Full disclosure: I have a white poppy on my coat right now. This is apparently a contentious thing these days, though I’ve not yet experienced much more than a raised eyebrow or two.
Apparently, there’s a cultural conclusion being made that anyone who chooses to wear anything other than the red poppy (including nothing at all) is showing disrespect for veterans, for those lost in combat, and for current soldiers. Canada’s current Veterans’ Affairs Minister Julian Fantino considers the white poppy “offensive” to veterans. I would argue that it is far more offensive that disabled veterans need to sue the Canadian government in order to regain benefits.
My understanding of the meaning of the white poppy is not that it’s better, or that the red poppy glorifies war. I’ve stayed out of the poppy debate altogether because my reasons for wearing it are not reflected by the words of the Rideau Institute.
I’d like to talk for a sec about history. The white poppy campaign was started by the mothers, wives, and sisters of soldiers of WWI: both those who were killed in combat, and those who returned home. The women who knew these soldiers best wanted to create a world where they would never again have to go back to fight, where no one else would be lost – soldier and civilian alike. The women who knew these soldiers experienced the untreated mental illness many soldiers brought home with them in the form of alcoholism, drug addiction, abandonment, and physical and sexual abuse.
Soldiers are still coming home in body bags, almost 100 years later. Soldiers are still coming back broken. Female soldiers are at particular risk, less from combat as they are from their fellow soldiers. Partners and children of soldiers who return are still at risk of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, financial. Canadian soldiers, like their civilian counterparts, have poor access to mental health supports and arguably need them far more than the average Canadian struggling with their mental health.
I don’t want to fight with people. I want to create space for dialogue in which we can talk about the impact of the loss of a parent or partner or family member to war. I want to talk about the impact of a soldier returning to their family. I want to talk about the everyday realities of those affected by what a member of their family has experienced. I want politicians like Fantino to understand that dissension is not offensive: it’s freedom of expression. I also want Fantino in particular to understand that engaging in name-calling while actively making the lives of soldiers and their families harder is far more offensive than the act of wearing a white poppy.
I want us to remember.
Then, I want us to act.