Red or White?

That time of the year when we adorn ourselves with a single, red poppy in remembrance of those who fought and died for our freedom has just passed. The red poppy is a widely used symbol for the remembrance of war veterans across various countries, including the United States of America, Canada, and Australia.

I’m willing to bet that pretty much every single one of you have worn a red poppy at least once in your life, but how many of you have ever worn a white one?

The white poppy was first introduced as an alternative to its red counterpart by the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1933. As a part of the No More War Movement, it advocates peace and pacifism. Over the years, there have been arguments both for and against the use of the white poppy as an alternative symbol to wear on Remembrance Day. I recently read an article about some students in Ottawa, Canada who commented saying that they don’t care if the white poppy offends veterans. In response to this, many have commented in defense of the red poppy, while attacking the legitimacy of the white poppy.

Those in full favour of the red poppy find that the white poppy undermines it. It follows that undermining the significance of the red poppy is tantamount to undermining the sacrifice the veterans made for their country. In addition to this, the funds from selling red poppies goes towards the Royal British Legion (RBL), and if they are sharing the market, so to speak, with the white poppies, then it is possible that the proceeds that go to the RBL will be lessened. Furthermore, the red poppy is not advocating war itself; it is simply a symbol of remembrance. Given these reasons, it’s not difficult to understand why veterans might find the white poppy somewhat offensive.

On the other hand, you have the avid white poppy supporters. Some feel that the red poppy glorifies war, and that the future lies in pacifism and peace-making, rather than war. Others simply feel that it is a more inclusive symbol, and that it advocates peace for all. The red poppy, in this perspective, is somewhat discriminatory because it simply remembers the lives of those who died as soldiers. The lives of the innocent victims of war, the citizens of the country, are not remembered in the same way. The white poppy is purely a symbol of peace and an end to all wars. As the student in the article from Ottawa stated, this may be something that young people feel is more personally relevant. The argument for white poppies has as many valid points as the one for red.

So which side, then, should you or I take? In my opinion, there is no point in choosing sides. Why does it matter which poppy you support or not? Both sides make good points, and neither side is right or wrong. If red poppy advocates argue that the white poppy undermines the veterans’ sacrifice, doesn’t this petty debate undermine it even more? The two symbols don’t overlap or contradict each other. One symbol is for the remembrance of past actions, and the other is for a future that we can work towards making.

I think that people who continue to choose sides need to take a step back and think about what it is that their “poppy” stands for. For those that support the red poppy, keep in mind that the white poppy advocates for the peace that is derived from the freedom that the veterans have given us through their sacrifices. For those that support the white poppy, remember that peace is brought about by compromises, and co-existence despite differences. Wear what colour you’d like, but arguing against the other colour is pointless and disrespectful to what Remembrance Day is all about. The Canadian students weren’t wrong in supporting the white poppy, but they were wrong in disrespecting the veterans and those who believe in the red poppy. As for me, I choose to wear both poppies, side by side; one in remembrance of those who gave up their lives for us, and the other for the peace to ensure that no more men and women need to sacrifice their lives. And if I can find one, maybe I’ll even wear a purple poppy, in remembrance of the animals who were victims of war.

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