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My Name is Legion: The Control of Remembrance

Click here to read the full report; My Name is Legion: The British Legion and the Control of Remembrance

Published by Veterans for Peace, 5 November 2015

With its links to the arms trade, increasingly militarised presentation of Remembrance, and growing commercialisation and corporatisation of the poppy “brand”, it’s time to reconsider whether the Royal British Legion is still suitable to be the “national custodian of Remembrance”.

My Name is Legion: The British Legion and the Control of Remembrance explores how the Royal British Legion’s status as the self-appointed “national custodian of Remembrance” has been compromised through its collaboration with some of the world’s most controversial arms dealers, its increasingly militarised presentation of Remembrance, and its commercialised and trivialising corporatisation of the poppy “brand”.

It draws on the work of a number of journalists, campaign groups, veterans, and religious organisations who have expressed concern at the direction the Legion is taking, and asks whether the charity is still fit to be the “national custodian of Remembrance”.

One striking manifestation of the synergy between the British Legion and the British arms trade is its relationship with BAE Systems, who in 2003 not only funded sales of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, Libya, and the Middle East, but also the RBL’s annual Remembrance events. As the Telegraph noted, “a decision by British defence manufacturer BAE Systems to sponsor this year’s Poppy Day has been likened to ‘King Herod sponsoring a special day reserved to prevent child cruelty’”.

The Legion’s £100,000 sponsor and “platinum corporate member” is not only one of the world’s most profitable arms companies (as the world’s third largest arms producer its revenue in 2013 was $26.82 billion) but also one of its most controversial. One of its main markets is Saudi Arabia, which the British Intelligence Unit ranked 163rd out of 167 countries in its “democracy index” – just above North Korea and Syria.

Despite the “King Herod” associations, the Legion has maintained and even strengthened its relations with arms traders. This year (2015), for example, the British Legion’s annual ‘Poppy Rocks Ball’ is being sponsored by Lockheed Martin UK, the subsidiary of the world’s largest arms supplier, Lockheed Martin; the slightly grander Poppy Ball is sponsored by Sphinx Systems Limited, who manufacture handguns and pistols.

The increasing involvement of the arms trade in the Legion’s activities also coincides with a much more coercive and aggressive ‘in-your-face’ campaigning style that the Legion has adopted in recent years, as many journalists and veterans have noticed.

In 2014, for example, Quaker Peace & Social Witness produced a document that explores how “the involvement of the military in the RBL’s campaign has increased” over the last few years, in line with a rise in the more general promotion of the military, and noted that this involvement marks “a substantial departure from the RBL’s historic message of remembering the horror of war, towards those involved in current war” (The New Tide of Militarism).

A number of veterans also signed a public letter to the Guardian in 2010 complaining that the RBL’s Poppy Appeal was subverting the original intention behind Armistice Day: “A day that should be about peace and remembrance is turned into a month-long drum roll of support for current wars.” Respected war correspondent Robert Fisk has written eloquently about his anger and disillusionment with the “bloody poppy”, and how the symbol of the death of so many men has now “been turned into a fashion appendage”. Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow has referred to modern “poppy fascism”, to denote the increasingly coercive and militarised presentation of Remembrance these days.

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This shift towards a far more commercialised and corporatised approach to Remembrance has developed since 1997, when the Legion formally applied to trademark what they now refer to as their “iconic poppy brand”. The Legion are also taking a new litigious heavy-handed stance towards anyone deemed to be “infringing its trademark”, as its website page makes clear: “The Legion’s 2-petal poppy is a registered trademark and should not be used without permission.”

Transforming the Remembrance symbol into a “product”, an “iconic brand”, may be a way of ensuring that the Legion gets more money but it also places the Poppy firmly in the world of the corporate logo, like the Nike Swoosh, or Coca-Cola. And at least with Coca-Cola you are not harangued for choosing not to consume its iconic brand, unlike the Legion’s increasingly coercive ‘For their sake, wear a poppy’, ‘For his family’s sake, wear a poppy’, ‘Something Missing?’ advertising campaigns launched in recent years.

The growing commercialisation and corporatisation of Remembrance is evident both in the thirty pages of website “Poppy Shop” (selling you everything from poppy ceramic stud earrings and poppy golfing umbrellas, to poppy dog name tags, poppy iPhone covers, and “I Love Poppy’ t-shirts) and also in the new “designer” poppy brooches that the Legion is actively pushing and promoting. “Updating your poppy” – or “pimping your poppy” – is another way the Legion has cheapened and trivialised our collective remembrance of the dead.

