The White Poppy Campaign is Only an Attempt to White-Out History

Red PoppyYou’ve no doubt heard about the plentiful angry reactions to efforts to begin a white poppy campaign in contrast to the standard red poppy in support of veterans on Remembrance Day.  This actually started in the UK about 1926 in response to the red poppy. This has been in our news recently because of the Rideau Institute group,, working to bring it to fruition in Canada.

I applaud the efforts of the white poppy campaign to make a statement in support of peace, I admire the passion for their anti-war beliefs, and I support them in their peaceful ideals.  What I don’t understand is their lack of imagination and respect.

I’ve read that the white poppy was created for sale about a decade after the red poppy was introduced in 1921 in the hopes that pacifists could have a symbol that they felt more truly represented peace.  Somewhere in that impassioned thinking, from back then and all the way to today, a big point seems to have been missed – create your own symbol.

 Do not usurp a symbol of great significance that was not created in favor of war, nor was ever symbolic of the glorification of war.

The red poppy was not the creation of some faceless war-mongering government.  It grew from a heart-rending poem, In Flanders Fields, written by a soldier mourning the death of a fellow soldier and friend.  The poem reflected the red poppies that covered the fields where the lost lay buried.  That symbol resonated with millions because it came from the voice and heart of a soldier who spoke first-hand of the sorrows of war, and a desire to not have lain down in vain.

However this came to be, today the red poppy reflects the larger feeling of sacrifice and desire for peace.  “Lest we forget” asks us to remember the horrors in the hopes that we don’t have to endure them again.  That’s all it is – a hope, for some a prayer, for all a plea to remember so that wars are not entered into lightly.  It doesn’t promise that war will never happen; it is not a symbol for why all the wars happened since it’s observance.

If there is value for the white poppy campaign to be addressed on the same day that the rest of us commemorate the end of a world war, then why can’t they find a way to respectfully co-exist with those of us who remember ours in the way we do.

Instead of attempting to take over a long recognized symbol that many feel already says what they say they want, maybe they could ask people if they would like to add something to their lapels.  With all the creativity available in the world, surely they could come up with a peace symbol that isn’t about being against one already in existence.

The outraged cries being raised are not based in some simplified street idea that ‘haters gonna hate’ so poor pacifists or anti-war folk are victims of a crass anti-peace public.  The outrage is rightfully based in a crass lack of due understanding and, intended or not, disrespect.  Think about what might happen if you tried to alter a corporate logo?

White poppy campaign people, you are daring to charge over what is already in place because you believe your beliefs are better.  What’s so peaceful about that?

By the way, do you really think changing the color to white will somehow change the thought behind it’s original intention?  I have to wonder, as a symbol associated with war, how long might it take before even white poppies would be seen as a symbol of aggression by upcoming thinkers?

Whether you  believe the red represents standing up for war and white is better, or that no poppies are warranted at all, the fact that you have those choices is only because of the people that those red poppies represent – whether you want to believe that or not.


8 thoughts on “The White Poppy Campaign is Only an Attempt to White-Out History

  1. Robyn, you are a gifted writer. My understanding is that the white poppy came first. It was started by women in the co-operative movement. The red poppy followed because the blood red of war was added. Marian


    • Hi Marian, thanks so much for your compliment and comment. The white poppy was introduced in 1926, 5 yrs. after the red poppy, then they were being sold in 1933 by the Co-operative Women’s Guild.
      You remind me to link to a reference. Thank you for that, and again for the comment.


  2. Some people are willing to oppose change with their dying breath, Robyn.
    Ironic, isn’t it?
    The white poppy is meant to promote peace and yet it has started a battle.
    Humans, man….


    • No doubt change is difficult for some, but I think there should be good reasoning to explain it. I was really taken aback at the comments made by reps for the white poppies that said they didn’t care about offending veterans, and that the date of November 11th wasn’t theirs (the vets) to solely claim. Either statement may be true, but not such a good way to try to gain respect and support for their own campaign.

      Nice to see you!!


  3. I generally agree with you. You’re right about the white poppy coming second. I’d like to point out that the concluding lines, “Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch…” are an exhortation to continue the fight, and to some extent undo the effect of the first part. My understanding is that McCrae threw the poem away at one point during its creation, a possible sign that he was conflicted about the idea of continuing the war against “the foe.” I’m not much of a pacifist, but I think the poem is better, purer in tone without the final stanza.


  4. Thanks for the visit J. Yes, I also agree with your point on the final stanza. I read into those last lines as well, but I guess what I take away from this is that it seems to have been a call to continue the fight as an unfortunate necessity for the benefit of all, and not as a glorification, in any sense, of war.
    Regardless, I think treading on something beloved for another’s sense of better is not such a good idea. Wars have begun for this and less. As The Hook says, “Humans, man”.


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