I've been wearing a White Poppy in the time leading up to Remembrance Day since I left university. It can be seen as quite controversial by some people so I thought I would collect my personal arguments for wearing it into one place here.
The Red Poppy started in 1921 and it was originally proposed to have the word Peace emblazoned into its centre. Immediately after the war ended, Armistice Days were arranged to commemorate the fallen soldiers and they were often organised and attended by the wives and mothers of those who had died. By the early 1920s this interest had mostly fallen away and it was mainly those in military service that kept the tradition up. The emphasis shifted from the original aims of pure commemoration and a tone of no more war (WW1- The War To End All Wars) into a celebration of achievements in battle and had an undertone of justification for war amongst the remembrance.
These grew into Victory Balls by the late 1920s/early 1930s where Armistice Days had grown to be pro intervention and pro military events rather than a time to learn from the mistakes of the Great War. As tensions rose on continental Europe several groups started protesting these events including the No War War Coalition which had been instrumental in setting them up in their original incarnation.
The Royal Legion had long since dropped its slogan of No More War, but in 1933 the Cooperative Women's Guild and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) both started a movement in its place. They (and I) saw the conflation of commemorating the dead together with a justification of war as propaganda filled at worst and distasteful at best. In a period of history where there were calls to start a second European war the use of Red Poppies was particularly political.
Time wore on and both Poppies grew into bigger movements. Fast forwarding to the 1980s and they Red Poppies were being used heavily as a pro military symbol during the Thatcher years. Both Thatcher herself and most of the British press were outspokenly against the White Poppy and the British Legion refused to appear in any media with anyone from the PPU; to try to talk about peace in the same context as soldiers didn't fit with their glorification narrative.
Since then, the status of the White Poppy has become a lot less controversial. At one point it was mostly associated with Christian movements such as the quakers, but it has grown to selling over 100,000 a year. I think it isn't well known that most of the money from Red Poppies goes to people (exclusively British of course) from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The story of the World Wars is what makes them sell; to not wear one is disrespectful to the dead from a century ago; just look at anyone on the BBC or Westminster at this time of year. But mixed in is a normalisation and justification of modern, illegal wars that are not fought by conscripts.
Many of the larger Remembrance Events are funded by arms dealers, where there is a vested interest in keeping the message of “heroes” going. Britain has an appalling record of profiting from its arms trade with less than respectable regimes.
Quite apart from all of this, my main criticism of the Red Poppy is that it has become a symbol of nationalism. The Royal Legion always talks of British troops and maintains a very pro-British version of the war; brave Tommy's fighting for the greater good. Not a war between teenagers being conscripted and sent to their deaths from both sides by their governments. The poppy’s regular appearance at schools is unquestioned and while the idea behind both it and the minute's silence is to make you think, it often comes with overtones of the far right.
So, while not perfect, I wear the White Poppy. An emphasis of respect and remembrance for both civilian and military life from all sides, but with the promise of “never again” never forgotten. As a symbol both poppies are there to make you think, but they just disagree on the focus.