White poppies, pacifism, and me

By Chloe Scaling 

The white poppy was first seen in 1933, as the Co-operative Women’s Guild chose to adopt the symbol to help convey their message ‘no more war’. On their website, the Peace Pledge Union, who distribute white poppies across the UK, give three reasons for choosing to wear white poppies: to remember all victims of war, to show a commitment to peace, and to challenge attempts to glamorise war. Thousands of white poppies are sold by the PPU each year, with the profits going towards peace education and campaigning work. Their initiative fills me with hope for a more peaceful world.

When I look at the news, there’s so much war in the world. The UK is involved in these conflicts, both directly through air strikes in places such as Syria, and indirectly, through the arms trade. We need to remember all those who have died as a result of war, whether they were British soldiers, their enemies, or civilians who ended up in the firing line.

The white poppy initiative fills me with hope for a more peaceful world

I choose to wear the white poppy instead of the red poppy because it explicitly includes those civilians who have died as a result of war. The loss of any life is devastating, but the loss of innocent lives feels like a punch in the gut to me, and serves as a reminder of how unjust the world is. If we’re not remembering those civilians who have died in conflicts or not welcoming refugees fleeing wars I don’t believe we’re acting or thinking very ethically.

Not only do we need to remember the dead for a few weeks each year, but we also need to commit to building a more peaceful world, where soldiers and civilians live in harmony. The Peace Pledge Union and other charities such as Peacemakers and Quakers in Britain are working to deliver peace education. There is hope that future generations won’t suffer as much as those of the twentieth century and before.

Since finding Quakerism just over a year ago, I’ve come to see how diverse the movement is in many ways, but there is one thing I feel I can say confidently: Quakers are pacifists. As I’ve spent more time with Quakers, I feel I’ve become more aware of injustices in the arms trade, conflicts all over the world, and the plight of conscientious objectors in countries where people are conscripted to the military. As part of our commitment to peace, many Quakers choose to wear the white poppy instead of or as well as the red poppy, with some choosing to wear neither.

I hope that future generations won’t suffer like those who came before them

In this article, I didn’t want to only include my own opinion, so I asked Quakers in Durham, including members of Durham University Quaker Society, why they wear the white poppy, or the red and white poppy together. Here is what they had to say:

“I wear a white poppy because it is a symbol of peace. Also, the wearing of it often provokes discussion which can only be a good thing.”

“This is the first year that I have worn a white poppy. I wear it to remember the dead on all sides of all wars – not just British soldiers – and as a symbol of the need for peace in the world, peace that our own government, at times, acts against.”

“I choose to wear the white poppy to reflect on the tragedy faced by those impacted by war, but in a less militaristic style and instead concentrating on lessening such tragedies in the future.”

“I wear it to show I believe that peace is better than war. I also wear a red poppy to show my thanks for those who were killed in the last world war which has, I believe, allowed us to live in a relatively peaceful world for the last 70 years.”

“I feel very deeply for those people who died or were injured in conflict. The only way to avoid conflict is to work for peace and the white poppy is a symbol of my desire to do that.”

For more information about white poppies, go to http://www.ppu.org.uk/.

Photograph: Sheila Sund via Flickr and Creative Commons

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