No More War; Wearing a White Poppy for Peace

9.11.14

Andy Worthington wears a white poppy for Remembrance Day on November 9, 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).On Remembrance Sunday in the UK, I stand with those who say “No More War,”  and I refuse to be co-opted by the British establishment, which, shamefully, from the government to the media, insists that everyone should wear a red poppy, and, like a true authoritarian regime, pretends that not doing so is unpatriotic.

As a pacifist, today I am wearing with pride a white poppy, with the single word “Peace” in the middle of it, that was given to me last week by a work colleague during a presentation on the history of London that I gave at Central School of Speech and Drama, part of the University of London.

The white poppy was produced by the Peace Pledge Union, which describes itself as “the oldest secular pacifist organisation in Britain,” and which, since 1934, “has been campaigning for a warless world.”

The red poppy was initially chosen as an emblem by survivors of the First World War, and in the UK artificial poppies were sold to raise funds for ex-servicemen — particularly disabled ex-servicemen — following the formation of the British Legion in 1921. As the Peace Pledge Union website explains, “Everyone who fought in Belgium and northern France had noticed the extraordinary persistence and profusion of an apparently fragile flower: the cornfield poppy, which splashed its blood-red blooms over the fields every summer. It blooms there to this day, on the fields now returned to the farming they were meant for, and from which the bones of the dead are still collected as the farmers’ ploughs uncover them.”

Describing the “problems” with the political manipulation of the red poppy, the Peace Pledge Union website states, “Some people who have chosen not to wear it have faced anger and abuse. It’s also got involved with politics. In Northern Ireland, for example, it became regarded as a Protestant Loyalist symbol because of its connection with British patriotism. And a growing number of people have been concerned about the poppy’s association with military power and the justification of war.” A prominent opponent of wearing a red poppy is Wigan footballer James McClean, whose letter explaining his reasons is here.

The Peace Pledge Union website also states that the idea of decoupling the red poppy and Armistice Day (which was only renamed Remembrance Day after the Second World War) from the prevailing military culture dates back to 1926, when a member of the No More War Movement (established in 1921 as a replacement for the No Conscription Fellowship, which was formed in opposition to compulsory conscription in 1914) “suggested that the British Legion should be asked to imprint ‘No More War’ in the centre of the red poppies instead of ‘Haig Fund’ [a reference to the Earl Haig Fund, a charity set up in 1921 by, ironically, by the British First World War military leader known widely as “the Butcher of the Somme”] and failing this pacifists should make their own flowers.” The Peace Pledge Union notes that the details of any discussion with the British Legion are unknown, but “as the centre of the red poppy displayed the ‘Haig Fund’ imprint until 1994 it was clearly not successful.”

In 1933, after input from the Co-operative Women’s Guild, the first white poppies appeared on Armistice Day, and continue to be worn to this day, although they are not promoted by the establishment. They can be ordered from the Peace Pledge Union — and next year I intend to buy a box and hand them out to my friends.

As the Peace Pledge Union explains, “The white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War — a war in which many of the white poppy supporters lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers — but a challenge to the continuing drive to war.”

I cannot agree more — and I always make a point of saying that we, the pacifists, actually care more about our soldiers than the so-called patriots, because we don’t want them being sent, in the first place, to wars in which we should not be involved. This is something that is painfully apparent right now, as our involvement in Afghanistan comes to an end, with the loss of British lives — and far more Afghan lives — that no one can adequately explain.

As the Second World War veteran and social activist Harry Leslie Smith explained in an article for the Guardian last year, entitled, “This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time”:

Over the last 10 years the sepia tone of November has become blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders. The most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts. The American civil war’s General Sherman once said that “war is hell,” but unfortunately today’s politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good.

Smith added, “From now on, I will lament their passing [the ‘soldiers, airmen and sailors’] in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy.”

Smith proceeded to provide a devastating analysis of the slaughter of the First World War, and why the government’s attempts to dress it up as part of “British values” is so offensive:

We must remember that the war was fought by the working classes who comprised 80% of Britain’s population in 1913.

