Thoughts on Red vs. White Poppies
"Whilst the multicultural non-fascist Briton can don a red poppy, so can members of the fascist BNP or NF. Whilst the former respect the war dead, the latter can translate their sacrifice into an argument for the maintenance of a 'white Britain' the war dead will be alleged to have fought for. This, by the nationally and empathetically 'secular' tone of the White Poppy, is not catered to. In this, it is not so much the meaning of the Red or White Poppy that is important, but the meanings that can be attributed to it. ~ a2ed
The red poppy accords significance to the war dead – via ‘Remembrance Day’ - but in this, it can also serve to forward them as martyrs for the nationalist status quo and present the state as the ultimate fascist ideal around which everyone rallies without question. In other words, whilst people may go to war for a host of reasons, the reason that is a constant is ‘at the behest of the state’. All conscience is hence subsumed by the state and the respect that is paid to the war dead is thereafter, by association, a validation of the state as the supreme arbiter of reason. In this is founded the legacy that simultaneously weakens conscientious opposition to wars. Right and wrong has nothing to do with it and the only criteria by which right is determined is by, one, assenting to the directive of the state without question or significant opposition, and, two, perpetuating this stance via the glorification of the war dead - in the glorification of the saint, God is further elevated.
The idea of carte blanche-allegiance and popular level love and respect for soldiers drawn from the populace has the potential of confounding both. It becomes quite difficult to disengage the two as wanting to believe that one’s loved one had not died for nothing requires one to believe that it was done for a worthwhile cause. In fact, cause, over time, has little to do with it as one moves from opposing a war to 'supporting' one’s family members overseas. And if they were to meet an untimely end, it is more comforting to focus on respecting the war dead as opposed to speaking out against war as the latter can be construed as an admission that their loved ones had, well, wasted their lives for a cause of little worth.
I suppose the tussle between the people and the state and the disadvantage of the former lies in the dual identities held by the soldier. At the popular level s/he is a son, a friend, a daughter, a mother, a father. In relation to the state, s/he is none of the above as illustrated by the the soldier abiding by the state's directive whether or not it sits well at the popular level. The popular level identity is constant and a daughter is still a daughter, or a son is still a son, when they go to war despite the wishes of the popular. And to the state, the soldier is still a soldier despite her/is being a daughter/son of another. And in this is found the potential of the soldier in furthering the cause of the state whilst much gain by the populace is oftentimes incidental, or a result emerging from the soldier clearing up a mess created by the state - which leads to 'defense' at times being a defense of the people in the face of the consequences emerging from the state's prior machinations. Hence, the donning of the Red Poppy and awaiting 'royalty' and politicians to pay their respects before we do so might be construed as a subconscious recognition of the primacy of the state over the people and as the supreme arbiter of reason despite all popular sentiments and relationships.
The white poppy seems to symbolise the feminine impulse that, whilst remembering the war dead, enables this respect to go with speaking out against a traditionally masculine venture. This is a clear political stand against war just as the red poppy is also a clear political stand defined by its ambiguity. Let me put it this way, whilst the multicultural non-fascist Briton can don a Red Poppy, so can members of the fascist BNP. Whilst the former respect the war dead, the latter can translate their sacrifice into an argument for the maintenance of a 'white Britain' they will be alleged to have fought for. This, by the nationally and empathetically 'secular' tone of the White Poppy, is not catered for. In this, it is not so much the meaning of the Red or White Poppy that is important, but the meanings that can be attributed to it.
To myself, the White Poppy attempts to reclaim empathy and critical introspection for the people over the state’s position as the arbiter of reason and conscience. It is forward-looking and accepts human fallibility as a necessary human condition that requires that respect for the war dead be complemented by critical introspection. It does not mean that the war dead are disrespected, but that unjust wars are opposed. It does not allow the value of tears for the fallen to potentially be commodified for recycling by the state.
I view the Red Poppy as empathy expressed within the nation-state. As for the White Poppy, it seems to stand for empathy between mothers - the epitome of the feminine spirit - without borders. Whilst the masculine might hope for victory, the feminine pray for the safe return of their daughters and sons. Whilst the masculine divides between combatants and non-combatants, the feminine recognises the value of the daughter and son by the universal nation of mothers. That is the difference between the masculine and feminine instincts. Hence, my support for the White Poppy is simultaneously a support for the assimilation of the masculine as opposed to the incorporation of the feminine. In this, a ‘Day of Remembrance’ is complemented by a ‘Day of Reflection’; a ‘Day of national solidarity, with a ‘Day of transnational empathy’. Our love for the war dead is not compromised by our appreciation of their possibly being victims of our own short-sightedness and self-absorption. That is, to myself, the essential distinction between the two that is clearly articulated by the empathetic-focus of the White Poppy on both the dead and the living.