Sunday, November 05, 2006

White Poppies for Remembrance Day


Back in 1933, the Women's co-operative Guild in England chose to wear white poppies to symbolise their commitment to work for peace and to end their acquiescence to militarism. The Guild stressed that the white poppy was in no way intended as an insult to those whodied in the First World War but that it was a "pledge to peace that war must not happen again". Indeed, many of the women had lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers.

The tradition is now being adopted in many other communities. Many people are choosing to wear red poppies to remember veterans and white poppies to remember civilian casualties. Both symbols serve to renew their commitment to work for peace and to remember the true costs and causes of war.

Marion Frank, member of Veterans Against Nuclear Arms reflects on the linkage between September 11 and Remembrance Day.

"We grieve for the victims of September 11, just as we grieve for the women and men who gave their lives as combatants in World War II and wars past and present. We grieve also for the countless millions of women and men and young people who have perished in the collateral destruction of human life in war, and in the violence of terrorism, whether initiated by a state, or a group or an individual.

"But our grief is not a call for war. Let not this grieving be seized on and made a reason to pursue wars without end.

"The white poppy reflects the many ongoing initiatives to break the cycle of violence, and gives an opportunity to rededicate ourselves in the fight for world peace, common security and social justice. As a symbol of resistance it can help take us down the path that can rid us of war forever."

Fred H. Knelman, WW II veteran from Victoria, B.C. says:

"I want peace and security for Canadians and the whole world. This is one reason why I will be wearing a white poppy for Remembrance Day, as well as a red one.

"I want not only to remember those who have fought and suffered as soldiers but to rededicate myself to preventing war and ending militarism. I also want to remember that 95% of the casualties in contemporary wars are civilians."

Dr. Rosalie Bertell, scientist, author, Grey Nun and president of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health (IICPH):

"It seems that many of the world's governments, including our own, are addicted to violence as a way to solve international problems. They suffer from ever increasing military budgets which rarely make us more secure.

"While most members of the global family do without, governments squander money and resources on arms, just the way alcoholics squander family resources on booze.

"Let's make sure the Canadian government provides proper benefits for its military personnel but let's not let it get away with increased spending on weapons and military training."

Bruna Nota, past president of WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom), hopes that the white poppy tradition will help us arrive at a new way of viewing security: "We are like the people who created a whole science based on the false premise that the earth is flat. We are operating on the false premise that security is guaranteed by military forces and preparedness. In fact, only by a just sharing of all resources can provide the security in which we can care for each other in trusting and responsible communities."

The late Eric Fawcett, Founding President of Science for Peace, supported the white poppy campaign, adding:

"Financial warfare, the deliberate undermining of regional economies, kills people and cripples even more lives than the hot wars that inevitably follow. The concept of 'financial warfare' refers to the grinding poverty in which up to half the human race lives in poor countries that are loaded with huge debts that can never be paid. And now with free market economies being forced on Asian countries, the former Soviet Union and East Europe, we see major nations like Russia and Indonesia falling into the same morass."

Many Canadians have been making their own poppies as a way of honouring diversity. If made of waste materials such as boxboard, they are also a tribute to sustainability.

For more information or a sample homemade white poppy, please contact Jan Slakov at 135 Deer Park Rd., Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1P5 (250) 537-5251. Teachers in particular might want to request a Remembrance Day lesson plan and other educational resources.

Here is wonderful, heartfelt letter to the Editor, written by peace activist Jan and her friends. If you care about peace and wish to further the white poppy tradition, please follow their example and write a similar letter to your local paper in time for Remembrance Day on November 11th:

Dear Editor,

What do we remember on Remembrance Day?

We know we are not alone with a feeling of uneasiness as we head into the future.... We watch children at play, are taken in by their charming, idiosyncratic ways of looking at things... and worry for them. What future will they have? Our way of life is not one of stewardship, of caring; we know that danger and hardship are virtually inevitable.

History shows us that some people will exploit danger and hardship to incite hatred and violence. This, as Martin Luther King said, adds "deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."

On the other hand, we can learn to feel our own suffering as a way to connect with the suffering of all others; we can feel hope for our children, that even though much of our legacy to them will be harmful, still we can learn and we can teach - ways of living that honour life and our

How we celebrate holidays, how we remember history, is of vital importance in this process of learning and teaching. Apparently, the US government has proclaimed September 11 as "Patriot Day". Some US citizens, including Daniel Buttry, currently a peace and justice specialist with an American Baptist organization, are speaking out against making remembrance "captive to nationalist pride, arrogance and revenge".

