There's a bit in Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" where Captain Black runs something he calls the "Glorious Loyalty Oath Campaign", where everyone in the squadron finds themselves forced to sign oaths pledging their loyalty in order to get absolutely anything or everything:
"Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the Italian barbers. To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that "The Star-Spangled Banner," one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again"
Of course, anyone refusing to sign one of these oaths is immediately branded as somehow being disloyal to their country, to their flag and to their cause:
"Without realizing how it had come about, the combat men in the squadron discovered themselves dominated by the administrators appointed to serve them. They were bullied, insulted, harassed and shoved about all day long by one after the other. When they voiced objection, Captain Black replied that people who were loyal would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to."
Captain Black's rival, Major Major, is actively prevented from signing any of these oaths, even if he wanted to:
"What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?"
"You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you? And you don't see him signing any of our loyalty oaths."
"You aren't letting him sign any.""Of course not," Captain Black explained. "That would defeat the whole purpose of our crusade".
Thus does Joseph Heller neatly skewer empty patriotism.
I was reminded of this when reading about the Daily Mail's latest campaign to try and get every Premier League football club to display a poppy on their matchday shirts during November.
As a result of their bullying, there are now only three of the twenty clubs holding out: Liverpool, Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers. As a spokesman for Manchester Utd not unreasonably said:
"We don’t think it’s particularly necessary. We sell poppies around the ground and all our officials wear them and we work with Armed Forces charities in a lot of other ways throughout the year."
Not good enough, apparently, and the Mail is continuing to try to bully them into changing their minds. Obviously, their readers are full of considered opinions on the subject. Here's lazzruss:
"Yes Yes Yes!!! It is beyond my capacity to put into words how this 'government' has ruined our once Great Britain by sytematically [sic] attacking our spiritual and historical heritage and culture and we have had enough! Banning poppies is the final insult to our nation as this shows a complete disregard and contempt for our Glorious Dead who gave everything including their very lives for the sake of the future of our Nation and every football team owes them their success and privileges - to display a simple poppy proudly on their shirts should be a moral imperative for anyone who loves our Country and what we (not the inept and shameful Labour Government) stand for."
Let's leave aside the fact that the majority of the players in the Premier League aren't even English, eh? Why let that get in the way of a good rant about WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY?
Um, perhaps it's a statement of the obvious, but if you try to force people to wear a poppy, aren't you restricting our freedom to choose not to wear one? Isn't that the same freedom that "our Glorious Dead' fought for? Like it or not, that's the same freedom that allows a student to get so paralytically drunk that he urinated on a war memorial in Sheffield. Not very nice, for sure, but surely more a story about binge drinking than it is about any calculated disrespect for the dead, whatever the Daily Mail try to make of the story (flogging too good for him, naturally).
This "Poppy fascism" seems to be everywhere at the moment. Apparently the BBC are under pressure because the dancers on "Strictly..." weren't wearing poppies last week. All of the judges were, but none of the dancers. Not good enough, apparently, as everyone on the X-Factor was wearing one.... The BBC initially (and not very bravely) hid behind "Health & Safety issues" as the reason why the dancers weren't wearing poppies, but have now apparently changed their minds in the face of all this public outrage.
Where does this oneupmanship and assumed moral authority stop? Why are we only displaying our poppies for a couple of weeks of November? Does that mean we're being disrespectful and unpatriotic for the other 50 weeks of the year? Should we all be dyeing our hair red and tattooing poppies onto our cheeks so we can be displaying our gratitude and support for the sacrifices made on our behalf every single day of the year?
Of course, you can trust the good old Guardian for an alternative view, and Marina Hyde today has a good rant about this "phony poppy apoplexy":
"So on Saturday, know that every late challenge, every sending-off, will be in the memory of those who fell in battle. Then accept the fact that media campaigns to foreground the poppies that are not being worn, as opposed to the ones that are, serve not as a memorial to the sacrifices made on our behalf, but as a reminder of our hard-wired one‑upmanship and infinite capacity to find ways to divide ourselves."
The commentators are even more strident:
"Forced wearing of the poppy to commemorate a fight against tyranny? Britain seems to get sillier and sillier, and more and more irrelevant every week."
One takes the trouble to remind everyone of the Daily Mail's support of the Nazis in the 1930s, when they praised Oswald Mosley ("Hurrah for the Blackshirts") for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine", and the proprietor of the paper, the Viscount Rothermere, visited and corresponded with Hitler, culminating, on 1 October 1938, when Rothermere sent Hitler a telegram in support of Germany's invasion of the Sudetenland, and expressing the hope that 'Adolf the Great' would become a popular figure in Britain.
They don't talk about that so much, do they? Why am I now uncomfortably reminded of people being forced to wear pink triangles and yellow stars?
It seems that the spirit of Captain Black is alive and well and still busily hunting out people who won't sign his loyalty oaths.
"You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you?"
Is that the Daily Mail's motto?