Respect war dead by working for peace, say public figures

By staff writers
11 Nov 2012

As ceremonies of Remembrance take place across Britain, a number of public figures have expressed their commitment to working for peace in a world still torn apart by conflict.

Patrick Harvie, a Green MSP in the Scottish Parliament and co-convenor of his party, took to the Caledonian Mercury to explain why he wears a white poppy at this time of year.

Earlier this week, he wrote: "Originally produced by the Co-operative Women’s Guild and now by the Peace Pledge Union, the white poppy is important to me for several reasons.

"Firstly it is a reminder that there are victims of war on all sides, and in civilian as well as military life, and that remembrance is for all of them. It is also a reminder that the idea of a war to end all wars was a dangerous delusion; that people cannot be beaten into peace.

"To me, the white poppy does not seek to detract from the remembrance of the war dead, but rather to add a note of hope; hope that one day our world might be a peaceful one.

"Finally it’s important that remembrance, or the commemoration of Armistice Day, is not an unthinking and automatic routine. If it’s to be a meaningful act it must have room for debate and critical thinking.

"If wearing a white poppy leads to just once conversation about these issues, and about the role of violence in today’s world, then I think it’s worth doing," added Mr Harvie.

Westminster Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn commented: "I welcome the white poppy. It was first produced before the the second world war and it's a pledge not to start wars in the future."

Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, recorded on her personal twitter account on Thursday 8 November that she wears a white poppy both to show her sorrow at the sad and unnecessary deaths of so many in war, and also to call for peace.

"I don't wear a white poppy to disrespect the fallen. I wear a white poppy to commemorate them all, and to call for an end to all wars," tweeted Cerith Rhys Jones, Plaid Cymru Youth chair, from Cardiff.

Celebrities have been getting in on the act, too. Singer Rod Stewart wore a white poppy on the Graham Norton TV show, as did controversial comedian Frankie Boyle while being interviewed by Jonathan Ross.

White poppies are now worn in all countries where Remembrance is associated with the flower. Many wear a red and white poppy together, to emphasise respect for all who have died alongside a commitment to finding alternative paths to war and conflict as a way of resolving human conflict and confronting injustice.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, which has reissued its 2009 report 'Re-imagining Remembrance' this week, is one of those.

"For many of us who wear both it is important to build bridges and open up dialogue about alternatives to war and investing in peace," he explained. "As our report suggests, Remembrance today needs to be oriented towards re-imagining the future on the basis of practical measures towards conflict transformation, as well as recalling the continuing tragedy of war in terms which are honest rather than triumphalistic."

Others choose to wear a white poppy alone, concerned that the red one carries too many associations of endorsing militarism.

Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, says: "I think we have had an amazing onslaught by the military this year, with bands and service people at train stations putting pressure on people to buy a red poppy. The red poppy has become associated with supporting the troops and the wars that we are in. And the way the poppy appeal is run now is not like it was in the 1950s when people knew what war meant."

Wearers of white poppies have been the subject of anger and ridicule in recent times, with accusations that they are showing disrespect. But there have been positive experiences, too.

In 2011 peace campaigners in Newport, Wales, revived the white poppy wreath-laying tradition. Pippa Bartolotti wrote then: "It is to the credit of the British Legion in Newport that for the first time, possibly anywhere, the White Poppy wreath was laid as part of the official remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph in Clarence Place."

"For just one moment it was possible to think that the laying of White Poppy wreaths would no longer be a clandestine activity, as if peace was not to be talked about in polite circles and White Poppy wreaths laid only at dead of night. For one moment peace was actually up front and on the agenda," she added.

Albert Beal, a spokesperson for the Peace Pledge Union, which makes and distributes white poppies, explained to the media this week that wearing them "shows the concern for the suffering of war but rejects the idea of war.

"War can and must be avoided and wearing a white poppy shows concerns about anybody killed in war," he said.

The Peace Pledge Union stress that the white poppy is not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War, a conflict in which many of those who first produced the white poppy lost family and friends, Rather, it is a challenge to the continuing drive towards armed conflict.

* 'Remembrance: penitence or pageantry?', by Jill Segger: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17359

* More about white poppies for peace: http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/index.html

* Re-imagining Remembrance: a report from Ekklesia - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/reimagining_remembrance

* Mennonite university peacemakers remember veterans: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17354

* More on white poppies from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/whitepoppies

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