have their fallen remembered. In this regard, Nigel McCulloch (2017), current Head of Remembrance and former National Chaplain to the Legion, in a conference on Remembrance, Memory and Commemoration, noted: “If Remembrance is to continue in a meaningful way, it must become more honest about history and true to the realities of the UK’s richly diverse society. At present, we acknowledge we’re not getting it right.”

The most recent audience research issued by the Legion intentionally seeks the opinion of BAME groups and highlights responses such as “The British Legion was just for the whites. But we all bleed” and “The front page is always a white man. They were the heroes. They saved the world. It’s like the movie Independence Day” (Good Innovation, 2017). The research, moreover, emphasises that Muslim respondents are particularly divided over Remembrance and do not feel confident in buying or wearing a poppy due to current conflicts and hostility – “It’s very us and them. It brings back all the UKIP feelings. It doesn’t unite. It separates people.” This should be no surprise given the delicate balance of Muslim integration in the post 9/11 climate, that largely draws upon the increasing perception of a ‘clash of civilisations’ (Huntington, 1993). These tensions are calibrated in the politics of Remembrance managed by the Legion, as well as in the contested politics of the poppy in popular geopolitics. For instance, in 2011 an activist from Muslims Against Crusades was arrested and fined for burning a poppy outside the Royal Albert Hall during Remembrance celebrations, as an act of protest against the British military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan (Guardian, 2011). This episode was later counteracted by a poppy-rich demonstration organised by the English Defence League (EDL), far-right group opposing “global Islamification” and standing “for English cultural norms” (EDL, 2017).

In prevision of the commemoration of the centenary, the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) has joined the Legion in the commitment of easing these tensions and raising awareness about the loss of Muslim lives alongside those of (white and Christian) British soldiers (Gadher, 2013). In 2014, in occasion of the centenary of the first Muslim soldier being awarded the Victoria Cross for Bravery, fashion student Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq, in collaboration with the ISB and the integration think-tank British Future, launched the first Poppy Hijab (Kenny, 2014). The headscarf – today on sale in the Poppy Shop for £22 – is meant to encourage those British Muslims willing to take part in Remembrance and raise awareness and appreciation about the 400,000 Muslims that fought alongside British soldiers. The Poppy Hijab effectively shows how the Legion has at least formally included the idea of ‘Muslimness’ in the material culture of national remembrance. However, as any highly symbolically charged symbol that evokes imaginaries of national belonging, religion and politics, the poppy headscarf has received some criticism from the Islamic community itself (BBC, 2013b). The item has been accused of perpetuating islamophobic attitudes, by suggesting that Muslim women need to visually ‘prove’ their loyalty to Britain and its rituals of remembrance.

The Legion maintains to oppose any exclusionary sentiment of remembrance and xenophobic understandings of the poppy products. Building on that, the charity claims that the centenary has also led to greater awareness over the joined efforts of non-Commonwealth Forces that were under British Command, those who operated with British assistance and former Allied Powers during the war: “The ability of Remembrance to draw nations together is powerful” (RBL, 2017g), adding that this cohesive power of memory is even more relevant today in light of the changing relationships of Britain with the rest of the continent. However, even granted that the Legion actually decides to share the domestic stage of Remembrance with the other nations and their casualties, it is still all about the memory of Britain and the friends of Britain, as one would naturally expect from a national, rather than a universal, brand. In this regard, the ‘What We Remember’ page on the Legion’s website reads: “The Legion advocates a specific type of Remembrance connected to the British Armed Forces, those who were killed, those who fought with them and alongside them” (RBL, 2007h). Consequently, one should ask whether it is Remembrance to ‘draw nations together,’ or war to draw national allies closer.

Building on the last point, the Brand consistently flags our country, takes pride in our sacrifices, mourns our victims who bravely fought for “our ways of life and freedoms” (emphasis added) (RBL, 2016). This language constantly signals the imaginative presence of the nation. The words ‘proud’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘bravery’ are closely associated with the brand, not only by the language and discourses directly employed by the Legion, but also by the people to whom they offer a platform to share their stories. Such patriotic resonances might not merely depend on the specific brand design promoted by the Legion year after year, but on a broader shift in the current culture of memorialisation.

