23 Oct 2015

A red or white poppy?

This time last year the commemorations around the centenary of the beginning of the First World War got me in quite a jam over how I felt about the red poppy. I have proudly purchased a red poppy every year that I can remember. I can remember one year pinning a red poppy to my primary school sweater and then keeping it in my pencil case come the end of November, where it stayed until the next November.

What really jarred with me last year was the idea of commemorating the start of the First World War. If we were going to go all out and have intensified national ceromonies I thought, wouldn’t it be better if we commemorated the end of the First World War? At least at the time the soldiers sent to fight in that war believed they were going to fight ‘the war to end all wars’. Because of that belief, seeing the end of the First World War must have been glorious; the end of all wars!

We now know that this was not the end of all wars. Even recently through Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 14 years we have had to watch our brothers and sisters come home in boxes. And what of the countless civilians lives that have been lost to war? Civilians now greatly outnumber the amount of soldiers who are killed in war.

Furthermore over this summer we have had the devastating affects of war made very apparent by the largest refugee crisis that we have seen since the Second World War; a direct result of the conflict in Syria (as already covered by this blog). The horrors in Syria have displaced half of the entire population of the country.

David Cameron and the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond along with many other politicians and high profile public figures will spend the next month or so boldly wearing a red poppy. They will at the same time continue to advocate and push for more bombing in Syria.

Last month our government welcomed one of the world’s biggest arms fairs to London as part of the government’s current campaign to boost its position as the world’s second largest distributer of arms. Attending the arms fair last month were authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and Azerbaijan .

Yet members of that government will still be seen ‘respectfully’ wearing their red poppies.
It is a complete affront to anyone who has lost a loved one through war and conflict, civilian or soldier.

When we wear a red poppy we say ‘we will remember them’. I fail to understand how you can ‘remember them’ if you advocate for war and deal in arms.

It seems to me that the red poppy and remembrance has been hijacked. Our grief and our sense of loss for the fallen have been exploited. Each Remembrance Day we are shown greater displays of military parades, marching bands and rousing poems of heartache. Guns fire. Silence falls. We remember them.

But we are not prompted to consider in our silence; why wasn’t the First World War ‘the war to end all wars’? Why are people still dying as a result of armed conflict? Why are we still packing off our sisters, brother, mother, fathers never to be seen again?

This is why, alongside my red poppy, I will be wearing a white poppy. I have read explanations of how the white is a symbol for peace, a statement that says ‘never again’. But actually, I believe that most people that wear a red poppy, as I have always done, wear a red poppy for exactly those reasons anyway.  Wearing a red poppy means remembrance and peace.

For me, wearing a white poppy is a tiny flame of defiance that says to our world leaders ‘I know what you have done’. Wearing a white poppy will hopefully prompt people to ask ‘why are you wearing a white poppy?’ and I will be able to explain what I have written here. It is important that we raise the profile of peace during Remembrance because that is the only way we can truly say ‘we will remember them’. The only way we will stop having casualties of war is to stop having wars.

I will wear my red poppy too out of respect for so many of those who draw comfort from seeing them pinned to people’s chest, who wish to remember those that they have loved and lost. I will wear it in remembrance for all of those killed in war and conflict.

I will wear my white poppy for peace. I will remember the words of Harry Patch, who was the last fighting Tommy;
"I felt then, as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder." 

You can buy white poppies from http://stopwar.org.uk/shop/white-poppy-2

Remember that when you buy a red poppy that money goes towards supporting veterans and I would compel you, whatever colour poppy you decide to wear, to donate to the British Legion http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/story-behind-the-poppy-8?utm_expid=51730890-7.iYtKnQpLTO6fjUnTZeHP_w.7&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.co.uk%2F

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