|Pacifist groups say the traditional red remembrance symbol has become too political - but many disagree
People across the UK and the Commonwealth are preparing to pay tribute to fallen war heroes on Remembrance Day.
On 11 November and the days around it, many people choose to wear a red poppy as “a symbol for those who have given their lives in battle”, The Independent says.
However, a growing trend in recent years is seeing some people eschew the iconic red poppy in favour of a white one. To some, the white alternative is a symbol of peace and pacifism, but to others it is an insult to those who gave their lives for their country.
What is the white poppy?
The red paper poppy was initially adopted as a symbol for those who fought in the First World War, and was introduced by the American Legion in 1921. Today it is more commonly used in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The flower was chosen “because it grows wild in many fields in northern France and Belgium - where some of the deadliest battles of World War One took place”, the BBC reports.
The white poppy, on the other hand, was designed by the Co-operative Women's Guild in 1933 and adopted the following year by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) as a symbol of anti-war and pacifist sentiment, the Daily Mirror says.
“There are three elements to the meaning of white poppies: they represent remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamorise or celebrate war,” the PPU website says.
“Nearly 100 years after the end of the ‘war to end all wars’ we still have a long way to go to put an end to a social institution that even in the last decade has contributed to the killing of millions,” the site adds.
Why is it controversial?
The Royal British Legion is clear that the red poppy is not a sign of support for war and death.
When it was first adopted, it represented mourning and served as a pledge that war must never happen again. Indeed, the words “never again” were emblazoned on the original design.
However, a number of issues have caused people to turn to the white poppy. The Guardian reports that many white poppy wearers believe the red poppy “symbolises remembrance of British armed forces and its allies rather than enemies and civilians who also died in wars”.
Others “feel the red poppy has become political, and that politicians use it to help justify war”, the BBC adds.
“In Northern Ireland, for example, it became regarded as a Protestant Loyalist symbol because of its connection with British patriotism,” the PPU website says.
Some people choose to wear the white poppy as a protest against “poppy policing” or “poppy fascism” – in which “people are lambasted for not wearing the flower”, The Independent report.
But not everyone is convinced by such arguments. This week, Conservative MP and former British Army captain Johnny Mercer dismissed the white poppy movement as “attention-seeking rubbish”.
Last year, Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan, criticised the sale of white poppies in schools as “misguided”, telling The Sunday Telegraph: “I think it is perfectly reasonably for schools to discuss different political perspectives, but they should not be indoctrinating children with a left-wing political agenda.”
But the Royal British Legion has no problem with the white poppy, saying: “We have no objection to white poppies, or any group expressing their views.
“We see no conflict in wearing the red poppy alongside the white poppy. We do ask that the items are not offered alongside each other, however, as this would confuse the public.”