Don’t conflate the desire for peace with pacifism


With Remembrance Day approaching and the red poppy-white poppy debate undergoing it’s annual re-emergence – pacifism has been on my mind lately.

While my entry into active politics was via campaigning against the Iraq War, it’s never been an idea that’s appealed. My ingrained suspicion of inflexible doctrines made it seem rather off. It’s appropriation of the term ‘peace’ seemed platitudinous: we all prefer war to peace. The question is how to bring it about. And being aware of the conflicts in the Balkans and Sierra Leone – and the failure to intervene in Rwanda – I was acutely aware that sometimes peace required defeating those determined to wage war.

This point is ably made in an article by James Bloodworth about the inherently political nature of Remembrance. It contains this scathing potted history of the pacifist white poppy:

Said to symbolise ‘an end to all wars’, the problem with the white poppy is similar to that of the peace movement in general: ‘peace’ often translates as little more than a desire to keep one’s hands clean and retreat into childish certainties. This was demonstrated by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) in the 1930s, where the white poppy originates. So keen were the PPU on ‘peace’ that they remained neutral during the Spanish civil war as General Franco’s fascists slaughtered working class anarchists and socialists. They also remarked in an official pamphlet of 1938 that there was “…no reason why Germany should not have colonies”.

I’m afraid this has contemporary resonance because of a ‘peace movement’ clustered around the ‘Stop the War’ coalition which concluded the US was a greater danger to Libyans than Gaddafi and that military intervention to stop Assad massacring his own people was a ‘stepping stone’ to the US’s ‘ultimate goal’ of attacking Iran. These positions speak less to a concern for peace than a paranoid anti-Americanism.

Let me conclude with words written in 1941 by the American clergyman and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned his countrymen who wanted to stay aloof from the war in Europe that:


One thought on “Don’t conflate the desire for peace with pacifism

  1. Pingback: The War of the Poppies – Peace at any Price? | hungarywolf

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