I was lucky to have a great-grandfather that stayed (stubbornly) on this earth until he was 96 years old. I was 11 when he passed, and had already heard many of his stories—some of which were from his service in WWI & WWII. While I’m certain that much of what I heard was “flavoured” by the decades between his experiences and when I heard about them—especially since he once told my father that when you’ve outlived everyone who could contradict you, you get to make the stories—what he told me was enough to make the wars a little more real and personal for me, despite a massive generational gap. Finding out about his experience with being gassed in the trenches, or how his knee was shot out and his one leg put back together inches shorter than the other, made every Remembrance Day mean something to me.
Part of being a good Dad will be about making the concept of war real for my sons, as well, so that they know and appreciate what others have sacrificed in the search for peace and safety.
Perhaps that’s why I dislike the controversy surrounding white poppies. In case this is new to you, there is a group of people who hand out white poppies to promote peace and the remembrance of civilian deaths as a result of war. This is packaged, to a certain extent, with a general disdain for all things that may glorify war—which, some of the group argues, includes the red poppy and all it stands for. A lot of people were particularly outraged over the group’s plans to distribute white poppies during Remembrance Day ceremonies—and rightly so, I would say.
I don’t disagree that civilian deaths should be remembered as a part of the cost of war, nor do I disagree with the message of peace—though I find it a little redundant. The way Remembrance Day was taught to me is simple, but profound: we celebrate peace by remembering the terrible cost of it and those who paid it on our behalf. Like liberty, peace is only free until someone threatens it—then it is one of the most expensive things to keep hold of, or win back. The red poppy and Remembrance Day do not glorify war; they remind of us of the terrible price of engaging in it, and encourage us to vigilantly preserve our peace and freedom through other means, to ensure that we never again have to resort to war.
If the white poppy groups want to distribute their wares, I see no problem with them doing so, and I can even see value in people wearing both poppies, to ensure that the civilian casualties of war are remembered. But we must NEVER forget those that left the safety of their homes to preserve our freedom and purchase peace for future generations; blessed few of the soldiers of WWI and WWII remain, and soon there will be none at all—that is why we must remain vigilant, hold their memories close, and pass on the knowledge of Remembrance Day to the next generation. For if no one remembers the horrors of the past, how will they ever know to avoid them?