Wearing the White Poppy

un-gunIt’s been quite a few years since I last wore a red poppy.

Instead, because I think that remembrance is important, I wear a white one, which I buy from the Peace Pledge Union.

It’s not an act of betrayal, nor is it a denial of the genuine human sacrifice made by human beings who were motivated to offer up their bodies because of love or duty.

Both of my grandfathers fought in WW2, they did what they thought they should do, what they believed was right. They were brave men, they emerged alive from that dreadful conflict, but not unscathed.

I do not wear a white poppy as some kind of denial of the sacrifice that millions made.

I wear a white poppy because I believe in remembering all who died.

I wear a white poppy because I don’t want to see any more wars.

I wear a white poppy because death doesn’t win.

I respect the right of everyone to wear a poppy, or not, according to their conscience. I don’t think you should wear one just because that’s the ‘done thing’. I choose not to wear a red poppy, and I do so for the same basic reasons as I choose to wear a white one.

In the UK the red poppy has come to be almost totally synonymous with the remembrance of dead service personnel, specifically dead British soldiers, sailors and airmen and women. I have no problem with remembering dead servicemen and women, of any sort. But I want to go further, I believe we should remember all who die in war. The innocent victims, the enemy combatants, the conscripts, the deserters, the shell shocked, the courageous and the cowards. The children, the women, the young, the old, the pregnant, the unborn, the confused, the disturbed, the traumatised and the tricked. Those who did what they were told, and those who did what they believed in, those who weren’t sure, and those who were overconfident.

The red poppy has come to be synonymous with the aftermath of international conflicts, it’s as if those conflicts are an inevitability. They aren’t. The more we consider war and its causes, the more we see that there are other ways of dealing with conflict. War is not inevitable, and shouldn’t be seen as such. We should be working together to bring an end to war.

“Last years British Legion Young Professionals’ Poppy Rocks was sponsored by Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms company. Lockheed Martin also manufactures the Trident missile. Each of Britain’s missile submarines is capable of carrying 16 missiles. Each of these missiles can kill far in excess of the 888,000 dead represented by the red poppies at the Tower of London.” PPU.

The red poppy, with its blood stain shape and colour is a reminder of the bitter truth that in war, blood is shed, real, hot, red, human blood. That is the horrific reality of war. The myth of war is that if enough blood is shed, we can triumph. The myth is that good can overcome evil, if only there is enough death. It’s not true. Perhaps the only real inevitability is that wars lead to more wars.

The white poppy with its simple, central, bold message of ‘peace’ calls us to reconsider, to stand back from our allegiance to death and the myth of redemptive violence and remember the dead.

What is called the utopian dream of pacifism is in fact a practical policy
– indeed the only practical, the only realistic policy that there is
Aldous Huxley

universal soldier – pilotless planes and the future of war?

My bullet’s bigger than your bullet.

Universal Soldier was one of those 1990s cyborg nonsense movies, built on the back of the kind of  post or transhuman mythology originated by the likes of Philip K Dick and William Gibson.

Van Damme’s Luc Devereaux, the cyborg who does war – was, depending on your perspective either an optimistic or pessimistic view of the future of warfare, inhumanity meted out by unhumans.

Like many of the best sci-fi stories, there is a hint of reality in the story. War has gradually been removed from the harsh reality of hand to hand combat, armies no longer charge towards one another with axes and clubs raised – ready to stab and bludgeon one another. Unless you count football hooligans or rioters of course.

But rioters and hooligans are not deliverers of ‘legitimate violence’ – that is the prerogative of the state, and the state needs to be seen to be as humane as possible in its dispensing of death. In particular it is politically awkward for soldiers to be seen to die in foreign fields, although its less bad if those soldiers are themselves foreign.

Footage of planes ‘delivering’ their digitally targeted ‘payload’ looks much more like a computer game than something inherently ‘real’ – Baudrillard’s seminal ‘The Gulf War did not take place’ develops this theme in much more devastating analysis, pointing to the fact that the way air strikes replaced hand to hand combat effectively made the warfare unreal in terms of ‘conflict’.

What I am leading to with this is the latest iteration in this post humanised process – the removal of pilots from fighter jets. There are already a plethora of remotely operated vehicles capable of delivering bombs and sending/receiving imagery and intelligence. Now legitimate death machine merchants BAE have developed a remotely operated fighter jet which can do all that the famous 80s helicopter Airwolf could, but without the need to involve risk to a pilot. So long, Stringfellow Hawk.

