It's that time of year. The Times reports:
There was not a white poppy in sight as the Duke of Edinburgh opened the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey yesterday. The red poppy, by contrast, was out in force as survivors of numerous conflicts gathered to watch him lay a small wooden cross among thousands of others at the memorial.
As the crowd walked among the crosses, planted in memory of those who fell in battles from the Somme to Basra, there was anger at criticism this week of the red poppy by the religious think-tank Ekklesia.
Servicemen and women, virtually all wearing the emblem, defended it against claims that a white flower was a more Christian symbol of remembrance. Warrant Officer Bob Bainbridge, of the Royal Navy, said that the think-tank had missed the point.
“[The white poppy] is not relevant to what the red poppy is: the first flower that grew on the battlefields of the First World War. These people come here every year as a pilgrimage. It’s full of tradition.”...
White poppies have existed as a secular, pacifist alternative symbol since 1933.
Jan Melickar, co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union, which distributes the flowers, said: “This remembrance affair is to remember the British military dead, but there are a lot of others, including civilians, the hard-core victims of war. They were killed by the people we are remembering.”
Melichar (not Melickar - the newspaper has the name wrong) is at least not disguising his belief that our armed forces' actions in liberating Europe from fascism were wrong. The controversy over the poppies arises every year. I wrote about it a couple of years ago in a post that I'm reproducing below.
White-poppy wearers, then and now.
My regular Respect-watching correspondent draws my attention to the views of Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, on the 'White Poppies' campaign of the Peace Pledge Union. In The Independent last week, Ms German stated:
The poppy is the symbol of the millions of people who died in the First World War. People wear them because they don't want such wars to happen again. Politicians such as Tony Blair, who will lay wreaths at the Cenotaph on Sunday, are taking us into new and dangerous and illegal wars and the poppy is being used by them for their own ends.
For this reason I would not wear a red poppy. I will be wearing a white poppy because it is the symbol of peace.
More accurately, the white poppy is the symbol of an organisation that comprehensively failed to inoculate itself against pro-Nazi elements in British public life in the late 1930s, and whose views even as the full extent of Nazi barbarity became known were strikingly devoid of self-criticism. I recommend on this subject the standard historical work Semi-Detached Idealists: The British Peace Movement and International Relations, 1854-1945, by Martin Ceadel (2000), from which I have taken the three quotations that follow.
John Middleton Murry, editor of the pacifist journal Peace News during WWII, wrote in that magazine on 9 August 1940:
Personally I don't believe that a Hitlerian Europe would be quite so terrible as most people believe it would be.
The best that can be said of Murry is that, unforgivably foolish as this judgement was (did he imagine Kristallnacht was mere youthful high spirits that would be toned down with the responsibilities of the occupation of Europe?), at least he had the belated sense after the war to acknowledge the truth about the moral failings of pacifism. (He is now best remembered as a literary critic and editor of the brilliant short stories of his late wife, Katherine Mansfield.) The pacifist Peace Pledge Union overall cannot be acquitted so lightly. Right up till 1943, the Marquess of Tavistock, founder of the pro-Nazi and antisemitic British People's Party, was winning election to the national council of the PPU. He was nominated for the council also in 1944, but declined to serve. In Peace News, 30 October 1942, he invoked the following rationalisation for Nazi aggression in Europe:
... the very serious provocation which many Jews have given by their avarice and arrogance when exploiting Germany's financial difficulties, by their associations with commercialized vice, and by their monopolization of certain professions.
To honest pacifists, the gas chambers - and the consequent certain knowledge that every Jew in Europe would have been killed had the allied powers not taken up arms - were a cause of personal shame as well as horror. Not, however, to the most famous of all British peace campaigners, Vera Brittain, author of Testament of Youth (and, incidentally, mother of the current  Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Williams of Crosby - who would certainly not share her mother's view of WWII). In one of her regular letters to her fellow-campaigners, on 3 May 1945, Vera Brittain maintained that the gas chambers were being publicised by the allies:
... partly, at least, in order to divert attention from the havoc produced in German cities by allied obliteration bombing.
Thus an ethical objection to war - grossly misguided, but not inherently ignoble - became a position indifferent to tyranny and genocide, uncomprehending of the moral imperative of combating evil, and even complicit in support of that evil. Lindsey German, London mayoral candidate for Respect and convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, wears the symbol of that campaign with pride - and, I must say, a certain historical appropriateness.