Remembrance Sunday & White Poppies

Across West Sussex on Sunday, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the last post will sound as we remember the moment when, a century ago, the guns of Europe fell silent.

I do not believe that to remember is to glorify war. The simple, quiet dignity of services at memorials across my constituency have never been celebrations of militarism. Rather, they are a sobering reminder of the scale of loss, the youth of those who gave up their lives, and the tragedy for the families they left behind.

If anything, as an elected representative who has had to decide whether to vote for military action, remembrance adds to the weight on my conscience. It is not a small thing to ask men and women to risk their lives in armed conflict.

This is why I believe the white poppy campaign is so misconceived. Its wearers effectively say: ‘We are against war, but you are for it. We are remembering with a clear conscience, but you are remembering as hypocrites’.

The white poppy is not just a pacifist symbol. It is explicitly intended as a rebuke. It imputes political and militarist motives to ordinary citizens who wear a red poppy and simply want to honour those who fought for their country.

Of course, World War One was infamously not ‘the war to end all wars’. The scale of global conflict today, and the continuing loss of life, is surely a modern tragedy. I believe we should work harder to bring armed disputes to an end. But I also believe that military action is sometimes justifiable and necessary, to defend citizens, protect freedom or prevent the loss of life.

The red poppy which we wear is a unifying symbol. It asks us to remember not just those who lost their lives in the First World War, but in the Second World War and more recent conflicts, too. It connects generations and citizens across the Commonwealth, the English Channel and the Atlantic. It is a powerful emblem of human decency and respect.

The day we will mark on Sunday is not the centenary of the start of a war, or its winning. It is Armistice Day, the moment when nations agreed to stop fighting. It is not a celebration of war, but the commemoration of sacrifice and peace.