Military Branding: Banal and Hot Nationalism

Billig (1995: 7) affirms: “In the case of the Western nation-states, banal nationalism can hardly be innocent: it is reproducing institutions which possess vast armaments.” When Armistice Day was first introduced after the First World War, it was meant to express a committed sentiment of ‘Never Again’. However, as the memory of old conflicts slowly disappears from the experience of the living, the Remembrance Brand has assumed new tones (Harrison, 2012). People are now asked to show gratitude and respect, while orderly pinning their poppy to “Support our Troops”. Building on that, this section will explore how the Remembrance Brand promotes a war culture of national sacrificialism and triumphalism, inevitably blurring the lines between banal and hot nationalism.

For the marking of the 2018 centenary, the Legion is currently looking for the development of a core theme, what they internally call the ‘Big Idea’. According to The Armistice 100 Brief (RBL, 2016), the message of the ‘Big Idea’ should be: 1) “Respectful for the service and sacrifices made”; 2) “Thankful for their contribution to our way of life and freedoms”; 3) “Inspired by their example”. The plan already involves ‘Thank You’ and ‘Hope’ campaigns, to show the gratitude for past and present sacrifice and send a message of hope for the future – a key aspect of the brand that is currently not sufficiently communicated according to their research. The campaigns will highlight how some of the lessons, achievements and creative expressions of the Great War are still relevant today: “Through the horrors of war some of the most beautiful pieces of music, art, poetry and literature have been produced” (Good Innovation, 2017). By highlighting the positive fruits generated as the result of harrowing conflicts, however, the Legion risks romanticising, if not even celebrating, the idea of war without ever condemning it. As a matter of fact, the charity declares to be strictly non-political and neutral regarding the causes and consequences of conflict, most simply “its concern is for those who have served the nation, often at great cost and sacrifice” (RBL, 2017g).

The ‘non-political’ silence of the charity over the nature of war is often a rather critical choice, and most of all a political one. By way of the example, the 2014 track song of the Legion reinterpreted (or perhaps ‘silenced’) the spirit of the original song ‘No Man’s Land’ (RBL, 2017i), arguably to fit the apolitical attitude as well as the commercial end of the Remembrance Brand. The song was originally conceived to build up a climax ending with the denunciation of war, however the Legion’s version left the most sentimental verses of the first part of the song, while cutting the following verses from the second half:

Do all those who lie here know why they died? / Did you really believe them when they told you ‘The Cause?’ / Did you really believe that this war would end wars?/ Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame / The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain, / For Willie McBride, it all happened again, / And again, and again, and again, and again.

The author of the original piece, who does not own the rights to the song, admitted that the Legion’s version negates the strong anti-war intention of the original lyrics, while giving a sentimentalistic tone to the story of ‘the glorious fallen’ from 1916 (Bogle, 2014). Subsequently, a petition was launched on change.org requesting that the Legion apologise for their reinterpretation of the song, which was critically labelled as “syrupy” and “jingoistic” (Banks, 2014).

It is somewhat ironic that an inspirational brand that exalts the bravery of ex-military personnel, never questions, or at least contextualises, how and why these soldiers need their support. To contrast such politically agnostic position, the Legion puts under the spotlight personal stories that potentially sentimentalise ‘loss’ and ‘sacrifice’ in the eye of a general public, who is already largely anaesthetised to modern and distant wars. For example, the selected citation reader at the Festival of Remembrance in 2016 was Beth, a 10-year-old girl who composed the poem “Why Do You Wear a Poppy Beth?.” The final verses of the poem read:

It is because of their sacrifice, /That we are free, you see / To proudly fly our Union flag, / For all the world to see. / And it’s because of those still fighting, / In wars across the world, / That I can sleep safely in my bed, / Free from any cares.