This is why I find that the government’s intention to spend £50m to dress the slaughter of close to a million British soldiers in the 1914-18 conflict as a fight for freedom and democracy profane. Too many of the dead, from that horrendous war, didn’t know real freedom because they were poor and were never truly represented by their members of parliament.

My uncle and many of my relatives died in that war and they weren’t officers or NCOs; they were simple Tommies. They were like the hundreds of thousands of other boys who were sent to their slaughter by a government that didn’t care to represent their citizens if they were working poor and under-educated. My family members took the king’s shilling because they had little choice, whereas many others from similar economic backgrounds were strong-armed into enlisting by war propaganda or press-ganged into military service by their employers.

80 years since the white poppies first began to be produced and worn, the establishment’s position on war has not fundamentally changed. Below is a powerful video by Vincent Burke, featuring his song “On Remembrance Day,” which was featured on the website of the excellent campaigning organisation Veterans for Peace UK, whose members will be walking to the Cenotaph at 2pm today carrying a banner that reads, “Never Again,” and will be holding a brief ceremony at the Cenotaph to remember all of those killed in war.

The video shows all the many many wars the UK has been involved in since 1914 — all supported by the Church of England — and says that “if 2015 is a year of peace for the UK, it will be the first for a hundred years.”

Ever since Tony Blair took us into an illegal war in Iraq, following the largest protest in British history, when two million people marched against the war, it has seemed to me that we pacifists very possibly now outnumber the warmongers in the UK. Perhaps one day our dreams will come true, and Britain will cease to be such a relentless aggressor — and we can slash our annual £57 billion war budget and our absurd commitment to Trident and spend that money on peace and on the people.

Until then, I — and many, many other people — will continue to wear our white poppies with pride.

Note: If you are interested in peace, please also see the World Beyond War website.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

36 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    For Remembrance Sunday, here’s my explanation of why I am wearing a white poppy, and why it is so upsetting, as a pacifist, to see how the UK establishment has attempted to make it obligatory to wear a red poppy, or be perceived as unpatriotic, and how the red poppy has increasingly become a form of propaganda for the warmongers, and not a way of remembering those who lost their lives in war.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Beverley Martin wrote:

    Andy, that’s a great article and representative of my own feelings. I find the poppy fascism seen in the media and on social media at this time of year really horrifying and sad. Death threats to a footballer whose explanation for why he doesn’t want to wear a poppy was perfectly rational?? My refusal to wear an opium leaf has nothing to do with my respect for those who gave their lives – and those whose lives were taken who never signed up to fight – who I will be silent for when the time comes. Those demanding the wearing of poppies are blind to the irony of their behaviour.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Beverley. Great to hear from you. What I’ve seen in recent years is: 1) an increase in patriotism (which Bob Dylan described as “the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings” in “Sweetheart Like You” in the early 80s) particularly pushed during the Olympics, so that flags are everywhere – particularly on shirts and as decor in people’s homes; and 2) an increase in support for the Royal Family, so that their approval rating is higher now than it has been for years, even though a bloated Royal Family like the UK’s is clearly nothing to do with democracy and all to do with people “knowing their place.” It’s actually quite depressing, especially when I see young people buying into it, who haven’t figured out that they’re being manipulated.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    Excellent article, Andy. There needs to be a much more heightened public awareness of what you describe: “how the red poppy has increasingly become a form of propaganda for the warmongers, and not a way of remembering those who lost their lives in war.” I think there are many people who believe the red poppy represents remembering and honouring those who fought and died in the war, and not a form of propaganda for warmongers. Among these are those who do sincerely believe white poppy wearers are not honouring the dead. So I don’t think it’s a simple as you suggest.What’s needed, as I say, is making more people aware of the negative aspects of the red poppy and the positive ones of the white poppy.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Pauline. Yes, there are certainly a number of issues involved, such as being anti-war but not belittling the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives in WWI and WWII, for example. Personally, I think it’s important, in the here and now, to point out that those of us who don’t want us embroiled in wars that we shouldn’t be involved in are actually doing more for our soldiers than those who send them to war zones where, of course, they can be killed or injured. I would have a hard time, for example, explaining to my son, who is nearly 15, what possible explanation there has been for British soldiers to have been in Afghanistan almost the whole of his life.