Warfare is always inhumane and removing pilots from planes does not mean that fewer people will die, just that death will become less politically embarrassing to the most powerful warriors.

But without him,
how would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body
as a weapon of the war.
And without him all this killing can’t go on

He’s the universal soldier
And he really is the blame
His orders comes from
far away no more.

They come from him.
And you and me.
And brothers can’t you see.
This is not the way we put an end to war

Buffy Sainte Marie – Universal Soldier

National Vegetarian Week

Evidently its National Vegetarian week – as someone who has been a vegetarian for longer than I care to remember (about 20 years I think), I’m all for any efforts to promote vegetarian food.
It’s a peaceful, healthy, less environmentally damaging way to eat, so please, try to eat no meat this week, you may even find you like it.

an earthy eucharist

I had the pleasure and privilege today of sharing a communion service at our local YMCA – the service was for staff rather than residents, but I knew before hand that I was likely to have a mixed bunch of people, from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. That’s fine with me, I prefer ‘mixed’.

So anyway, I chose as the focus of the half hour session, the idea of the sacrament as ‘a visible sign of an invisible reality’ – and took time to relate this not just to the ‘last supper’ but also other meals Jesus shared, and looking more widely, to the earth itself.

Obviously we didnt have lots of time for talking, and I wanted to keep the atmosphere quite reflective and calm, but the focus of the time really became the idea that in the earth, God has given us a moment to moment reminder of sacrifice and provision. And in our response to the earth, we provide ourselves with a moment to moment reminder of our callous disregard of anything good which comes our way. A betrayal of all the good we have been provided with.

We took a moment or two to consider our reactions to the sharing of the body and blood of Christ, and our reaction to the sharing of the body and blood of the earth, which the bread and wine, two extremely earthy substances, remind us of very neatly.

Sometimes I find it a little disheartening to share communion and find that the ‘bread’ on offer is some kind of fluffy white substance which has no flavour, no texture, nothing to remind the eater of its earthy origins. In taking time to reflect on the relationship between us and the earth, and in sharing bread that actually tastes of something, we can help to restore that balance. For a decent and easy communion bread, I tend to mix some self raising flour, about 4oz perhaps, a little bit of strong wholemeal flour, some olive oil, some water and a few pinches of herbs or spice. I mix them till the dough is smooth and pliable, and then I roll it out and cook it in a pan. Try it, its quick and its good.

We finished with the lovely prayer that is often attributed to St Francis, although I dont know anyone who has ever managed to show it was truly his. I find the Franciscan way  to be one which most clearly demonstrates our corporate commitment to waging peace on the earth, rather than carrying on destructive behaviour patterns, and often use them as an illustration when talking to non-Christians about a Christian response to environmentalism.

However, until we all begin to remember more actively, our personal responsibilities to the world in which we live, its all just talk. Taking time to pray and reflect on the sacramental nature of the earth may just help, I hope it does.

The Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen


the prophetic irritant, a case study of a new monastic in society

A bit of a long winded title perhaps, but a prophetic irritant seems to describe pretty well the person of Fr Martin Newell, a Catholic priest, and member of the Catholic worker movement.

Uncontent to sit idly by as weapons of mass destruction are developed and built here in the UK, Martin Newell and his friends have – time and time again – demonstrated another way through direct action.

Always non violent, always prophetic, and always at some cost to himself, Fr Martin has a history of direct action demonstrations at military installations. The latest is reported here – he was arrested at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, where he and two fellow peace campaigners ‘opened the base for disarmament’.

I am full of respect for the commitment shown by this peaceful man, after all, imagine the threat he faces each time gets sent to jail: ‘so you’re a priest eh, I wonder what you’ve been put away for…’

But because it is part of his vocation, he continues to campaign in this way.

I interviewed Martin for my book, excerpts of which I have been publishing here on the blog, and he proved to be an insightful and wise man. But more than anything he stands in a long line of prophetic irritants, one of whom was Dorothy Day and another of whom was Peter Maurin, the founders of the Catholic Worker movement. They, and the movement they founded demonstrate an aspect of new monasticism first modelled by the fore runners of classical monasticism, political dissidents like John The Baptiser and other old school prophets.

We know where politics got John, fortunately for all of us, Martin is unlikely to end up decapitated, but we could all do with heeding his warnings, and ultimately following his lead.