The RBL’s decision to launch their 2013 Poppy Appeal with corporate-friendly girl band The Saturdays dressed in patent leather mini skirts singing “I’m a bad girl, I’m a bad girl, I’m notorious” while wearing Swarovski-encrusted poppies, shows how badly the Legion has lost its way. In one sense it’s a remarkably clever and commercially savvy instance of brand product placement and what the Legion calls “Cause Related Marketing” – i.e. using a “cause’ that people care about in order to co-opt it to sell frozen goods, ketchup, or jewellery. But it’s also a deeply demeaning and disrespectful way to commemorate the deaths of those who dies in conflict.

That these trivialising and commercialised “brand poppies” the Legion wants us to endorse and buy are being sponsored by some of the world’s most aggressive and controversial arms traders makes them even more sinister and toxic. For these reasons, it is surely time for the British Legion to stand down and return the poppy to us as a shared symbol of national commemoration, and for the British government to take responsibility for the welfare of the men and women it sends to war and not leave it to a charity.

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Click here to read the full report; My Name is Legion: The British Legion and the Control of Remembrance

Rod Tweedy is author of The God of the Left Hemisphere: Blake, Bolte Taylor and the Myth of Creation, and Secretary of the William Blake Society.

 

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  • Paul Bright 05/11/2015, 13:13

    PLEASE NOTE THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION PROMOTES WORLD PEACE
    ❤🇬🇧#RoyalBritishLegion❤#WorldPeace❤#Promotion🇬🇧
    ❤🇬🇧#NHS❤#Fitness🇬🇧http://UKOK.fr.gd/HEROES.htm
    ❤🇬🇧#Remembrance 1914~2015 #HMS #RMT #GBR

    • David Blackburn 08/11/2015, 13:53

      How exactly does it do that? By #Hashtagging words? It promotes the biggest and most repulsive arms dealers who sell to the most repulsive regimes around the world. Did you actually read this article? The one link you actually share leads to Better Together St Kilda site, with no connection to the British Legion whatsoever apart from putting links on it’s mash up of a page of links to random organisations.

  • Garry Harriman 05/11/2015, 14:27

    Rod.

    Thank you for your extremely well informed expose of the direct but seemingly surreptitious linkage to the RBL and the arms industry. I had absolutely no idea at just how irrefutably and definitely the poppy campaign and the RBL have associated themselves with such abhorrent industries that, in turn, distort the true nature of war fare and the associated human tragedy that war brings to all parties. Former senior military officers are also RBL board members and generally work for the defence and arms industry upon retirement. Further, such linkages seem to rationalize, glorify and even justify war and make it seem like a noble undertaking and not for what war really is, the ultimate dark side of what human beings are capable of doing to other human beings. Here in the USA where I currently live, the military are almost god like and are worshiped everywhere they go and `thanked for their service as if what they are doing benefits the public directly. In light of all this, the paint scheme on the airframe of the Tornado GR4 almost seems like a corporate advertising poster by an lethal killing machine. If I were still in the RAF (I was in charge of aircraft refurbishment) and I know now that I did not know then about the poppy campaign, I would refused to apply such a paint scheme the aircraft!

    Many thanks again, Rod.

    Garry H
    Ga
    USA

  • Garry Harriman 05/11/2015, 15:26

    I have often thought that, on Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph, instead of the Royal Family, politicians and former UK prime ministers, the heads of the Common Wealth and the likes laying the wreaths displaying military motifs, they should all be replaced by serving and former CEOs of major oil and gas corporations, energy providers and other corporate leaders. Instead of poppies, we should instead remember our recent wars with corporate logos on them like `BP`, `Shell`, `Halliburton` and the likes to signify what, in my opinion, these recent wars really symbolize…..energy security and the associated huge profit that comes wit it.

    In the USA, the same kind of representatives are the very people who should be stopping serving and former military members and `thanking them for their service`.

    Like the War of Independence, the US tax payer is again facing tax without representation as the Pentagon budget is one of the largest in the developed, industrialized world and seemingly safe from all economic woes. We can have a vast and well funded military, but we can not have universal health care, a living wage and a job that offers sick pay and time off (like those ghastly Europeans do) and a quality of life that makes life worth living and working for.

