QJPolitics: The frivolous flower debate

Students at the University of Ottawa have reinvigorated a debate over the symbolism of red and white poppies — denoting the red poppy as promoting war, and not peace.

The white poppy has existed as a symbol of peace for a long time, but recently, a debate has emerged in regards to whether the red or the white symbolizes peace.

This debate is ridiculous and is an an issue based on petty differences. Students at the U of O, like Celyn Dufay, who was quoted in a Sun News article saying, “Young people don’t want to celebrate war,” imply that a student like myself that proudly wears a red poppy is celebrating war every November. Am I? I wasn’t aware.

The red poppy has existed since 1921 as a sign of remembrance. Made popular by the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, it was adopted by the Great War Veterans’ Association — the modern-day Royal Canadian Legion. From the beginning, the hand-made paper flowers were used to fundraise for wounded veterans. This tradition still continues today, raising more than $14 million annually.

With attention drawn to the current decline in benefits for veterans, these funds are more important than ever. To clarify, the red poppy is about remembering those who died, remembering those who served and remembering how horrible war really is.

The white poppy has a long history despite those who think mischievous students at the U of O concocted this scheme. Instead, those ne’er-do-wells first unveiled the white poppy in England in 1933. It was continuing the idea that the Great War was an example of senseless violence. It has been used in New Zealand and other countries. In Canada, the Rideau Institute, a non-profit research organization, promotes the white poppy campaign.

While the white poppy has been portrayed as the aggressor trying to monopolize the peace symbolism, red poppy advocates are arguing that the red flower doesn’t represent aggression. In reality, these aren't the only flora promoting peace.

While poppies are big in most of Canada, it is the forget-me-nots that are Newfoundland’s flower of remembrance. Newfoundland actually celebrates Memorial Day on July 1 to remember those of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment that died at the battle of Beaumont-Hamel on that day in 1916.

And what about the tulip? Ottawa’s Tulip Festival remembers the sacrifice of soldiers who died to liberate the Netherlands. The flower is one of gratitude from the Dutch, who still send 20,000 tulip bulbs each year to Canada.

You can’t forget the daisy either. It became a sign of hope and resistance that the Dutch also use to remember Canada’s role in protecting their monarch and their own efforts trying to re-establish a free peace.

And what about the rose of Sharon? The national flower of Korea has become a symbol of sacrifice and resilience in the Korean War. Beyond these, I bet I could find more flowers, trees and shrubs that promote peace.

There’s no point making this issue political. It’s not supposed to be political. The idea is to remember sacrifice, remember the scale of atrocities and remember that war is hell – to never let any of it happen again.

By making it political we forget the main message — to never forget. The media and politicians should spend less time debating which symbol is better and, instead, drawing attention to Veteran Affairs issues.

If you really want to make a fuss about what foliage someone is wearing, go after the people wearing laurels — symbols of victory. They would be the ones glorifying war and not remembering that war affects soldiers and civilians on both sides.

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