It is that time of year again: the week of Remembrance Sunday. This is when the denizens of the UK turn out on to the streets to commemorate the British soldiers who have died in war. Those familiar with my blog will be unsurprised to discover that I find the commemoration of only British dead; or only deceased soldiers; or even only deceased British soldiers, to be- if done in isolation and without equal consideration of the civilian dead or even the dead of our official enemies- to be manifestly ridiculous and in fact immoral.
I’ll therefore be wearing a White Poppy aka. the “Peace Poppy” this week, instead of a red one. The White Poppy was first produced en masse in the 1930s, when the manufacturers of the red poppy refused to put a message of peace on their flowers.
Here’s some reasons why I’ll be wearing one, and why you should too:
1. The red poppy is a fundraising tool of the British Legion, a charitable organisation that raises money for British servicemen/women. Correct me if my reasoning is faulty, but shouldn’t the government that sends young men and women to war for illegal and immoral reasons at least foot the TOTAL bill for their care once they’ve come home injured or traumatized? Why should the public pay even more money out in the poppy appeal to make up for the deficiencies in the paltry government compensation schemes for ex armed forces personnel? Answer: they shouldn’t. In my opinion the British Legion shouldn’t have to exist: the government should be doing the job that they’re doing. And donating to the British Legion merely encourages this state of affairs. Meanwhile our politicians all wear red poppies and bow their heads at memorial services, while plotting ways to send young men and women to die so that their friends and allies can make money.
The white poppy on the other hand is produced and sold by peace campaigning organisations, and the money donated to these organisations is spent on campaigns for peace, and against war. More worthy.
2. The majority of the victims of war aren’t the British soldiers, who, like all soldiers, are human instruments of killing. The bulk of the victims are the civilians who are butchered by the thousands and millions in the illegal and immoral wars we’ve been waging since time immemorial. You could argue, I suppose, that WWII was not an immoral war, and while it was indeed moral to try to stop the Nazis in their butchering of innocents, that wasn’t the main reason that our government decided to go to war in that case, nor in any other case. Wars are fought for political, territorial and financial reasons, rarely if ever for moral reasons. The red poppy therefore glorifies war by omission; by only commemorating the British military dead, it deliberately minimizes the impact on all the innocent people whom our nation has slaughtered, and whom other nations have slaughtered.
The white poppy specifically commemorates all the victims of war, whether they were from our nation or any other nation. More worthy.
3. The military poppy is mercilessly used as a propaganda tool by the right-wing establishment to plug the idea that soldiers are heroes by default, and if you’re a soldier that has died while fighting “for your country” (actually for your government, not your country) you’re a hero. That’s wrong. Soldiers are not necessarily heroic, and killing someone your government has told you to kill for political reasons doesn’t make you a hero, and doesn’t mean you’re fighting for the interests of the people who actually populate your home nation. If a soldier saves some civilians from a burning house, that soldier can be called a hero. But killing Afghan people? Bombing Iraqis? Even dying in a hail of gunfire while shooting bullets at Iraqi fighters, whose nation has been illegally invaded by the west? None of those things are heroic. Rather, they are villainous.
The white poppy is not a glorification of military bombast, mass-killing and misplaced national pride. More worthy.
You are not your nation. You are not your government. You are an individual, and an individual has a responsibility to be moral. If you want to help soldiers, then help the soldiers of the future by working to prevent future wars of aggression and rapacious imperialism. Wear a white poppy, at the very least.
This article details the arguments above and more in great and eloquent detail. I’m indebted to the author.
Order white poppies from the following vendors:
The Peace Pledge Union
Stop the War Coalition