Poppy Appeal 2014: This is why I won't be wearing a red poppy this year

The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts in the first place

Over the next few weeks everyone will be encouraged to buy and wear a red poppy. There will be military bands playing at main line rail stations, poppy brooches on sale in department stores, trays of poppies at every supermarket checkout. This hard sell is urged on by broadcast media where it seems that everyone is compelled to wear the red poppy on camera. Poppies are flown thousands of miles so correspondents from Washington to Hong Kong are able to be seen wearing them. But there are growing numbers of people who refuse to join in, and I am one of them.

Many of us instead wear a white poppy, the symbol of peace. We do so not because we feel the suffering of those who died or were bereaved any less, everyone agrees that we should commemorate the sacrifice. But we fear that in remembering the First World War, too many people in government and military are using the compassion that people feel to justify present and future wars. While many people buy the red poppy to support soldiers returning from war, the best way of protecting their interests is to stop sending them into these disastrous conflicts in the first place.

The red poppy was adopted to commemorate the First World War, the flower chosen because of its frequent appearance in the barren wastes of the killing fields of France and Belgium. This was the ‘war to end all wars’, conducted at a catastrophic level of human loss and suffering, with millions bereaved, physically or mentally injured.

But instead of starting a period of peace, the war marked the beginning of a century of war and the development of nuclear weapons. This country has been involved directly in wars for the past 13 years, wars which have become increasingly unpopular at home, and which have failed even in the most basic of their declared aims. Modern wars do not involve the same human sacrifice as the First World War did, at least not in countries such as Britain. They do not require millions of young men to join up. However, they do need tacit public approval. Given that wars tend to be unpopular, the government and military try to recast appeals for war as support for individual troops. This is what lies behind the hugely increased profile of the poppy appeal in recent years, and the projection of the armed forces as the solution to many social ills in Britain.

I grew up in London in the 1950s and 60s, surrounded by people who had lived through wars. There were still many First World War survivors, and of course our parents’ generation had been directly involved in fighting the Second. The attitude to those wars was very different. There was little glorification of them, rather there was a very strong sense that they should not be repeated. Many of those most critical of war were those who had had some direct experience of them.

There were always commemorations of Remembrance Day, chosen to mark the armistice of the First World War in 1918, but they were relatively low key. Some people wore poppies, some did not, but there was little pressure to do so.


As there are no longer survivors of the First World War, and every year fewer of the Second, so the glorification of the wars has increased. Alongside it has gone the idea that the people who suffer in wars are the military. We know, however, that this has become less and less true. Since the Second World War casualties, the vast majority of war victims have been civilians. Yet there is precious little commemoration of them. Nor is there much recognition of those who often very bravely opposed the First World War. 

I will be wearing my white poppy as a symbol of peace, to oppose the glorification of war and the rewriting of history to this end. Because, one hundred years on, we really do need to end all wars.

Lindsey German is convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, which is hosting a conference with the No Glory campaign in London this Saturday entitled One Hundred Years of War. For further details go to www.stopwar.org.uk