From the Peace Pledge Union website
An alternative view of the British Legion inspired Remembrance
ceremonies is deeply rooted in the history of the Peace Pledge
Union. The PPU’s original pledge – I renounce war and will
never support or sanction another – was taken from an
Armistice Day sermon given in 1933 in New York by Canon
Fosdick, called The Unknown Soldier. Canon Fosdick was an
army chaplain and his sermon was an apology to the men who
had been sent to their deaths in World War One: ‘If I blame
anybody…it is men like myself who ought to have known better.
We went out to the army and explained to these valiant
men what a resplendent future they were preparing for their
children by their heroic sacrifices.’ He went on to ‘renounce
war because of what it does to our own men’ and ‘what it
compels us to do to our enemies’. ‘I renounce war for its consequences,
for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying
hatred it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in the place
of democracy, for the starvation that strikes after it.’
The white poppy was conceived by the Women’s Co-operative
Guild in 1933. Members of the Guild were themselves the
wives, mothers, sisters and lovers of men who had died and
been injured in World War One. They were only too well aware
of the likelihood of another war, and chose this symbol for
peace ‘as a pledge to Peace that war must not happen again’.
The PPU joined with the Guild and later took over the distribution
as Europe once again drifted to war.
The declaration of war in 1939 put a stop to Armistice Day
ceremonies. The failure of the First World War to achieve anything
of significance was too obvious. Remembering the ‘Glorious
Dead’, who gave their all to save future generations from
war, would have sounded false even to regular Armistice Day
War affects everyone. It does not only affect those “sent to war” it affects those from whom they were sent. It affects those they were sent to kill and it effects the lives of all in the country besieged.
As Tolkien wrote in Lord of the Rings “those without swords can still die upon them”.
It has been said that the white poppy is an insult to the veterans of war, that it takes away from their sacrifice, yet it was originally a symbol of the sacrifice and grief of the families they left behind. Is their grief, and the grief of those who recently lost sons and daughters to war, disrespectful?
As we take a less romanticized view of war we recognize that while we are grateful to those that fought in the “great wars” we cannot forget that there were also great crimes. Many women were sacrificed upon the alter of victory. Women whose lives deserve to be honoured.
And while we remember the sons and daughters lost so recently in Afghanistan, let us also remember the losses of families living there.
Peace is not a four letter word. Most of those returning from the world wars spoke highly of the need for peace. Lest we forget, was the message.
Recognition of the veterans both combative and non combative, of those still being sent to war, of the families who have lost loved ones, of the women whose lives were and are so brutally and forever changed, of children from whom childhood was and is stolen, of the bloody, heart wrenching, gut wrenching, soulless enterprise that war is can and must surely exist together.
For it not to do so would be a greater insult to those who are sacrificed to war.