To Some People In Canada, The Remembrance Day Red Poppy Is An Offensive Symbol

Remembrance Day is just around the corner.

This November 11th carries special significance. The date will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

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TL;DR Some people reject the poppy because, they claim, it glorifies war. Some veterans also point out that the symbol has altered from its original message. Still other veterans condemn such thinking and ask Canadians to distinguish between state decisions and individual soldiers.

Across the Commonwealth Nations, it will be a day to commemorate members of armed forces who have died in the line of duty since 1914.

The most visible marker of Remembrance day, of course, is the red poppy that Commonwealth citizens affix to their lapels to signify their participation. 

But the poppy is also a point of contention. While it is widely understood as a symbol of respect, some activists reject it for what they call its glorification of conflict. Some veterans, too, object to the red poppy symbol.

Groups on the left boycott the poppy for its "flowery" depiction of war. They claim that the poppy celebrates armed conflict and serves to erase resulting civilian deaths and displacement. That's why some have adopted the white poppy as an alternative, more inclusive symbol of peace.

Many veterans further claim that the red poppy has deviated from its original message. Over time, they say, the flower has become a way to justify war and silence dissenters.

There is a difference, some assert, between the wars at the beginning of the 20th century, in which Commonwealth Nations fought against fascism and unthinkable atrocity, and the wars of aggression today, which can sometimes seem unjustifiable.

Harry Leslie Smith, a Commonwealth citizen, is probably the most famous veteran to reject the poppy.

Via Harry Leslie Smith

Other veterans have come out to strongly condemn such thinking.

In an opinion piece that came out this week in The Star, Canadian veteran William Ray recounts his own wartime traumas and asks readers to distinguish between state actors and individual soldiers. The "human beings who gave their lives," he writes, "did so in the obviously good faith belief that somehow their sacrifice could move humanity forward."

The red poppies will, of course, persist as a Remembrance Day tradition. But perhaps everyone in this debate can agree that it is important for Canadians to think critically about what the flower means before pinning it to their coats.