In honour of Remembrance Day, The Goat published two editorials. One, by Editor Korie Marshall and the other by publisher Laura Keil. Both look at the history and significance of the red and the white poppy, and both offer some thought-provoking points and modern-day interpretations of Remembrance Day.

White poppies detract from fundraising for war vets

By Korie Marshall

Symbols can be very powerful. They can also be problematic when we don’t all associate the same meaning with any given symbol.

A typical example is the cross. It has taken many forms throughout recorded history, and many of us today associate it with Christianity. But in the early days after Christ, when Christians were persecuted by the Romans, it was dangerous to display a cross, so people would often disguise it by adding tails to the cross – what many of us recognize nowadays as the swastika.

The swastika itself now has negative connotations to many because of its use in Nazi Germany, but it has also been used by societies all over the world, from Tibetan Buddhists to Greco-Roman art to the Dine (Navajo) of central North America, and as far back as the Bronze Age civilizations in the Indus Valley. Both the cross and the swastika have meant many things, and I imagine there have been arguments throughout history when two meanings were seen for the same symbol, or two symbols had the same meaning.

Arguments and debates have popped up this last week or so over the white poppy, and I hope the root of those debates is misunderstanding. Both the white and red poppy have been used around the world for many years, and an article in the National Post this week, called “Why we wear poppies, both red and white” gives a nice overview of their history, and their connection to each other.

I haven’t seen any white poppies for sale, but I am suspicious of someone who is not working for the Royal Canadian Legion trying to sell poppies around Remembrance Day.

It may be different in other countries, but in Canada, the Legion has been raising funds for our veterans and their families for years with the proceeds from selling poppies. I admit I haven’t always understood this, but when I wear a poppy I am saying two things: I support services for veterans and their families (by my donation), and I remember those who have been lost (by wearing a poppy).

Many arguing for the white poppy say that it means something different from the red poppy; that the white poppy honours peace and civilians, while the red poppy glorifies war. I think Brett Wilson, formerly on Dragon’s Den, countered that point well on social media. He said the red poppy does not glorify war any more than the daffodil glorifies cancer.

Personally, I think if you want to wear a white poppy throughout the year, and you feel that symbolizes peace and honouring people, that is your right. But when an organization tries to sell a poppy at the same time the Legion is, I have to wonder where their funds are going to, and why they chose Remembrance Day to sell their poppies.


Red poppy, white poppy: what about civilians?
By Laura Keil

Let me be clear I’m not a white poppy evangelizer. I wear a red poppy every year. But the issue has made me think about Remembrance Day and how inclusive it is.

For someone with family on multiple sides of the Second World War as well as family who were civilians during the conflict, Remembrance Day has always been a thought-provoking time and broad in its meaning.

In the 1930s, when the white and red poppies were both used, their meanings and causes were slightly different from each other and have changed over the years. Over time, the red poppy has become the standard one. It seems everyone has their own definition to what the red and white poppies mean. This makes an already emotional debate even more difficult.

The red poppy funds go to veterans, and most definitions of the red poppy say it represents the past and present sacrifice of service people. That’s fine. I support veterans and have known the struggles they encounter following discharge. They need our support.

I believe it’s also important, however, to remember the children, the men and the women who perished or became refugees in the midst of such conflicts as civilians. Let’s put the white vs. red debate aside and ask ourselves, ‘Why not include civilian casualties as part of the Remembrance Day ceremony?’ Do they somehow conflict with each other?

Obviously I wear a red poppy to honour the sacrifice of veterans and acknowledge the peace they fought for. I have no qualms about that. I don’t believe it glorifies war or encourages conflict. It’s due respect for a heavy sacrifice by many to guarantee the freedoms we have today – including free speech!

At the same time, the red poppy officially stands for the service and sacrifice only of veterans, whereas in today’s
world 90 per cent of war casualties are civilians.

Shouldn’t ‘remembrance’ not just be about service people, but also to remember how terrible war is? What about the civilian heroes?

Very few Canadians have a connection to civilians caught in a war zone, except for immigrants who are generally marginalized from the national debate. Don’t they have a right to remember their loved ones who perished innocently in a conflict? Is there another day for that? I’d like Remembrance Day to be the day when I can reflect on all my relatives who died in the war including the ones who did not enlist. I do it anyway, but I often question why it’s not officially part of the program.

I don’t see how remembering all sacrifices diminishes from remembering service people. My heart is big. It only takes one extra line in the ceremony to call attention to all people’s sacrifices.

As far as the poppy fund goes, why has the poppy fund become so important? Because the government has cut services to veterans! The legion is picking up the slack where the government is failing. Is that fair to veterans? Why aren’t we doing a better job of defending our veterans outside Remembrance Day?

The white poppy has become extremely politicized to the point where debate is impossible, and I don’t align myself with it. There’s a lot of finger-pointing, name calling, and people saying they are offended on both sides. I still wear the red poppy.

But the debate has made me think about the meaning of Remembrance Day and how inclusive it is. Personally I’d like to see the discourse around the red poppy change to explicitly include all people’s sacrifices during wartime. Then I would agree the white poppy or purple poppy or orange poppy is superfluous.