Why I wear a white poppy

Posted on November 8, 2012

It’s the time of year when poppies begin to appear once again on coats and lapels around the country, everywhere from shops to soap operas and from pubs to parliaments. Nearly a century after the outbreak of the “war to end all wars”, as it was once idealistically called, people in many parts of the world unite in remembrance of the fallen, and it’s the flower which grew in Flanders fields which has come to symbolise this act.

Commemoration of the First World War has never quite seemed to slip fully into history. Given that so few years passed between its end and the rise of the Nazis, and that war has continued to blight generation after generation, Armistice Day has merged seamlessly into Remembrance Day. Without losing its WWI origins, 11th November has also served as a focus for people’s feelings about recent and current wars and military engagements.

For many people those red poppies on the coats and lapels are more than a reminder of the fallen from wars we learned of in school, but act also as a sign of continued support for those serving in the armed forces today who risk their lives around the world.

I suspect that’s why the alternative symbol, the white poppy, has never quite died out. Though every newsreader you’ll see in coming weeks will wear the red poppy, there are those of us who prefer the white one. Originally produced by the Co-Operative Women’s Guild and now by the Peace Pledge Union, the white poppy is important to me for several reasons.

Firstly it is a reminder that there are victims of war on all sides, and in civilian as well as military life, and that remembrance is for all of them. It is also a reminder that the idea of a war to end all wars was a dangerous delusion; that people cannot be beaten into peace. To me, the white poppy does not seek to detract from the remembrance of the war dead, but rather to add a note of hope; hope that one day our world might be a peaceful one.

Finally it’s important that remembrance, or the commemoration of Armistice Day, is not an unthinking and automatic routine. If it’s to be a meaningful act it must have room for debate and critical thinking. If wearing a white poppy leads to just once conversation about these issues, and about the role of violence in today’s world, then I think it’s worth doing.

I know some people are uncomfortable with my choice. I know some people find it provocative. But as the UK Government prepares to spend vast sums of money on another generation of nuclear weapons which threaten murder on an unprecedented scale, it’s important that the white poppy is still seen as a symbol of peace in a violent world.

6 Comments

  1. I wear a white and a red when I can find white ones to buy. Recognising the sacrifice of those who fight in wars is the least we can do but I hate that war is glorified. All politicians advocating war should be made to watch the film ‘all quiet on the western front’ again and again until the lesson sinks in.
    I won’t even mention the disgusting concept of ‘celebrating the start of WW1′ which was posh dave’s latest wheeze.

    Comment by Ann Ballinger — November 8, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

  2. Great post! Reminds my just why being green is so important on so many fronts.
    “If wearing a white poppy leads to just once conversation about these issues, and about the role of violence in today’s world, then I think it’s worth doing.” sums it up for me,
    Spot on Patrick.

    #1 I also wear a White & Red together, which I think is a good way of avoiding opportunities for mis-interpretation and sometimes attack, while stimulating discussion & debate. Sometimes even more so than wearing White on it’s own.

    Comment by AndrewT — November 9, 2012 @ 8:20 am

  3. I also wear both, as I feel that covers it for me, remembrance of those in the forces who fell, and those who would now most euphemistically be called “collateral damage”. I see the red poppy as looking back, lest we forget, and the white poppy as a symbol of the future, where we can hope for, and work towards, a peaceful future.

    In peace, Doreen

    Comment by Doreen McIntyre — November 9, 2012 @ 10:04 am

  4. Very thoughtful and helpful post, I wish I could find a white one but they dont seem to be many around here. I really fail to see why anyone should regard a white poppy as provocative, but there you go: there are always some people who take the hump at the slightest deviation from the norm, however thoughtful and inoffensive.

    Comment by Rob — November 9, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

  5. Agree with the above posts. We should never forget those who laid down their lives in the 2 World Wars. However, I choose not to commemorate wars of imperialism, where thousands of innocents are murdered in the pursuit of resources. I also do not buy into a country, or countries, who can not afford to look after their own societies, but can always find the money to kill innocents in foreign lands. As for the waste of money that is the nuclear ‘deterrent’ that is another waste of money. As Lennon said; ” Give Peace a Chance.”

    Comment by Garry Chapman — November 10, 2012 @ 5:54 pm

  6. Superb, concise, articulate post. Bravo for speaking out.

    Comment by Ayesha Ali — November 10, 2012 @ 7:00 pm