Jonathan Brun

Why a white poppy should replace the red poppy on your lapel this year

This year (2011) I will have 100 white poppies, I’m in Montréal, Canada – contact me to get one. For white poppies in Vancouver, click here.

After many years of patriotically wearing a red poppy, I have stopped. Why do we wear a poppy? The Canadian Legion considers it the utmost sign of remembrance for the sacrifice of our ancestors – 37 million casualties in world war I and over 60 million killed in world war II. Did the young men, women and civilians die for our freedom or for the politicians who gallantly led them into the muds of Europe from their armchairs in state capitals?

The dead did sacrifice, often with the best of intentions, but if we are to remember something, we should remember the good instead of the bad, the living instead of the dead. Peace, not war.

I firmly believe in the power non-violence and non-cooperation, it changes history – from Gandhi to Jaurès to Schindler to King to Mandela. Do not confuse non-violence with pacification; non-cooperation is the active battle against injustice through peaceful means. The Danes saved far more jews through non-violence than many countries did through violent action. We must honour the dead by reminding ourselves the folly of war; wearing a red poppy does not accomplish this, it simply propagates our reverence for military solutions to problems. This year, I will be wearing a white poppy, in vehement support of peace.

The Canadian Legion must recognize the power of the white poppy, because it has tried to ban it, claiming it infringes on their trademark. The power of peacekeeping is evident in Canadian history, we are a country born out of negotiation and one who embraces non-violence. Without descending into a history lecture, remember that Lester Pearson had the courage to send peacekeepers, instead of arms, to the Suez Canal – and it worked.

The white poppy is not a new idea, it dates back to 1933, when the Co-operative Woman’s Guild brought about the idea of commemorating peace instead of war. In his famous poem, “Flanders Fields”,  John McCrae challenges us to take up the torch from the fallen and continue the battle with the enemy – but is the enemy the man across the mud or war itself?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Is the quarrel to be taken up with the unknown German soldier or with the people who send the patriotic citizens to their deaths? In WWI, over a quarter million people died or were wounded on the fields of Verdun in a matter of a few days, during WWII six million taking Stalingrad, and millions more continue to perish in conflicts today. We must stop the cycle of violence. There is great injustice in the world that must be fought, and it must be fought will all our bodies and souls – but not with guns.

Only resolution brought through non-violence can be lasting, war leads to war, just as WWI led to WWII. It was only through peaceful measures of post-WWII such as the Marshall plan, mass migration, the UN and the EU that peace in Europe was finally established. War begets war, peace begets peace.

Violence across the world has been steadily declining and while the tasks ahead remain daunting, a white poppy will help us remember that we must honour and remember peace, not death. Mahatma Gandhi prophetically said, “Non-violence is a plant of slow growth. It grows imperceptibly but surely”. We must fertilize the soil upon which it grows and that is why I will be wearing a white poppy this year, I hope you join me.

Published on October 30, 2010