White poppies represent three things: remembrance for all victims of war, commitment to peace and a challenge to glamorisation of conflict
Red poppies have become synonymous with Remembrance Day, adorning clothing and ceremonial wreaths to commemorate Britain’s war dead.
However, in recent years the white poppy – a pacifist symbol of remembrance – has increased in prominence, with lively debate surrounding its place in the observance of Armstice Day.
What do white poppies represent?
According to the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), the pacifist body which distributes them today, white poppies represent three things: remembrance for all victims of war, commitment to peace and a challenge to the glamorisation of conflict.
They were first produced in 1933 by the Women’s Co-operative Guild to symbolise a message of “no more war”, and play a prominent role in the annual Alternative Remembrance Sunday Ceremony.
The red poppy appeal, organised by the Royal British Legion (RBL), specifically represents remembrance associated with the British Armed Forces.
However, the white poppy recalls all victims of all wars – both combatants and civilians of all nationalities – seeking to bring to an end “the exclusion of civilians from mainstream Remembrance events”.
It aims to promote the idea that there are different ways to avoid conflict than through violent means, with the PPU stating: “The best way to represent the victims of war is to work to prevent war in the present and future.”
Although the RBL stresses that the poppy is not intended as a symbol of death, a sign of support for war or a reflection of politics or religion, the PPU has argued that the symbol has become politicised over time.
Why are white poppies controversial?
Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the white poppy, with sales soaring – around 100,000 of the peace symbols have been sold every year since 2014, according to the PPU.
Although it originated in the UK, in recent years the paper flower has also been worn in New Zealand to commemorate both Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.
However, white poppies have also faced long-standing opposition and provoked controversy, with critics claiming that the symbol undermines the message of remembrance around Armistice Day.
Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain last year, Afghanistan veteran Colonel Richard Kemp claimed that they are a “left-wing political symbol” and an “insult to the war dead”, arguing that the alternative campaign prevents charity funds from reaching the RBL.
For its part, the RBL states on its website that it is not officially opposed to the white poppy: “The Royal British Legion has no objection to any other colour of Poppy in principle, and some volunteers wear these side by side.”
This year, St John’s Ambulance has changed its dress code policy to allow volunteers to wear the white poppy as an alternative to the red one, while at least 30 schools have said they will offer the pacifist symbol to students.
Originally posted here