Lately in the news there has been quite a kerfuffle surrounding the White Poppy campaign. Some cite it as being disrespectful towards veterans or that pacifists are not thankful for the freedom we have in Canada, but that simply is not the case. In this blog post, I’d like to respectfully submit to you what I have learned about the White Poppy campaign and Conscience Canada and hope that it will help clarify for you what pacifists are really up to this November 11th.
In my high school days I was first introduced to Conscience Canada, a movement that seeks to give taxes for peace and not war. For those of us from the Mennonite or similarly minded churches war is a big deal. We are pacifists for religious reasons – believing that Jesus came to deliver a Gospel of peace and that through His life we have received direction for our own lives in terms of loving and respecting all of creation. To respect all of creation means to live at harmony not just with human beings, but also with the environment. So, those of us who are pacifists seek to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted us with. The beauty of Conscience Canada, though, is that it doesn’t just extend to those who have religious motivations for not taking up a gun – it also fully recognizes those who have philosophical reasons for not fighting. One does not need to be a Mennonite or any other type of Christian for that matter, to see the horror of war. There are also many wonderful secular and atheist people who would love to see the end of violence in their life time.
I have written a lot in previous posts about my beliefs towards pacifism, and while not everyone agrees with them, I think we can all agree to respect each other’s viewpoints and move towards a greater understanding. So, this blog post is not about me exposing once again my pacifistic mindset and trying to urge you to have the same. Nor is it about trying to convince you to be part of Conscience Canada, even though I do fully support the movement. If you want more information about Conscience Canada you can always send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org because I did my major Economic Justice project for seminary on it. You can also check out CC’S website which has tons of great info: http://www.consciencecanada.ca/.
Rather, I simply want to clarify for you some misunderstandings surrounding my involvement (or uninvolvement) with Remembrance Day. Keep in mind that not all pacifists would share my view point on everything, but since I have studied peace both in and out of the academy and with Mennonites and non-Mennonites alike I feel I may have something to offer here:
1) As a pacifist I recognize that we live in a fallen world and that the world will not reach perfection until the time that Christ creates the new heavens and the new earth. I fully recognize the reality of war around us. I know that especially in World War 2 that many people felt that war was a necessary means for ending the reign of Hitler. To be a pacifist is not about pretending like these wars didn’t happen and it’s also not about turning a blind eye to the reality that many people in our world are living today. It’s also not about judging those who fight. One of the greatest things any pacifist can do is to pray constantly for those caught up in wars around the world and those who hold fast to the reasons for the fighting. Building a peaceful world begins in small ways. It’s about “choosing peace at every small corner” (to use an MCC phrase). So when we first think about pacifism we are not right away referring to the whole “what about Hitler” question, but rather, we are focusing on our present lives. How can we build harmony? How can we maintain unity in the bond of Christ? Many of us will never have to experience war in our lives, and that is a good thing. I’m profoundly blessed that I live in a relatively safe country where I, as a woman, can venture almost anywhere I want without fear of attack of bombs or tear gas. Since I am not a trained solider, I will also never have to fight overseas. Therefore, wrestling with the question of war can be a profoundly philosophical one, but it’s simply not practical. It makes way more sense for me to focus my energies and efforts on living peaceably with neighbours and friends.
2) As a pacifist I respect veterans. That’s right, RESPECT. I do not agree with war because I believe it goes contrary to the message that Jesus presented in the New Testament. I also come with the understanding that it is hard to make sense of all the wars in the Old Testament, especially when God commanded fighting. With my flawed human understanding, I cannot reckon it. However, I do believe that Jesus took all that violence upon Himself when He died on the cross leaving us with a profound understanding of what it truly means to love one’s enemies and to not seek revenge. Yet, even though I don’t agree with fighting, I can still respect soldiers who have fought both in the past and in the present.
3) Sometimes people feel that pacifists are taking advantage of all the freedom we have while not doing anything to defend our country. This is simply not true. Being a pacifist is not the same as being a passivist. We aren’t quietly watching the world go by while doing nothing. Peace takes guts. In fact, it is profoundly difficult to live a life of peace in a culture that is obsessed with war and violence. Pacifists are active people who have chosen to bring their message out in non-violent ways. Some of them have risked their lives for it. Think of some of the most famous non-violent civil disobedience leaders – Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ghandi. Each one lost their life. I don’t think their message was that easy to spread, and yet they did it anyways because they believed in it.
4) Being a pacifist is NOT about NOT participating in Rememberance Day. As a pacifist I can still obeserve a moment of silence. That moment of silence not only allows me the opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives in battle, but to also pray for a more peaceful world to come about. It’s a time to not only be humbled by the sacrifice of troops, but also to pray for those who have lost their loved ones because of war. Every time there is a war many innocent civilians (especially women and children) lose their lives. We need to pause and remember them. I have a hard time saying that I “honour” vets because I don’t honour killing. I believe killing is murder and goes against the Bible. But even if I don’t honour what they are doing or their motivation for it, I can still honour them because they are people and when anyone dies we are humbled and brought to an understanding of our common humanity.
5) What to wear – On November 11th many pacifists will wear the “To Remember is to Work for Peace” pin. This is our statement to the world that we are not accepting the wars as being an end in themselves, but we are accepting them as motivation to continue towards a culture of peace which is our understanding of what Jesus ultimately wants each one of us to be a part of. The first part of the pin is about remembering. As I keep saying, being a pacifist has absolutely nothing to do with forgetting. If we truly want to work towards peace than we have no choice but to remember the horrors of what have taken place before. I have often heard it said that if anyone knows the pain and horror of wars it is those who have fought in it. I don’t think many people enjoy fighting and killing. So let’s remember them. Let’s remember those who are living with PTSD from what they have seen, and those who have had to bury sons long before their time. But let’s not stop there. Let’s also work for peace in big ways and in small ways. As long as we live in this world wars will never cease, but our own personal attitude towards revenge and our own lust for power can stop if we don’t allow it to control our lives.
WHITE POPPIES ARE FOR A CULTURE OF PEACE – Please read Conscience Canada’s White Poppy statement here: http://www.consciencecanada.ca/?p=336
Conscience Canada words it beautifully here when they say, “The board of Conscience Canada wishes to endorse efforts by peace activists in Ottawa towards building a relationship of mutual respect for the red and white poppy, for all those who have died and suffered in war, and for all those who participate in Veterans Week and Remembrance Day events, regardless of the colour of the poppy or poppies they wear. As we consulted to come up with a statement, we realized that it is important to recognize that the white poppy tradition continues to be rooted in deep concern with the “subtext” or assumptions that underlie mainstream Remembrance Day discourse and events. We would like to question some of these assumptions. For instance, to what degree do we owe our freedoms to people dying and killing for us? We encourage people to wear both a red and a white poppy, the red to symbolize our respect for the great sacrifices made by many in the armed forces, the white to rededicate ourselves to create a true culture of peace and to remember others caught up in war, including those who have struggled nonviolently for a better world, helping humankind to see and embody the best of what is meant by the word “humanity”. There is the ancient maxim: “If you want peace, prepare for war”; we are convinced that “if you want peace, prepare for peace and work for justice.