It’s that time of year again. The white versus red poppy argument, debate, whatever. And every year I have the same discussion with one of my wonderful young friends who is a committed pacifist. We discuss this ever year and probably shall forever!!
When I first went to England and was invited to the Regimental Remembrance Day commemoration at Westminster Cathedral by a British Brig. Gen., I noticed British people wearing white and purple poppies (not within the regimental compound I must say). I didn’t know what the different coloured poppies meant at the time. I later found out that white was for “Peace” and purple was for all the animals KIA in the Great War.
The white poppy was first introduced in 1933 by the Women’s Co-operative Guild in the UK. For me, the white poppy reminds me of the opium poppies of Afghanistan. While I admire the sentiment of “Peace”, I find the symbol less than appealing. Narcotic addiction is the scourge of our world and the cause of so much heartache and violence, particularly to women and children. Further, our veterans are deeply hurt by the rejection of one of their very sacred symbols. And in the Great War – the origin of the poppy symbol – MANY pacifists were killed in action too.
All one has to do is go to the Friends Archives in London (the Quakers) and read the war records of their ambulance corps etc. and one will see that tho pacifists, these men and women put themselves on the front line for the love of their God, their service to their people, and their commitment to a pacifism that could not stand by and simply protest, but rolled up its sleeves, got dirty and sometimes injured or killed. I have read the Quaker Ambulance Corps records from the Great War and have learned of their shell shock and post-war illnesses and deaths. These people wore the red poppy too. Originally some pacifists (I take issue with the concept of pacifists too, but that shall wait for another day) wanted the red poppy to include the message “No More War”.
Finally, as a scholar of war and a war artist, I challenge the binary of war and peace. While ‘war’ is overt, the daily violence of the ‘peace time’ world towards women and children (and this includes economic violence), primarily, and in every culture, attests to the false binary of war and peace.