Red poppies – white poppies: celebrating peace or….?


That time has come round again when everyone is expected to ‘wear their poppy with pride’  – but which colour?

This year it is supposed to be ‘special’ as the numbers ring up 11-11-11 -11.

The colour that gets all the attention, is of course, red . It seems there are more threatening signs that the red poppy pushers are getting a little aggressive in their marketing. Some people who have chosen not to wear it have even faced anger and abuse and accusations of being ‘unpatriotic’.

From Damian Thompson of the Telegraph

But spare a thought, too, for the men and women of theWhite Poppy appeal. And don’t make it a kind thought. This wretched outfit “believes that there are better ways of solving conflicts than killing strangers”. That is how they describe the sacrifice of British and Allied lives in the inescapable war against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.People who wear white poppies – who include the sanctimonious prats of the “Christian” think tank Ekklesia – not only dishonour our war dead: they also assert their supposed moral superiority over the 40 million Britons who wear British Legion red poppies.What should you do if you see a white poppy wearer today? At the very least – if I may borrow a phrase from my colleague Alan Cochrane – you should give them a cheery wave not involving the use of all your fingers.


The Royal British Legion has quite a narrow remit…

Perhaps best known for the yearly Poppy Appeal and Remembrance services, the Legion is a campaigning organisation that promotes the welfare and interests of current and former members of the British Armed Forces. What is not mentioned and not brought into the ‘remembrance’ is the fact that many civilians engage in the ‘war’ effort such as those working in NGO’s and organisations of the UN and also risk their lives and sometimes are maimed or are killed -they are not ‘servicemen and servicewomen’ so they are not included or ‘remembered’ ..’lest we forget’ has a hollow  ring to it when these people are discussed.

The other aspect is there is no mention of the future, only  ‘current and former members of the British Armed Forces’ . Why not campaign actively to prevent future atrocities? At least use some of the charitable funds to ensure that no child loses their parent in a war and no parent loses a child. This is something we could all support.

And what about a day to consider all the civilian casualties,particularly children, who are maimed and killed by weapons made in the US and UK?  

The Peace Pledge Union promotes the wearing of the white poppy

The power of the white poppy lies in its questioning of the dominant – and fundamentally dishonest – view of war. More than that, it carries the hopes and demands of the mothers, wives, daughters and girlfriends of the men who for whatever reason and in whatever way were diminished by their participation in war. Their hope was that we would find less brutal social institutions to solve problems and resolve conflict.

Now 89 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, which in the last decade alone killed over 10 million children

Civilian fatalities in wartime have climbed from 5 per cent at the turn of the century … to more than 90 per cent in the wars of the 1990s.

New weapons and patterns of conflict that include deliberate attacks against civilians are increasingly turning children into primary targets of war.

“Armed conflict kills and maims more children than soldiers,” notes a new United Nations report by Graça Machel, the UN Secretary-General’s Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.

“It is a basic need of children to be protected when conflicts threaten, and such protection requires the fulfillment of their rights through the implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law,” the report states.

Modern warfare is often less a matter of confrontation between professional armies than one of grinding struggles between military and civilians in the same country, or between hostile groups of armed civilians. More and more wars are essentially low-intensity internal conflicts, and they are lasting longer. The days of set-piece battles between professional soldiers facing off in a field far from town are long gone. Today, wars are fought from apartment windows and in the lanes of villages and suburbs, where distinctions between combatant and non-combatant quickly melt away.

Civilian fatalities in wartime climbed from 5 per cent at the turn of the century, to 15 per cent during World War I, to 65 per cent by the end of World War II, to more than 90 per cent in the wars of the 1990s

“Not only are large numbers of children killed and injured, but countless others grow up deprived of their material and emotional needs, including the structures that give meaning to social and cultural life,” the report says. “The entire fabric of their societies their homes, schools, health systems and religious institutions are torn to pieces.

The technology of war has also changed in ever more deadly ways. Inexpensive new lightweight weapons have made it tragically easy to use children as the cannon-fodder of modern warfare. In Uganda, an AK-47 which is simple enough for a child of 10 to strip and reassemble can be bought for the same price as a chicken, and in Mozambique for a bag of maize. Thanks to such innovations, by the late 1980s adults had put guns in the hands of as many as 200,000 children under the age of 16 in 25 countries

Children are particularly vulnerable to land-mines in a number of ways. If they are too young to read or are illiterate, signs posted to warn them of the presence of mines are useless. Also, children are far more likely to die from their mine injuries than are adults. Of those maimed children who survive, few will receive prostheses that keep up with the continued growth of their stunted limbs.

Mine removal is a lengthy and expensive business. Weapons that cost as little as $3 each to manufacture can cost up to $1,000 to remove. Land-mines can be blithely spread at rates of over 1,000 per minute, but it may take a skilled expert an entire day just to clear by hand 20-50 square metres of mine-contaminated land.

Major producers of anti-personnel landmines in the last 25 years include the Austria, China, France, Germany, Italy, the former Soviet Union, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, Vietnam and the former Yugoslavia.

The UK is a major producer of arms -in the top 5 world producers so we have a stake in the impact of these weapons. Just as the slogan ‘polluter pays’ encourages those who produce pollution should clean up afterwards perhaps arms producers have to clean up the mess left after the use of such arms.


Oscar Arias, Noble Peace Prize winner and former president of Costa Rica stated:

When a country decides to invest in arms, rather than in education, housing, the environment, and health services for its people, it is depriving a whole generation of its right to prosperity and happiness. We have produced one firearm for every ten inhabitants of this planet, and yet we have not bothered to end hunger when such a feat is well within our reach. Our international regulations allow almost three-quarters of all global arms sales to pour into the developing world with no binding international guidelines whatsoever. Our regulations do not hold countries accountable for what is done with the weapons they sell, even when the probable use of such weapons is obvious.

He also said “We need to understand that the security of a state does not necessarily come from the military. The true security of the state comes from the quality of life of the people.”

If you prefer peace than war, here are some resource sites:

World Peace Festival 

Ploughshares.org promotes investment to reduce nuclear weapons manufacture.

Global Peace initiative of women  

Global Peace Inititiatives – a brain based approach

The centre for African Affairs and Global Peace

…..and what about Peace Education? If there are any skills needed for the future they must be conflict management skills and communication skills as well as  cooperative learning opportunities.

UN Peace Education

Teachers without borders

PEN Peace Education Network  Education for Peace

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