  6. Cosmic Surfer says...

    Andy

    After Korea and Vietnam, I had hoped to see peace in my lifetime…Sadly, I have seen more and more brutal wars declared for little other reason than to feather old men’s wallets and justify their power lust.

    Today, I live in a nation that has declared perpetual war against anyone who has the audacity to say “no” to our hubris and imperialism…

    I can only hope that, someday, the planet will declare peace with love, humility and understanding of common cause.

    I doubt, seriously, it will be in my lifetime but I will continue to push to see it in our children’s…

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Cosmic Surfer. Yes, I had hoped to see peace too after the unprecedented horror of Vietnam – so brutal, so far from home, so pointless – but after the psychic shock of the 70s the warmongers rallied under Ronald Reagan, then we had the peace dividend that wasn’t when the Soviet Union fell, because Dick Cheney was the defense secretary, and then we had the first Iraq War. Since 9/11, of course, it’s all spiralled ever more out of control, so that now we really do seem to have the state of permanent war that the warmongers have always wanted.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    Yes, Andy, that’s why I said we need more public awareness. I think there’s an awful lot of people who simply do not realise that the red poppy is not a simple form of remembrance, and that they wrongly believe that the white poppy represents a dishonour to the dead. Until these misunderstandings are cleared up we will continue to have people feeling upset at people who do not wear red poppies and people who wear white poppies. And the media doesn’t help.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Pauline. Yes, it’s the hijacking of appropriate remembrance by opportunists, or the enforced requirement to support “our boys” that I can’t accept. I just looked up “Remembrance Sunday,” for example, and what’s the first, sponsored entry at the top of Page 1? Sainsbury’s Poppy Appeal – tag line, “Support our armed forces. Find out how to get involved today.”

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    We’ve just got to keep on enlightening people.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s all part of a process, like educating people about Guantanamo, Pauline. It’s funny, I’m particularly appalled by the war hype this year – perhaps because we’re finally out of Afghanistan, no one seems to be even trying to say that those 13 years were worthwhile, and yet here we are now in the early stages of The War on Terror 2.0, and we’re supposed to trust our governments and the military-industrial-intelligence complex when they tell us to be afraid and not to question anything they say is necessary. Selling war is like selling us all the other crap they try to sell us – it’s all about making more money for them, and keeping a pliant population shopping and scared, and very little of it – if any at all – is actually necessary or useful for any of us.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    Well said Andy. I’m more than ever disgusted this year, having spent a long time researching and writing a short story about those whose lives have been shattered by the Iraq war on both sides. I’m trying to get it published but fear it is too controversial for anyone to publish it.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Your story sounds fascinating, Pauline, and I hope you find someone interested in publishing it. My son is doing GCSE History, and they study Vietnam, so we watched a few documentaries, and Apocalypse Now! and the horror of it all came flooding back.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, I have a white poppy just like that one.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m glad we both have the same white poppy, Willy. Did anyone else out there wear a white poppy today?

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Beverley Martin wrote:

    It’s the politics of the poppy, as you highlight here Andy, that are wrong to me, particularly now that Britain First have also hijacked it. Patriotism (and increasingly, jingoism) should not be synonymous with the poppy. I’m considered un-patriotic for not wearing one, despite the fact that I have given money to British Legion collectors. However, I actually don’t consider myself to be ‘patriotic’; I’m not particularly proud of living in a country whose leaders historically colonised a huge chunk of the globe, forcing humans into slavery, a country whose leaders justify torture against individuals who are refused the right of due process. Nor am I proud of the recent invasions of other countries under the guise of humanitarian imperialism.

