As Remembrance Day draws closer, white poppies from the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) are, for the first time, on sale in our schools. This is surprising since the United Nations, at the UK’s prompting, has already designated an annual International Day of Peace (September 21). For ‘peace activists’ to trespass on the remembrance territory surrounding November 11 is not only unnecessary, it is, at best, grossly disrespectful and, at worst, a declaration of war on a pillar of our national identity – the armed forces.
Schools will be charged £60 of their taxpayers’ money for each ‘White Poppies for Schools Pack’ they purchase. According to the PPU website the pack includes ‘100 White Poppies in a display box, alongside an information pack with White Poppy information leaflets and Rethinking Remembrance Day resources’. The campaign was embraced by the National Union of Teachers at its conference this year.
It is easy to see the appeal. The seductive arguments of the PPU constitute ‘virtue-signalling’ of a lofty order:
‘The White Poppy symbolises the belief that there are better ways to resolve conflicts and embodies values that reject killing fellow human beings for whatever reason . . . We strive to ensure that its radical anti-war message of “no to any war” remains firmly embedded in the symbolic meaning of our white poppy.’
Writing in the Morning Star (October 16), the PPU’s co-ordinator, Symon Hill, promotes the white poppy in terms of ‘resisting attempts to glamorise, glorify or sanitise war’. He describes the British Legion’s approach to Remembrance Day as a ‘festival of hypocrisy’. He decries its ‘support for the current British armed forces’ on the grounds that this is ‘support for an institution rooted in violence, coercion and unquestioning obedience’.
Placed before immature and idealistic young people with very limited knowledge, such rhetoric is likely to prove persuasive. With the white poppy presented as the high moral ground the odds are stacked against the British Legion’s red version, tainted as it will be by a PPU interpretation of history that already has a grip on our schools.
The new national curriculum for history leaves it up to schools whether or not they teach any specific event from British history, including the two world wars. Where these wars are taught, the emphasis is too often as much on the social impact as on the military events.
A recent survey by the History Channel revealed that close to half of Brits do not know anything about the Battle of Britain and almost three-quarters could not give a year to D-Day. Around one in ten did not know that Adolf Hitler had anything to do with the war and one in 20 thought we fought on the same side as the Nazis and the Japanese. Similar surveys have indicated that levels of ignorance are particularly high amongst the under-40s.
The Peace Pledge Union is about to plug that ignorance gap.