Open letter to FIFA on Remembrance Day
From: Tim Charlesworth, football fan, UK
To: Gianni Infantino, President, FIFA
11th November 2016
FIFA’s allegation that the poppy is a political symbol is an interesting one, and one that is difficult to deny. It certainly has a symbolic meaning and has the power to move emotions. You got me thinking about what the meaning of that symbol was.
I write as a pacifist, but I still wear the poppy. The poppy means different things to different people. No doubt for some, it represents something of the heroic glory of war and sacrifice, or the triumph of Britain and her allies over her foes. For me, the poppy just commemorates those who were killed. It is an emblematic representation of the flowers that can be seen lovingly placed on the graves of lost loved ones throughout Europe and the world. It may have different meanings for us, but it is one of the few things that unites modern Britons.
I hope the poppy causes no offence to the defeated nations. I certainly wear mine in remembrance of Germans, French, Indians, Italians, Austrians, Russians and Americans (and those of all nations who fought), every bit as much as in memory of the British people who were killed. The warmongers of all nations must bear responsibility for what they did, but the innocent people who were their victims should not. The warm friendship that exists today between the people of Germany and Britain is the most elegant of rebukes to those warmongers, and everything that they got wrong.
To the extent that the poppy is a symbol particular to World War One, that is a conflict that I choose to remember, not to forget, for all the lessons that it can teach humanity. I probably would have fought in that mindless conflict, if forced to choose (as I would have been if I was the right age at the time). I might have been a conscientious objector, but somehow this would have felt like a betrayal, allowing other innocents to take my place in the firing line. It is difficult to know what I, personally, would really have done, but I find it impossible to condemn those that made the choice to fight alongside their fellow men, and paid the price for it.
All wars are tragedies, they destroy the lives of those killed and maimed, and their surviving families. The roadsides of rural northern Europe are still littered with wild poppies to this day, and their quiet, haunting presence reminds me of the millions of personal tragedies that the wars of the Twentieth Century created. For me, those gentle flowers recall the silent scream of tortured souls who left this earth, far from family and friends; the twisted, unheard, agony of orphaned children; the unquenchable pain of bereaved mothers. Above all, I mourn the legion of souls who should be with me today, but never came to this earth; the family trees cruelly and arbitrarily truncated; the children and grandchildren that should have been, if only their ancestors had survived.
The poppy is a symbol of peace, not of discord, a gentle badge of defiant protest against killing. It commemorates the profusion of poppies that sprouted spontaneously on the quagmired battlefields of Flanders, when the fighting finally ended, literally nourished by the thousands of lost corpses entombed in the cruel mud. Throughout the conflict the seeds lay dormant, cowed but not defeated, just waiting for their moment.
The poppy is one of nature’s more delicate and stunning wildflowers. Those poppies of 1918 were the beauty that laid bare the ugliness of war; a symbol of death begetting life; the persistence of delicacy in the face of violence; the victory of nature over the mechanized hell of modern war; a riot of colour to banish the drab grey of destruction; and the triumph of hope over despair.
So, if peace is a political stance; if the beauty of humanity is unacceptable to you; if commemoration is to be outlawed; if colour is tribal, delicacy banished and hope offensive; I stand guilty and pledge, as an ordinary fan, to contribute to the payment of any fine that you levy on the English and Scottish FAs. I believe others will do likewise.