    I don’t mind seeing poppies all over my facebook feed, as they are today. The poppy doesn’t offend me, and I totally respect the reasons for them being there; I’ve seen none of my facebook friends exhibiting any of the bullying and haranguing that I’ve seen elsewhere; many of them are remembering loved ones who died as a result of war, as do I.

    It is breathtakingly absurd when I see the demands for poppies to be worn to honour those who died for our freedom. Our freedom to be told what to do? Surely wearing a poppy because you’ve been intimidated into doing so isn’t in the least bit respectful. It’s an empty gesture, driven by fear. Is that seriously desirable?

    I will not wear a poppy because it is simply not necessary for me to do so to remember the dead of war. I do remember them. Quite frequently; not just in November. I’m no less sad about a soldier who died in Afghanistan than I am about a soldier who died at the Somme. They were all unnecessary deaths, occurring at the behest of wealthy, powerful men who want to be wealthier and even more powerful.

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that many more than service personnel die in wars. We should also honour civilians who died as a result of bombs landing on them, who had even less choice in the matter than conscripted soldiers. Warfare has been part of the human experience for over 10,000 years (interestingly, evidence suggests that war only became frequent 6,000 years ago and there is little evidence of it occurring in early human societies) but has become no less ridiculous over time. It’s usually pointless to enter into a debate about it, though; there’s not much that arouses such aggression as the subject of peace.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Beverley. I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of why dressing us up as a “good” country is so dangerous. As you put it, “I’m not particularly proud of living in a country whose leaders historically colonised a huge chunk of the globe, forcing humans into slavery, a country whose leaders justify torture against individuals who are refused the right of due process. Nor am I proud of the recent invasions of other countries under the guise of humanitarian imperialism.”
    I also agree about the absurdity of people wanting to force everyone to wear a poppy. So they’re saying, are they, that those who died for us died so that bullies can now force us all to wear poppies? Weren’t we supposed to be being protected from bullies?
    I also think about the dead at other times, and agree with your statements that the deaths are “all unnecessary deaths, occurring at the behest of wealthy, powerful men who want to be wealthier and even more powerful.”
    And, of course, the civilians also need to be remembered as much as possible – and there are so many of them in our “modern” wars.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    Have you seen the two poems I’ve posted today Andy? Two of the very finest war poems that are not famous like the often-quoted ones. One on Iraq, One of WW1.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Sarah Kay shared this article, she wrote:

    I mentioned earlier that minutes of silence for the fallen of war have done nothing but to extend warmongering and the heroism of the fight. Andy cleverly chooses to wear a white poppy, to honor peace activists, and why government pressure to make the poppy mandatory is dangerous for democracy.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Sarah. Yes, those false narratives about heroism. We should be hearing instead from those made to fight and kill in wars of choice started by sick old men and corporate profiteers. People like Ben Griffin her ein the UK, and Veterans for Peace UK, and Camilo Mejia, the first deserter from the Iraq War, who wrote a searingly honest account of what his experiences in Iraq did to him: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2008/01/29/book-review-road-from-ar-ramadi-the-private-rebellion-of-staff-sergeant-camilo-mejia/

  22. arcticredriver says...

    Red poppies are very common here in Canada too. Almost every reporter wears one.

    Back in the 1980s I participated in a large peace march. The organizers of that peace march had prepared a tasteful poster that had a border of red poppies surrounding the assertion that “To remember is to end all wars”.

    I learned that, as in the UK, very hawkish veterans controlled the use of the poppy symbol. The hawkish President of a veterans organization asserted that veterans believed in “Peace through Strength”, and said he was going to have his organization sue the poster-makers into poverty.

    I haven’t worn a red poppy since then.

    When I was in first grade we were all given a poppy cut from red felt, with a central dot of black felt.

    Maybe I can make my own white poppy out of white felt?