    Garry H
    Ex British military
    Ga
    USA

  • Josh 05/11/2015, 15:52

    After reading this article the word “poppy” doesn’t seem real anymore

  • maurice 06/11/2015, 00:36

    very good article but the legion has help 1000s of ex forces people in many ways but if it can get funding for the weapon supplier then so be it,

    we will never stop war as sometimes you need to stand up for what you believe and also it is a Multi billion pound industry that also funds political parties in some ways.

    as ex forces can we not sort pensions out for armed forces to get the same style as MP in government receive instead of 50%.

    But i agree with some of your points

    maurice newell

    • Garry Harriman 06/11/2015, 02:30

      Maurice

      You are right, the RBL do indeed help a lot of people. It`s a shame that financial assistance is both offered and accepted from such a inappropriate source.

      Take care

      Garry

      • maurice 06/11/2015, 03:04

        I agree gary but the legion was never a anti war movement and funding is required, but then if we did not have wars then the legion would not be required i agree.

        as i say if we put the same amount into peace as we do to wars would all be better for everyone ( but you would always get someone that wanted more

        but thanks for the reply

        Maurice

        • Garry Harriman 07/11/2015, 03:58

          Maurice

          I can`t disagree with what you say at all, and the RBL do indeed do great work. Human nature, I feel is the reason why there never has and never will be stability in the world and, indeed, completion, dominance, envy, greed, and control is ecliptic and generic to the DNA make up of every living organism on the planet, it`s just that we, as species, have taken that principle to the absolute limit. Further, once oil and gas has ran out, and it will, and with a population the globe can not sustain, we`ll always be fighting wars until we can not sustain ourselves any longer!

          Take care

          Garry H

    • rudebox 06/11/2015, 22:51

      stand up for what you’ve been brainwashed to believe*

  • Kenny Williams 06/11/2015, 14:04

    Oh the picture of the jet speaks volumes… responsible for millions of civilian deaths lets paint it with poppys? makes me sick

    Peace and Love roll on sunday!!

    Kenny Williams VFP UK

    • Garry Harriman 08/11/2015, 01:23

      `roll on sunday`?

      Kenneth, you former beastly, undedicated and brutish former soldiers are really quite ghastly. Your grammar and spelling leave a lot to be desired, kind sir! Your loutish vocabulary abilities are what one aught to expect from such savages. Such ghastly examples of comprehensive educational traits are just not my cup of tea, old boy, and you would not have lasted 5 minutes in Her Majesty`s Royal Air Force. Indeed, one give such a brute like yourself a good old debagging in the Mess. Such types like you are simpletons, happy with a pint of lager, in one hand a cigarette in the other and a copy of The Sun newspaper….simple pleasures for simple specimens! I am now going to retire to my study with a brandy and to immerse myself with the Financial Times.

      Tally ho

      Garry H
      Ga
      The Former Colonies.

  • maurice 07/11/2015, 00:52

    rudebox

    what do you believe in?

  • David Seagrave 08/11/2015, 13:27

    Yet ANOTHER “Remembrance/freedom parade” which serve one purpose and that is to instil into the minds of the general public that all the people (mostly working class) who have been maimed or killed in conflicts did so for Freedom, Queen and Country. When in fact, all wars are about the same thing – to enrich the 1% with even more MONEY and POWER. So we have even more of these charades when they think the penny might have started to drop and people start to question – why are we suffering and dying in order to protect the 1% and their wealth?

  • andy lewis 09/11/2015, 11:07

    Great article, very informative.

  • andy lewis 09/11/2015, 11:08

    A very informative article…..

  • Admin 11/11/2015, 19:17

    http://thequietus.com/articles/19202-remembrance-poppy-nationalism-war

    “Each cemetery in Berlin has an area devoted to civilian victims of British and American bombing and the brutal Red Army advance at the end of World War Two. At the St Thomas-Kirchhof, just under the flight path into the old Tempelhof airfield, a few hundred square metres are surrounded by a hedge. “Anonyme Gräber” is written on a simple short black crucifix with a pot at its feet. In it are a yellow and white flower. Across the path behind another hedge, thousands of small black slabs mark the graves of one, two or three people, some with full names and dates of birth and death. Most of these lives, young and old, ended between March and May 1945.”

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