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Never Again: Peace Education and Remembrance Day

 

This peace education kit is designed to help educators promote peace as a goal and critical thinking as an approach, especially as concerns Remembrance Day commemorations.

For some people, Remembrance Day evokes quite conflicted feelings. On the one hand, we think it is important to remember the fact of war and how horrible it is. On the other, we want to do our utmost to prevent and end war and militarism, so we are uncomfortable with some of the assumptions often promoted in mainstream discourse. For instance, to what degree is it really true that we owe our freedoms to people dying and killing for us? To what degree is fighting in war “heroic”? Are there alternative, nonviolent ways to uphold the values we hold dear?

The lesson plans and resources in this kit will hopefully help you think of appropriate ways to promote nonviolence and respect for alternative ways of looking at war and militarism. You may wish to focus on the central symbol of Remembrance Day, the poppy. It is fascinating to learn that there is a white “peace” poppy tradition that is almost as old as the conventional red poppy tradition. In the early 1920′s both the British and Canadian legions (then called the Great War Veterans’ Association of Canada in this country) began to promote the wearing of red poppies as a symbol of remembrance and as a fundraising tool. Interestingly, there is strong evidence that the Canadian author of the poem which inspired the red poppy tradition, John McCrae, intended for his poem to be read as an anti-war poem, not as a plea for those soldiers still alive to continue the attack against the “enemy”. However, mainstream interpretation of the poem and indeed much of the discourse around Remembrance Day has contributed to the unquestioning acceptance of war as inevitable and even of glorifying contributions to war by the soldiers of the country where the poppies are being distributed.

In Britain, the No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion ought to print “No More War” in the centre of the poppies, instead of “Haig Fund”. When this suggestion failed to be adopted, some people decided to go ahead and make their own flowers.

In 1933 the Co-operative Women’s Guild started producing white poppies. The Guild stressed that the white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in war. Indeed, many of the women had lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers in the First World War. The following year the newly founded Peace Pledge Union joined with the Guild in distributing white poppies and later took over producing and promoting them.

In Canada, many of the peace activists who have adopted the white poppy tradition are uncomfortable with the conventional Remembrance Day focus on remembering only “our” soldiers. They feel it is important to remember others who suffer in war, especially now, when most casualties are civilians. Also, they want to remind themselves and everyone that there are alternatives to war! Supposedly, soldiers fight to protect people and fundamental rights. It is important to realize that even in cases of extreme human rights violations, such as the Holocaust of WW II, or other genocides, there were people whose commitment to humanitarian values gave them the courage to resist genocide, not with guns, but with acts of nonviolent resistance. Sometimes these people were successful in saving lives. Arguably, these acts of nonviolence always succeed in uplifting the human spirit, in helping humanity as a whole evolve towards a way of living where war and militarism would have no legitimacy.

Especially in recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis from government especially, on Canada’s tradition as a “courageous warrior”. However, Canada also has a long tradition of courageous resistance to war and militarism, of welcoming pacifist groups who were fleeing persecution in other countries and of respect for those who were conscientious objectors to war.

With time, we hope to expand this kit to include more information about this aspect of Canada’s history. In the meantime, we hope you will find this kit useful and inspirational… and maybe you will be inspired to contribute something yourself to future versions of the kit. You can send your contributions to <info@consciencecanada.ca> or to <info@vowpeace.org>
or call Jan at (250) 537-5251 for more information.

 
Documents

For information on how to make your own white poppies or order manufactured ones, as well as how to print business-card sized leaflets, go to: http://members.shaw.ca/peacepoppies/peacepoppies-how.html . (The manufactured ones are quite beautiful, but there are many reasons to prefer the option many Canadians use – making their own. You can order limited numbers of sample home-made poppies and get ideas for making your own through <info@consciencecanada.ca>. )

Other lesson ideas, including an English version of the lesson featuring UNESCO’s 6 principles for a culture of peace, are available from <info@consciencecanada.ca>.