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I would be hard pressed to find a message that sounds more fascistic than “Peace through Strength.” I don’t blame you for never having worn a red poppy since. I’m sure you can make your own white poppy, but would be surprised if they’re not available somewhere in Canada.
    Here’s a bit of history I just found: http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/white_trouble3.html
    And suppliers: http://www.members.shaw.ca/peacepoppies/peacepoppies-how.html#Depots

  24. No More War; Wearing a White Poppy for Peace | Andy Worthington | wrexhamcoopguild says...

    […] No More War; Wearing a White Poppy for Peace | Andy Worthington. […]

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Ajo Muhammad wrote:

    There you go Boy! We need peace.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    We do indeed. Good to hear from you, Ajo.

  27. Archibald says...

    Hi,

    I thought it would be interesting to put my view across as a red poppy wearer. Let me start off by saying that I completely respect your right to wear a white poppy, and I am sorry to hear some of you receive abuse because of your decisions. The reason I wear a red poppy is because I have great respect for the sacrifice of the people in both WW1 and WW2 and the later wars that we have been involved in. To me this includes both armed forces and civilian services, in fact at remembrance events civilian sacrifice is also focussed upon and rightly so. I also find it hard to see how world peace can realistically be much mor than a “nice idea”. For example the conflicts between warlords in Sierra leone and current events in Ukraine people will always have differences and many will not try to reach a peaceful solution and surely it is our duty to try to nullify the casualties or larger effects, I think pacifism in many senses can be naive – not as a method (I admire courageous restraint) but as an ideology or goal. It seems very easy to blame the seemingly bigger power involved for any issues that arise in conflict and say “it’s your fault there is no world peace if you just left people alone!” However people find it easy to forget that in Northern Ireland for example what would have happened had the religious groups been left to tear each other apart unheeded and the terrible civilian casualties that would have occured, while not everything went well with British involvement it was a much more favourable outcome. I don’t want to get to the Bloody Sunday argument but the civilians that were sadly killed somehow created so much hate towards the British while the terrorists and sympathisers remained blind to the killings of countless more British people and still hailed killers as heroes, surely that is wrong. Also in Afghanistan the position that people were put in by the Talibans strict state warranted involvement, why should more “developed” nations sit back and let it happen when we can help facilitate real change. As to saying you support the troops but not the war I agree, I can’t recall who but someone said “any soldier worth their salt is anti war” but at the end of the day that is what soldiers are for and if even tiny change towards good things is begun in these war torn places surely it is to a large extent worth it? For example the Kajaki dam that was installed by forces now irrigates and saves countless lives. I realise I have gone off on a tangent from the poppy area but I just think that many people wrongly over simplify both conflict and the factors involved and in turn the poppy debate and this is rather small minded at times. I have no problem with people wearing white poppies after all millions died and still die to give freedom to choose. I do however think that the tendancy for sensationalism in claims to war being pointless and all the values detract from the real point of the poppy which is to support the soldiers and families who, I hope we can all agree deserve it. Also I think it is easy to say you want world peace and pacifism is the way forward but “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” and on this point surely the thing worse than war is for someone to think nothing is worth fighting for and that other men (in the sense of men and women) must take risks and give their lives to preserve the freedom of those who would not be prepared to do the same. Sorry for the essay!

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    No apologies required, Archibald. I thank you for taking the time to express your opinion. I think if we were able to engage in an open discussion about these topics on TV, for example, it would be interesting to include both committed pacifists and others who can see that there might occasionally be a justification for war, but that most wars are not justified. As far as I’m concerned, there is no conflict since my birth, in 1963, that I believe the UK should have been involved in.

  29. Thomas says...

    WW2 was the last war that we needed to get involved in-even then, why did we not just let the USSR and Nazi Germany fight to the death instead and just have the West stay out of it? War brings death, maiming, mental problems, rape, damage to property, hunger, hardship, rationing, destroys open government, wastes money, time and lives, and sparks off terrorism.

