I would wear a red poppy if it was a symbol of remembrance for all the victims of war, and not just the ones who did the killing. By excluding the non-military victims of war from remembrance, the red poppy upholds a moral hierarchy of worthy and unworthy victims: the heroic soldier who is worthy of respect and official commemoration, and the unworthy, unnamed civilians killed or maimed by the heroic soldier who remains unacknowledged and unremembered. This validation of those who wage war and the moral hierarchy of victims is a central part of the cultural architecture which upholds the continuing institution of war in our society. It is a central part of what makes war possible. When the red poppy comes to be associated with an honest public acknowledgement of all the people killed by our soldiers, enemy soldiers and civilians alike; when it symbolizes our sorrow and regret for all the victims of war, not just a chosen few; then I would consider wearing a red poppy.
I would wear a red poppy if it did not function to hide the truth and obscure reality – if it wasn’t a way of enforcing a particular kind of collective memory which is actually designed to forget uncomfortable realities; if it wasn’t intimately tied up with a whole series of myths and untruths about heroic sacrifice and necessary violence in war. The truth is that war is cruel, bloody, and inglorious, and that the soldiers we remember are there to kill and maim fellow human beings, and to die screaming for their mothers. The truth is that when we send soldiers to kill others, we consign those who survive to mental and moral injury; a huge proportion of them will attempt suicide in one way or another after they return home. The truth is that many of our wars are nothing to do with freedom, liberty, or democracy; they are often illegal, pointless, or predatory. When the red poppy is associated with an honest debate on the reality and morality of our wars; when it acknowledges the truth about the horror of war and its often pointless slaughter of our best and brightest; then I would consider wearing a red poppy.
I would wear a red poppy if its fund-raising and symbolism had the true interests of the military personnel it purports to support at heart. The fact is that the best interests of every military person would be to never have to kill or face death or mutilation ever again, and certainly not for the squalid purposes most often dreamed up by our venal and vainglorious politicians. The funds raised by the red poppy should be used to work for the end of all war, not to make up for the short-coming in state support for military personnel or to prepare the nation for the further slaughter of our fellow citizens in future wars.
I would wear a red poppy if it wasn’t a way for the state to offset the costs of war so that it can engage in ever more military adventures. In truth, the state sends the nation’s young people to war and then refuses to spend the necessary money on supporting them when they return home. Buying a red poppy is in effect a second tax for funding war, as it allows the state to spend the money it should have spent on rehabilitation on buying new weapons and training new soldiers. Instead of buying a red poppy, we should demand that the state pay the full support and rehabilitation of all soldiers who need it out of the taxes we have already paid to the military. If this means that there is not enough money for the next military adventure because we are taking care of the last war’s victims, then this is how it should be. It should not be easy for governments to take the decision to go to war; they must pay the full cost. If the red poppy came to symbolize a challenge to government to properly care for service personnel; if it was a means to really question the decision to go to war, instead of implicitly supporting every war regardless of its morality; I would consider wearing a red poppy.
I would wear a red poppy if it wasn’t used socially to enforce an unthinking patriotism, and to punish and discipline those who would question the morality of war or the values of militarism. Those who fervently promote the red poppy often assert that the soldiers we remember fought for our freedom, but this does not include the freedom to question military values or public displays of violent patriotism. Anyone should be allowed to refuse to wear a red poppy in public on the basis of conscience without being questioned or looked down upon, or even to wear a different coloured poppy.
I would wear a red poppy if it wasn’t part of a broader militarism in our society which makes war more likely, rather than less; if it wasn’t bound up with national narratives of heroism and the legitimacy and rightness of military force; and if it wasn’t implicitly supportive of military values. If the red poppy came to symbolize opposition to war and support for peaceful values; I would consider wearing it.
I wear the White Poppy because it is an unambiguous commitment to peace, the end of all war and opposition to militarism. The Red Poppy may have once been part of a commemorative culture shortly after the First World War that was aimed at working towards ensuring that no one ever had to experience the horrors of war again; but this meaning has long since vanished, replaced instead by an insidious military patriotism. The White Poppy is now the main symbol of a commitment to remember all the victims of war, to tell the truth about war, to work to ensure that no soldier ever has to suffer its horrors again, and to make peace the central value of our culture, instead of militarism.
(You can order a white poppy to wear from: http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/index.html)
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