Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ANZAC day: Red Poppies, White Poppies and the White Feather

There's been some controversy recently about Peace Movement Aotearoa selling white poppies before the Returned Services Association's red poppy day. The money sold from white poppies goes to peace scholarships. These peace scholarships were started by Professor Cynthia Enloe where the scholarship would go to students studying the effects of war on society. The money sold from red poppies goes to the RSA's welfare services. This is a controversial situation. There's been quite a bit of animosity from some war veterans and the RSA over what Peace Movement Aotearoa has been doing. The White Poppy has also been compared to the White Feather, often thought of as a symbol of cowardice. I want to prove that The White Poppy doesn't have to be gawked at. I also want to prove that the White Feather is the complete opposite of the coward's symbol it's been made out to be. But first let's look at the Red Poppy.

The Red Poppy

What is it?

It is an international symbol of rememberance.

Where is it from?

As the RSA explain to us: It was verses by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918), a Canadian Medical Officer, which began the intriguing process by which the Flanders Poppy became immortalised worldwide as the symbol of remembrance:

Moina Michael, moved by John McCrae replied to him after his death:

"We Shall Keep the Faith"

Oh! You who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet-to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With all who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valour led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms
above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy red
We wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fiel

Madame E. Guérin, conceived the idea of widows manufacturing artificial poppies in the devastated areas of Northern France which then could be sold by veterans' organisations worldwide for their own veterans and dependants as well as the benefit of destitute French children. Throughout 1920-21, Guérin and her representatives approached veteran organisations' in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and urged them to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

So what is the White Poppy?

The White Poppy

What is it?

It is an international symbol of peace.

Where is it from?

As the BBC's well-researched rememberance page explains: The White Poppy was first introduced by the Women's Co-operative Guild in 1933 and was intended as a lasting symbol for peace and an end to all wars.

Worn on Armistice Day, now Remembrance Sunday, the White Poppy was produced by the Co-operative Wholesale Society because the Royal British Legion had refused to be associated with its manufacture.

While the White Poppy was never intended to offend the memory of those who died in the Great War, many veterans felt that its significance undermined their contribution and the lasting meaning of the red poppy. Such was the seriousness of this issue that some women lost their jobs in the 1930s for wearing white poppies. The White Poppy Appeal is now run by the Peace Pledge Union.

Professor Paul Gough, Dean of the Faculty of Art, Media and Design in Bristol has this to say about the white poppy. "There is, of course, a fundamental difference between a war monument that purports to encapsulate and define memory, and a peace monument that aims to extend a process, or to further a cause. Inevitably, the issue of political legitimacy is central to the issue of peace, as its pursuit has never served the state’s monopoly on violence. Being associated with internationalism, organisations such as the Peace Pledge Union, the white poppy movement and such like, represent a threat to the nation-state which regards an anti-war stance as anti-nation."

Of course, the white poppy isn't as internationally recognised as the red poppy. However it still features internationally. There has been controversy around its presence as well. It disappoints me that the white poppy has existed for over 70 years and many people are still worried about it.

Well-known New Zealand blogger David Farrar has accused the Peace Movement of Aotearoa of "[effectively] stealing money from the RSA". The thing is however, you're kind of playing with semantics when you wonder if money's being stolen or not. It's like being asked to give money for food or give money to research diseases. You can do both. Multiple charities can co-exist together and work together. This isn't a news paper advert asking for $500 so you can win at race horses. These donations fund scholarships given by a professional long-standing academic so people who have been affected by war can study it and learn how to help prevent it. You don't have to buy a red or white poppy. That's why it's called a donation. They are both valid and nobody's disrespecting anybody. It's been around for over 70 years. This isn't Cola vs Pepsi. They are both legitamite symbols. Everyone has there own interpretation of them and that's fine, this is a democracy after all.

There has also been associations with the white poppy and the white feather. The White feather has been known as the coward's symbol. However I think it's a symbol of courage and I'll explain why.

The White Feather

What is it?

In the Online Etymologhy dictionary, they describe the White Feather "as a symbol of cowardice, 1785, supposedly from game-cocks, "where having a white feather, is proof he is not of the true game breed" [Grose].

However, Margaret Orbell(as cited by Ana Pallesen, page 4) gives us another explanation in her book, Seabirds and people: the cultural importacne of seabirds, the illustrateed Encyclopedia of Maori Myth and Legend. The albatross(white) feathers were a spiritual symbol of peace to those affiliated with Taranaki iwi, “Let this be clearly understood by all Maoris, pakehas and all other nations. The white feather is a sign that all nations through the world will be one, black, red and all others who are called human beings. This feather will be the sign of unity, prosperity, peace and goodwill.” Te Whiti o Rongomai(Parihaka's founder) and Tohu Kakahi(Pariahaka's prophet) used the white feather as a symbol of Parihaka's non-violent resistance movement.

Where is it from?

The first explanation is from eugenics. It states if you have a white feather, you are not "true game breed" or of "good stock". This means you aren't built to fight and you aren't strong or desirable. Personally, war is not desirable. World Vision explains about war's causes to us: "Conflict is more likely to happen in poor countries, partly because people are more desperate for land, rights, water or even food. Of the 150 or more major conflicts since the Second World War, 130 of these have been in poor countries." The more we can reach solutions with peace the better. Peace is an ideal, but it's an ideal worth striving for and it can be a reality. It's an ideal the ANZACs and the people at Parihaka died for. It was a symbol of Parihaka's non-violent resistance movement and this is why I consider it a symbol of courage, as well as peace.

It will be 94 years since the ANZACs arrived at Gallipoli. While we remember our soldiers, it seems many countries have forgotten about peace.

I hope this post has given you some food for thought. Please enjoy your ANZAC day. People of Australia and New Zealand, remember the victims of war, remember our soldiers and remember what they fought for.

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