  30. Archibald says...

    Andy,

    I can see how that may seem to make sense, but isn’t there a certain inaction involved in pacifism? Without our involvement in the Sierra Leone civil war and operation Barras then rebel groups that had drugs and amputations for fear as part of their key tactics against civilians would have been allowed to continue and kill unchecked. Do you also not agree with Afghanistan from a pacifists point of view? Regardless of larger operations the work of both armed forces and civilian services in this conflict has greatly reduced the suffering of the people and increased govermental structure. By saying you don’t agree with these wars it seems as if you are fine to leave these other people to their fate. Also the denial of a harbour for terrorists is very real, by stopping groups like the Taliban and Al Queda from having a place to openly operate and organise attacks on civilians in other and their own countries then surely stabilisation is needed to secure a certain level of peace and internal security and as much normality for the populace.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Thomas, for your considered comments – which pretty accurately reflect my thoughts.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    What Thomas said, in the comment above, pretty much summons up how I feel, Archibald. I’m not inclined to be an interventionist, after our centuries of imperial and colonial “intervention” in other countries’ affairs, and I don’t trust our leaders to intervene for non-cynical reasons. To my mind, Tony Blair’s interest in “liberal intervention” was primarily for himself – and although you can argue that his early efforts, in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, were necessary (though others would disagree), it led to his deluded belief that the illegal invasion of Iraq was more of the same – by which time he was, unmistakably, a Christian “crusader,” even more than George W. Bush. I also question our selectivity. If we do engage in certain “just” wars, then why are they only in certain places, and not others?
    I think we could do much better work if we spent what money is available on war on other forms of engagement in other countries. Our finances are obviously limited to some extent, and I genuinely think that much of what we engage in is driven primarily by arms manufacturers – and the hordes of other leeches who make money out of war.

  33. Archibald says...

    Thomas, I am not advocating pointless war nor the effects such as rape and damage etc that has been seen many times in history. However you bring up the case of WW2, the idea of ‘letting the USSR and Nazi Germany fight it to the death’ surely that is a key case of ‘not in my back yard’. Had the Russian system been fit on its own to combat the Nazi invasion without the help of American and British and other allies support then maybe this could have worked from a purely strategic point of view. However while I see you are trying to view it from a moral point of view so as to avoid the many negative factors of war, surely it was in WW2 and remains our moral responsibility to get involved and prevent/stop ‘bad’ regimes such as the Nazi’s, Gaddafi (in the Libyan intervention) and Saddam Hussein to name but a few in the modern era. All these regimes despite controversial reasons for involvement denied regimes control where they were in all cases in fact systematically attacking and brutalising their own people. I think if you are looking at many conflicts simply from a personal view it may seem the government is ‘wasting money’ however from the bigger picture of both international stability and simply helping people to attain higher standards of safety and living it is by no means a waste. Andy, I agree that in the past imperial and colonial intervention has not necessarily been noble or for the good of the people it concerns on either side of the conflict, however, the development of both the armed forces and Britain as a whole has set these past conflicts a world apart from the type of operations we engage in today. To my mind a pacifist’s refusal to participate in war does not make them noble idealists, but people who are failing to carry out an important moral obligation to help people around the world. I accept that Tony Blair’s conflict choices were controversial, and that Iraq was, very much unfounded by him in the sense of moral duty. However from the improvements made during and following many other wars in modern times (which surely is the era we must judge, rather than far back historically) it is much more founded that in many cases war is justifiable. I also believe that the money that you are referring to being reallocated is already being put to good use; after all the budgets set out are not used to buy arms exclusively but to give aid and support to fledgling parts of the world, in the same was as we are helping the struggle against Ebola, the insertion of troops across the world is not all that different, with aims of helping the local populace and infrastructure until a nation may work unaided. This is of course what is meant by the ‘hearts and minds’ initiative. I therefore think that you are only viewing conflict in the sense of negative reprocussions, when in fact the positive outcomes should also be viewed and appreciated. Of course businesses will make money out of war but they do not initiate the conflicts. Oh dear I am going overboard with the long replies!