The poem carries on explaining that she wears the poppy “with pride” in honour of her father who died while serving in the Royal Navy: “Because my Daddy, my hero, bravely gave his life” (RBL, 2017). The Legion’s website, however, clarifies that Beth’s father died on a submarine while still in Southampton shot by a fellow seaman. Finally, it adds that Beth, a Sea Cadet herself, and her two elder brothers, also in the Royal Navy, are now proudly following their father’s footsteps.

The Legion affirms that they are simply trying not to show people as mere victims and they are offering a platform to tell stories that come directly from the veteran community. However, by only voicing those who are understandably trying to emotionally cope with the unfortunate consequences of war – perhaps by writing a poem about their heroic father – the Legion is contributing to create a culture of war sacrificialism, heroism and triumphalism. This potentially gives space for young people, such as Beth and her brothers, to project a role for themselves in the new war culture and take part in it. In this regard the act of telling some stories, singing certain verses, showing specific perspectives and omitting others is fundamentally a political act. Moreover, it is also worth noting that the Legion is actually giving space to highly politicised, if not political, matters. One of the ‘Stories’ on the Legion’s website, for instance, tells of the Queen’s unveiling of the Afghanistan and Iraq war memorial, reporting Sir Michael Fallon’s (Secretary of State Defence) words celebrating the monument as “a permanent reminder of the contribution and sacrifice […] towards the security of the United Kingdom and the interests of Iraq and Afghanistan” (RBL, 2017j). On the same page, a video produced by the Legion captures soldiers telling of their ‘proudest’ moment in war, such as: “When I first engaged with Iraqi people they saw us as saviours, they saw we were there to help them and save them” (RBL, 2017j).

Tensions over the progressive militarisation of the Remembrance Brand come to the forefront when looking at the Legion’s sponsorship from some of the global leaders in arms retail. Lockheed Martin UK, one of the largest arms company worldwide specialised in the development and production of long-range nuclear missiles, has sponsored the Young Professionals’ Poppy Rocks event in 2014 (WhitePoppy4Peace, 2014). Thales, a French arms company with a track record of supplying the world’s most oppressive autocracies, has adorned the London underground station at Westminster with a poppy-themed hoarding (Smith and Burnett-Stuart, 2014). The UK’s largest arms producer, BAE Systems, which this year has sponsored the annual Poppy Ball and annually hosts its own fundraising events, has been a long-standing ‘platinum corporate sponsor’ of the Legion (ibid). On top of that, in 2012 the then president of the charity, Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, resigned after a press report accused him of using the charity’s network to lobby on behalf of arms companies and recorded him while describing the Remembrance Day as a “tremendous networking opportunity” for arm dealers (Smith and Burnett-Stuart, 2014).

According to critics, by accepting such sponsorships, the Legion is indirectly validating the business of war and it is ironic that a charity that helps the victims of weaponry would take money from their producers. In response to early criticism about BAE’s sponsorship – which is now maintaining a lower profile – the former Corporate Communications Director of the charity, Stuart Gendall, commented: “The British armed forces require equipment and BAE supplies much of that equipment. Without the best-quality tools to do the job, we would be remembering a few more casualties of conflict” (Tweedy, 2002). Of course, a few less on the British side potentially means a few more on the other, but this seems acceptable according to the internal hierarchy of death of the nation. Moreover, due to these debates, accepting such sponsorships is arguably poorly strategic from the perspective of banal nation branding, since suddenly the least ‘romantic’ sides of war, namely actual weaponry, become more visible and questionable in the mind of the public. On the one hand, this could reduce the popularity of the Remembrance Brand, given that banal nationalism has to only be passively upheld, while the ‘hot’ nationalism – towards which the new militaristic tones of the brand seem to point – requires a more active support and belongs to a narrower political spectrum. On the other hand, however, by making the banal less banal, this militaristic shift could also ease the transition from banal nationalism to ‘hot’ national activism. Despite that, the Legion declares that the brand is intended to be “[s]tirring and emotional, but NOT celebratory, jingoistic or militaristic” (capitalisation in the original) (RBL, 2016), while currently seeking feedback from respondents that would more closely identify with the white poppy.

