Asking questions about the meaning of Remembrance Day is somewhat daunting. A number of years ago, a Sheaf opinions editor wrote an article arguing that the service implicitly glorified war. The backlash was predictably (and I think importantly) huge.
However, I can’t help but think that “Lest We Forget” means that we are obliged to honour, but also to try and comprehend, the sacrifice that many made (and continue to make) for their country by choosing or being conscripted to go to war.
This issue is particularly timely because in recent weeks the Royal Canadian Legion has threatened legal action against peace organizations in P.E.I. and in Ottawa over copyright infringement. The peace organizations are selling and distributing white poppies for peace, to be worn alone or alongside the red poppy. The Canadian Legion has also sent threatening letters to the British organization, Peace Pledge Union, who supply white poppies to Canada and around the world.
Interestingly, the Royal British Legion has no official position on the white poppies. Perhaps in Canada, the debate is more heated because the Canadian poem “In Flanders field” by Jon McCrae was foundational in forming the poppy as a symbol. Then again, the colour of the poppy is not explicitly mentioned in McCrae’s poem (the position on war in McCrae’s poem is a contentious issue, all its own).
Though some representatives of the Canadian Legion say that this is simply a copyright issue, others say that the white poppy is meant to undermine the red one.However, it seems that the white poppy is almost as old as the red one; the Women’s Co-operative Guild first distributed it in England in the early 1930s. Proponents of the white poppy say that it gives the opportunity to memorialize civilian casualties of war.
I’ve gone back and forth on where I stand on the white poppy issue; but I’ve remained certain that the issue is complex and deserves serious thought. It’s easy to get emotional when it comes to issues of war and sacrifice.
On the one hand, it seems presumptuous of the white poppy supporters to assume that Remembrance Day, with its red poppy, condones or encourage war. On the other hand, I share the sentiment that Maj. Peter McRae voiced to CTV, “I’m not the least bit offended by people remembering in any way they choose to remember.”
I’ve concluded that Remembrance Day does not support war in any fundamental way, and that the white poppy is thus unnecessary for me — the red poppy does the trick. But, at the same time, there’s absolutely no reason for me to be upset by someone choosing to wear a white poppy, or choosing to wear a white one and a red one.
If you ask a veteran what they were fighting for, presumably they will tell you that they were fighting for our freedom. How then can we turn around and condemn someone for exercising that freedom?
Perhaps the proceeds from the white poppies should be going to the Canadian Legion, but getting angry about a white poppy for peace is simply unnecessary.
image: Wikimedia Commons