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    No problem regarding the long replies, Archibald. I think it is good to have a lively discussion. However, although I understand where you’re coming from, I can’t endorse the notion of regime change on the basis that we don’t like someone, even if we ended up changing a country for the better – which, in any case, I don’t think we have achieved. I’m referring in particular to Iraq and Libya. The invasion of Iraq was illegal, because it was not posing a direct threat to us and we are not allowed to invade sovereign countries without them posing a direct threat to us – hence the need fore the sexed-up dossier. As a result of the invasion, we killed hundreds of thousands of civilians – maybe more – and have ended up with the country in such a mess that we now have a massive Islamist insurgency, and are going back in to sort out a mess we created, in what seems to me to be a perfect vicious circle.
    With Libya, we cosied up to Gaddafi – and his oil – in 2004 when he obligingly came onside in the “war on terror,” but then we realized that the Arab Spring was a perfect opportunity to take him out – and get our hands on Libya’s extensive reserves of fossil fuels without having to deal with Gaddafi any more. I honestly don’t see how an objective analysis of what took place in Libya could reach any other conclusion.

  35. Archibald says...

    Andy, I agree that in the case of these two examples the state of the country after was not improved as it should have been, this however is a unfortunately common experience for countries in the reactionary period that often follows revolution or large upheaval. I do agree that this seemingly pointless circle should have been avoided by looking after the people and providing better infrastructure, however the initial intervention, aside from perhaps Iraq, was in most cases in modern conflict just. Therefore I am stating that while not all war is justified, many conflicts are entered into and have positive effects upon the country far exceeding the original state of the area. I agree that the fact that oil is so often involved in becoming blind to the needs of the people is abhorrent and completely wrong from a moral point of view if not always a sustainability one. The after effects of Gaddafi’s death were again due to a lack of structure, however it is worth remembering that in the case of Libya the upheaval was not caused by NATO but only supported to try to minimize casualties and ‘ripples’ across the world. I will probably stop this debate on this post as from this point I believe it will just keep going backwards and forwards, what I will say is this; while some conflicts have not greatly improved the situation of the country or people it aimed to or should have done, the majority of involvement from British forces has achieved normality, and a higher standard of living and the other ‘real’ aims of involvement for the people involved. I believe the British armed forces and attached civilian branches are forces for good, not just limited to combat operations of course but other intervention. Britain going to war to stop people getting killed by their own government and and other atrocities – people they should be able to trust is surely justification enough for many involvements, the fact that both military and civilian goals often align in such conflicts surely shows it is worthwhile alongside the progression shown after the intervention. Ultimately, as with most things there will be problems with intervention internationally, however the good that has been done and can still be done more than justifies involvement, I think it would be awful to assume war has no cause that is good, or that it is never worth it, in fact I find this viewpoint to be naive and small minded, peace in Britain only exists because of such wars and intervention, it is from such involvements and wars that we are even able to have this debate freely. In a country where this is not the case and the civilians are under fear for their lives and normal daily life is impossible then surely intervention is needed, not as the first option or without proper planning but when other methods fail, war can be and is very often right.

    Thank you very much for allowing me to share my views, it has been an interesting discussion especially around the time of remembrance. I think the red poppy is still a powerful symbol of remembrance and does not advocate war, merely the cost, if anything ensuring we are sure it is worth it. I don’t think people should be forced to wear one as this defeats the point, to help the families of the fallen and honor their sacrifice in any of the wars since. I do think their is a certain blindness in the white poppy of wanting peace but in many cases not being prepared to fulfill moral obligations to help others even if war it just and required – this I realize does not reflect all white poppy wearers but merely the majority I have encountered but it does seem awfully laissez faire and narrow minded at times. I had better stop here before I write a book! I hope you continue to support the Royal British Legion despite some of your views on war, I appreciate you have so far!

    Thank you, I truly hope you can see the importance of the red poppy still and the requirement for war or intervention and the positive effects it often has.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you again for your considered opinions, Archibald. It has been interesting. I won’t, however, respond in depth because, to paraphrase what you wrote, it is probably worth stopping the debate as from this point it will just keep going backwards and forwards.

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

Love and War by The Four Fathers

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Afghans in Guantanamo Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners CIA torture prisons Clive Stafford Smith Close Guantanamo David Cameron Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo