While over 18 million Canadians will wear the red poppy this Remembrance Day, about 11 000 will wear a white poppy, which has been a pacifist symbol since 1926. They are worn to show support for a world without war, and to establish peace as the goal society must aspire to.

Right-wing media outlets jumped on a recent story about the Rideau Institute’s white poppy campaign. “Ottawa students don’t care if ‘white poppy’ offends vets,” read the headline. Online commenters went berserk, claiming that the white poppy was a disgrace to Canadian veterans and that people who wear white poppies should be spat on, punched out, and ultimately condemned as unpatriotic, tree-hugging liberals.

Despite the supposedly insulting break from tradition, these two poppies have much more in common than the media response would suggest. Both white and red poppies draw their significance from John McCrae’s 1915 poem In Flanders Fields, and both are worn to remember victims of war.

“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row/That mark our place: and in the sky/The larks still bravely singing fly/Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

People who condemn a poppy that calls for peace are mistakenly translating a hatred for war into disrespect for the veterans who fought in them. The white poppy only breaks with tradition by adding a moral imperative to end war, rather than merely remembering it.

White poppy campaigns also make an effort to acknowledge all victims of war. Millions of soldiers’ sacrifices are remembered, and so are innocent civilian casualties. As civilian casualty rates have risen dramatically since WWII, this issue has become even more relevant in today’s wars.   

To write off the white poppy campaign as insulting to veterans also assumes that all veterans share the same views about the purpose of Remembrance Day. Many veterans support anti-war movements and participate in campaigns that other veterans disagree with. Assuming that all veterans would be offended by the message of the white poppy is an unfair generalization.

While Canadians have bravely fought in the world's deadliest conflicts, they have also developed an international identity as advocates for peacekeeping and taking humanitarian action to avoid violent conflict. This characterization of Canada's military past lends credibility to the arguments brought up by both poppy campaigns.

Remembrance Day should not be a debate about what colour poppy people should wear; rather, it should be about the personal feelings of Canadians who feel a deep association with our military past. Ultimately, some Canadians will always disagree about what remembrance means, but all parties should ultimately treat the day as one of respect.

The best way to resolve this symbolic situation is to appreciate the mutual values both poppies represent, and wear both if so inclined, as red and white are Canada's colours.

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