Buttry cites as a more healthy example of remembrance, the Maruki gallery outside of Tokyo. Iri and Toshi Maruki have on display their paintings they made after visiting Hiroshima in search of missing relatives after the August 6th, 1945, Atomic Bomb. Buttry writes: "Their paintings capture the horror, the disorientation, the anguish of the people of Hiroshima. But two paintings brought in a theme absent from the [officiallly sanctioned] peace park. One depicted the crows feasting on the piles of Korean dead left unburied [because they were slave labourers who were deemed unworthy of burial]. The other portrayed the fate of American POWs who survived the
bombing only to be torn limb from limb by their enraged captors."

He reflects: "Their sorrow did not blot out the sorrow of other victims, including those labeled as "enemies". Here is the beginning of the path to hope and redemption. We can begin to pull out the tangled roots of violence only when we all recognize the other side's suffering and our own complicity in evil."

Buttry is not the only one who urges us to choose carefully how we remember. In 1933 the Women's Cooperative Guild chose to wear white poppies at Remembrance Day to symbolize their commitment to work for peace and to end their acquiescence to militarism. This tradition has been kept alive by others and is growing now, as people find in it an opportunity to make Remembrance Day more meaningful. Many people wear red poppies to remember "our" veterans and soldiers killed in war, while also wearing a white poppy to remember those who are not officially remembered on Remembrance Day. This includes civilians, who now make up the majority of those killed in war, also the people who struggled nonviolently for peace and justice, such as those who hid Jews or German deserters in World War II. Let's also remember the heroism of people like Faith Fippinger, a US citizen who travelled to Iraq last spring to try to prevent the war. Faith is now being prosecuted by the US government for her action as a "human shield" and faces losing her home, her pension and having to go to jail!

Also forgotten in official ceremonies are the veterans of the Spanish civil war, as well as veterans of the Gulf War, which our government calls "the Persian Gulf conflict" and thus denies them eligibility for full veterans' benefits (which many desperately need; many suffer from "Gulf War syndrome", which may be related to contamination with depleted uranium... Of course, our veterans are not the only ones suffering. Iraqi parents are giving birth to tragically deformed babies, thanks to the radioactive contamination.)

In Britain one can buy white poppies but in Canada so far, almost all white poppies are home-made. To find out more about the tradition and get a sample white poppy, please contact Jan Slakov (
or 537-5251) or Bob Stuart ( or 537-4315).

Sincerely, Jan Slakov, Bob Stuart, Joanna Montrichard, Lynn Thorwaldsen, Michael Surman, Joan Werner (Salt Spring Island)

Jan Slakov has been promoting the white poppy tradition since learning about it years ago.

6 comment(s):

I believe that the white poppies are a great idea but i believe that November 11th is about remembering that there was a war and that men lost there lives. The white poppies should be worn year round but November is the month for the red poppies to remember those we have lost.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:34 PM  

I have never been more offended by a peace movement before, but somehow you've managed to do it.

We use red poppies to remember those who fell in war, civilian or otherwise. Your organisation insinuates that somehow this is insufficient. I concur with the above commenter, wear them if you must, but not during November.

At that time, volunteers are trying to raise money to continue to support Veterans all across Canada. Your organisation piggybacks off this one, taking money away from them and instead depositing it in your own pockets. Indeed, you place a set dollar amount ($2.00) on it, rather than the veteran's open invitation of "whatever you can afford."

Shame on you all for sullying the spirit in which Canadians wear our poppies. I will remember the war for the lessons it taught us, and thank our soldiers for their sacrifice to bring us that peace which you and I enjoy today.

By Blogger ViciousTim, at 9:07 PM  

Apathy; I don't care.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:35 PM  

I like the idea of the white poppy, and I’d love to know where I could get one. Frankly, I’m not surprised by the vicious and ignorant response by some to the idea. The whole idea of the red poppy has been commercialized beyond recognition. The idea that that this is simple fundraising to support veterans is a load of hogwash. Once a year, people like ViciousTim would have us dress up our vets and parade them around for publicity. On November 12th, these “heroes” get shuffled off to rot until next year. I work with veterans in the healthcare system and I am disgusted by how they are treated. In fact, today all of our Conservative MPs voted against a motion that would have prevented the government from clawing back their pensions. These hypocrites are all wearing red poppies!!!

My grandfather was a vet, and he went to his grave talking about the war crimes that were committed by allied soldiers in Dresden. It brings tears to my eyes to remember how upset he was about it. So is my poppy in memoriam of the women and children who were killed in Dresden or in support of our soldiers who did it? Or both? The white poppy was created in the 1930’s by women who’d lived the ravages of war. Why shouldn’t we wear it? It seems like a lot of the vitriolic response to them have come from little turds who have no concept of what a war is, let alone hardship of any kind.

By Anonymous suzanne, at 2:06 PM  

Have a listen to the Remembrance podcast on iTunes or the Royal British Legion blog. It's a good way to remember.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:55 PM  


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:25 PM  

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