This cultural shift of the Remembrance tale from ‘Never Again’ to the militaristic tones of war heroism is somewhat mirrored and confirmed by the appearance of a new major charity competitor on the market since 2007, Help for Heroes (H4H). The military charity has already reached £36.5 million in total income and has quickly won the support of the public. Their website shows almost exclusively white, and predominantly male, young military personnel and the words ‘sacrifice,’ ‘bravery’ and, of course, ‘heroes’ largely dominate. In this regard, the charity ‘clarifies’: “Help for Heroes considers anyone that volunteers to join the Armed Forces, knowing that one day they may have to risk all, is a hero. It’s that simple” (H4H, 2017a). They also have their own online shop, which today sells over 500 branded articles, since “we knew the public would like to ‘wear their support’” (H4H, 2017b). However, even the items on sale have a different tone if compared to the Legion’s friendly poppy-themed collection: the Union Jack features almost on every item, if only through the predominantly red, blue and white colours, along with ‘fearless’ logo t-shirt, military-patterned clothing for kids, and medal-shaped stationary. Contrary to the decorum and tact required from the ‘national custodian of Remembrance’, indeed, Help for Heroes is more entitled to proudly wave the flag of Britain. However, once again, this makes the banality of the poppy more effective, and the national(istic) sentiments of Help for Heroes more visible.

As Tamir (1993: x) notes: “The sanctification of suffering fosters hatred and mistrust, and – worse still – a backward-looking politics that perpetuates conflict.” Religious patriotism and the celebration of the glorious men and women who have fought and are still fighting for ‘Queen and Country’ not only sanitises and glosses the real misery of conflict, but creates a subtle war propaganda. It basically tells the public that regardless of personal views on the causes of war (of which the charity does not want to talk), ‘you ought to support our heroes, hence their wars’. However, as the Ex-SAS soldier Ben Griffin notes, “[t]here is nothing heroic about being blown up in a vehicle, there is nothing heroic about being shot in an ambush and there is nothing heroic about the deaths of countless civilians” (WalesOnline, 2013). This is not the same as directly promoting confrontation between nations through the design of a patriotic brand. However, metaphorically speaking, in this case banal nation branding looks a bit like designing the sport uniform for the national team: players do not know whether they will end up playing or simply sit on the sidelines, but they will be ready to compete in the name of the unique jerseys they are wearing.

Concluding Remarks

This articile has appreciated that, in anticipation of key commemorations, the Remembrance Brand has three major goals: the engagement and the participation of individuals from different backgrounds; the engagement of young audiences; a greater, and perhaps new, understanding of the relevance of remembering the fallen and supporting the living. Based on the analysis of my research, while the Legion affirms that the Remembrance Brand has “no political, religious or commercial meaning”, I contend that: 1) the Remembrance Brand is not only highly politicised, it is inherently political; 2) while it is not a religious symbol, it promotes a form of sacred patriotism and 3) it is both commercialised and fetishised in its material and symbolic form.

The brand’s banal signalling of our nation, our memory, our dead inevitably helps create a reassuring sense of inclusion within the (ethnically diverse) national community. However, inclusion by definition implies exclusion and national brands and symbols, whether they remain banal or not, necessarily come to embody both sides of the coin – the Remembrance Brand and the poppy are no exception. By trivialising and glossing the idea of war, the brand perpetuates a militaristic culture that ultimately blurs the distinction between banal nation branding and the subtle promotion of antagonistic sentiments of ‘hot’ nationalism.

As in any paradigm of power exercise, the ability of persuasion of brands represents a double-edged sword which largely depends on their design, exercise and ultimately perception. So, make sure you know what you are putting in your cart of Remembrance before checking out.

Silvia Binenti will be speaking at our Annual Conference on Saturday 10 November.

Get involved:

Read and share our series of Never Again articles

Buy our Never Again clothing

Register for our Annual Gathering

Join Veterans For Peace UK

Make a donation to Veterans For Peace UK


The full version of this article was originally published by the UCL Migration Unit Working Papers (September, 2017).

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