As remembrance Sunday fast approaches, debates over the correct use of the red poppy and what it represents arise, alongside further discussions on the use of the white poppy as an alternative.

Over recent years, the red poppy has come under scrutiny with some feeling that is has become a political movement that is used to justify war and so some choose instead to wear the white poppy.

So what are the different poppies and what do they represent?

What is the red poppy?

The red poppy is sold by the Royal British Legion (RBL) and has been since 1921. The red poppy was established in honour of British Armed Forces who died during the First World War (FWW). RBL view the red poppy as a symbol of hope and remembrance, the use of the poppy itself was inspired by John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Field. It is seen to be a lasting memorial of the suffering in the FWW and a dedication to a generation who faced tragedy and loss. The red poppy is reference to a particular time in history that shaped our world today and a time that RBL believe should be highlighted and commemorated.

What is the problem with the red poppy?

Some argue that the red poppy is a political message, and one that promotes and justifies war. The Authors of Blood Stained Poppy, Kevin Rooney and James Heartfield, argue that Britain’s wars are nothing to be celebrated and claim that the red poppy is a non- neutral, political movement. In the past, the red poppy has been manipulated by political movements such as Britain First to promote their cause.

The Royal British Legion contend that the red poppy is not a reflection of any political or religion movements and nor is it a symbol for death or justification for war.

What is the White Poppy?

The white poppy was first created by the Co-operative Women’s guild in 1933, and is now distributed by the pacifist organisation Peace Pledge Union (PPU). The white poppy more widely represents international peace and is dedicated as a memory to all victims across all wars, including any war which is still ongoing. PPU choose to not focus on one war or group of victims but to instead pay attention to the many civilians who have died or suffered in any war. This includes those affected with mental health as a result of conflict, those who have been made sick or homeless and the family and communities torn by war, together with those who have been killed or imprisoned for refusing to fight and for resisting war.

What are the problems with the white poppy?

Debate around the use of the white poppy claims that it is dismissive of the suffering that happened in the First World World and disrespects the thousands who sacrificed their lives to protect our security and freedom. Others also question what the donations for the white poppy go towards and whether or not the funds raised affect those raised for the Royal British Legion.

PPU say that they support the remembrance of the British Armed Forces just as the the RBL and they state that they distribute white poppies to promote remembrance for all victims of war, including the First World War. PPU also say that funds raised from the sales of the white poppy go to a variation of local peace based charities and campaigns as well as towards national campaigning and educational work on anti-militarism and non-violent approaches.

Which poppy is the right poppy for me?

What poppy you choose to wear is a matter of personal preference, there is no “correct” poppy to wear. The Royal British Legion see no conflict between the sales of their own poppy alongside the Peace Pledge Union distribution of the white poppy, the same way that the PPU supports the values of the RBL. With regards to the matter, The Royal British Legion state that  “Wearing a poppy is a personal choice and reflects individual and personal memories.” The Peace Pledge Union say that “people who wear white poppies hold a variety of views and opinions and disagree with each other on many subjects. What they share is a desire to remember all the victims of war, to challenge militarism and to stand up for peace”.

Red poppies for sale:
White poppies for sale:

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