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.


Our Home and Native Braves

Andrea Hotomanie, Principal, Glenda Speight, Constable Erin McAvoy

Andrea Hotomanie, Principal, Glenda Speight, Constable Erin McAvoy

As Remembrance Day approaches, I am reminded of how profoundly I was moved by the Remembrance Day assembly at my son’s school last year. I found it particularly poignant for two reasons.

What I found initially striking was that the ceremony was presided over by all women, something I’d never seen before.  They were school Principal, Glenda Speight, RCMP Constable Erin McAvoy, impressive in her Red Serge, and Andrea Hotomanie, the district Aboriginal Support Worker.

Andrea Hotomanie was the second reason of note.  She stood up in recognition of the First Nations who serve and have served in the Canadian Military. She wore a magnificent button blanket around her shoulders.  It was the first time I had seen this kind of inclusion at any school remembrance assembly.  It brought me to tears.

It moved me so deeply because it was the first time I felt my grandfather and uncles included in these remembrances in a way that they hadn’t before.  It brought them, Cree warriors from Northern Alberta, faded from history for so many decades, up to the front too.  I felt they were being honored for the first time as servicemen and not as guests in the back of my mind, while all the other heroes were noted up on the screens and in the speeches. Between Andrea’s presence and my son nearby, this acknowledgement brought it all fully home to my heart.

All those many years ago, there was never any doubt that at least three of my uncles would join the military from the time that, as young boys, they stared admiringly at the one photo of my grandfather in his uniform until they were all signed up and fitted into their own.

photo compilation by Robyn LawsonAlong with pride of nation and reverence for the uniform, there was another underlying and stirring reason to join up. Uncle Philip finally expressed it after I asked him why he always declared that his favorite job was being in the Canadian forces.  He said, “Respect”.  While he wore that uniform, it was the first time in his life that he was treated with honest to God respect, and it didn’t matter where he was in the world.  It was his greatest time of honor and pride.  I can’t say so for my grandfather or the other uncles, but I suspect they felt much the same.

Their presence at the Remembrance Day assembly that day was palpable to me, and I have no doubt that they were all there in full uniform.

There is a lot of history about Indigenous participation in the military and the details are available more than ever.  I would encourage anyone to look up that history sometime for some very interesting and enlightening reading.

For now, I would just like to say thank you to my family for their courage.  We will always be proud.  We will always remember.

In remembrance of:

Private John Joseph Baptiste Gray – WW1

Private John Joseph Baptiste Gray – WW1

Private Frank Joseph Gray – WW2

Private Frank Joseph Gray – WW2

Philip Gray Military Photo

Private Philip Sanford Gray – Korea

Private Larry Alexander Gray – Canadian post, Quebec

Private Larry Alexander Gray – Canadian post, Quebec

To an old friend serving in Afghanistan, Deputy Chief of Staff, John Valtonen, as always, thank you, and stay safe.


readers digest logoOur Home and Native Braves was published October 30, 2013 on the Reader’s Digest community website:

Recommended link for Native military history:
A Commemorative History of Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military: