Why I wear a White Poppy

Patrick Harvie MSP Green Party

by Patrick Harvie MSP
This article was originally posted on Patrick Harvie’s blog

It’s the time of year when poppies begin to appear once again on coats and lapels around the country, everywhere from shops to soap operas and from pubs to parliaments. Nearly a century after the outbreak of the “war to end all wars”, as it was once idealistically called, people in many parts of the world unite in remembrance of the fallen, and it’s the flower which grew in Flanders fields which has come to symbolise this act.

Commemoration of the First World War has never quite seemed to slip fully into history. Given that so few years passed between its end and the rise of the Nazis, and that war has continued to blight generation after generation, Armistice Day has merged seamlessly into Remembrance Day. Without losing its WWI origins, 11th November has also served as a focus for people’s feelings about recent and current wars and military engagements.

For many people those red poppies on the coats and lapels are more than a reminder of the fallen from wars we learned of in school, but act also as a sign of continued support for those serving in the armed forces today who risk their lives around the world.

I suspect that’s why the alternative symbol, the white poppy, has never quite died out. Though every newsreader you’ll see in coming weeks will wear the red poppy, there are those of us who prefer the white one. 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.

I know some people are uncomfortable with my choice. I know some people find it provocative. But as the UK Government prepares to spend vast sums of money on another generation of nuclear weapons which threaten murder on an unprecedented scale, it’s important that the white poppy is still seen as a symbol of peace in a violent world.

Patrick Harvie is a Green MSP in the Scottish Parliament

  • 100% in agreement with you Patrick. Total respect for those young men and women from all sides who gave up their lives, often for causes they were never fully aware or indeed part of.

  • Harrison

    Where does the money from the white poppy fund go to? I hope it goes to the Legion.

  • JockBlues

    My father was wounded in France fighting for the likes of you, who have no respect and only want to make a statement. If he was still here today he would be disgusted along with everyone who fought beside him at what you have done to their memory

    • Jock, my great grandfathers fought in WW1 and my grandfathers both fought in WW2. Not unlike your father, they fought for freedom of speech and opinion and for the inalienable right to choose. What they did not fight for is the castigation and persecution of anyone who wishes to express an opinion that differs to that held by others.

      Many veterans argue that the original aim of the appeal as a sombre commemoration of the war dead and the horrors of conflict is in danger of being lost amid the marketing spin and tub-thumping political aims. A day that should be about peace and remembrance has turned into a month-long drum-roll of support for current wars. The true horror and futility of war is forgotten and ignored.

      The view of more senior veterans is one of increasing concern that people are trying to take ownership of the poppy for political ends. It is almost as if they are trying to garner support for ‘our boys’ and any criticism of the wars is a betrayal.

      That is not what the poppy was all about to start with: it was all about remembrance and peace: never again.

      Far from being disgusted at this article, it could be argued that Patrick Harvies piece demonstrates the freedom that so many of our forefathers fought so doggedly to protect and defend, so please do not presume to speak on behalf of so many veterans when you air your own personal viewpoint.

      • Amicus Alba

        “so please do not presume to speak on behalf of so many veterans when you air your own personal viewpoint”.

        Surely the same can be said about you since you have never served alongside us?

    • Alex Grant

      You are so wrong. My grandfather died at the battle of the Somme and is buried in the same village where McRae’s (Hearts) battallion is commemorated. He died on the same day my mother was born and although I can’t possibly say what his views would have been I am damn sure a Glasgow carpenter, who had never been ought of Scotland, fighting a meaningless war, would have been more in tune with Patrick’s view than your typical jingoistic garbage!

  • Amicus Alba

    “But as the UK Government prepares to spend vast sums of money on another generation of nuclear weapons which threaten murder on an unprecedented scale, it’s important that the white poppy is still seen as a symbol of peace in a violent world” and “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”.

    Such banality. Not withstanding that more people have died from road traffic accidents in the UK than Nuclear weapons and the only reason you wear a white poppy is you are making a political statement. Why wear it now and not all year round such is your yearning for peace?

    For us current or ex-serving members of the forces we see the poppy as a comemeration of all war dead with a natural inclination to our own. Indeed we have even had former German Fallschirmjager at our airborne forces memorials such is the neutrality . And very honoured we were.

    It must be fun living in your world – just keep it out of ours.

  • golden

    I believe killing another person is wrong and will go to jaill for my beileves