In her famous and controversial book ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ the political philosopher Hannah Arendt reflected on the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s, noting that to a great extent the philosophy of National Socialism was accepted by the population. Few Germans are singled out by Arendt as having stood up against the Nazis, one is Heinrich Gruber, the protestant theologian of whom Arendt is somewhat dismissive in terms of his impact. Arendt reserves her only real words of praise for the actions of Sophie and Hans Scholl, two students at the University of Munich who along with their friends, Willi Graff, Alexander Schmorrell and Christoph Probst led a leaflet campaign against the rise of Nazism. The White Rose conspirators were captured and put to death by guillotine in 1943.

In his Graphic Novel, Freiheit! Italian artist and animator Andrea Grosso Giponte tells the story of the Scholls and their friends, revolving around the production of their fateful leaflets, and the eventual capture of Hans and Sophie as they distributed the sixth and final publication in their series. Grosso employs a subdued colour palette throughout, reflecting both the sombre nature of the story and the times that it represents. A very skilled artist, Grosso moves from impressionistic watercolour type imagery to stark photo-realist style with the ebb and flow of the story. At times the art is almost brutalist – but never quite so brutal as what took place in Germany, or what happened to the Scholls.

In form the book is effectively a short biography, making it ideal as an introduction for anyone who has never heard about the White Rose before, but it’s also an extended meditation on courage and fortitude and the moral imperative in the face of incredible odds.

Those who ‘did their duty’ and followed the rule of law in Germany at the time sometimes turned to the work of Immanuel Kant to justify their actions, claiming that they were doing their duty as citizens. Arendt and others returned to Kant to point out that the real duty of all German citizens at the time was to turn their backs on duty, and to rebel against the regime. This is a story of a small group of ordinary-extraordinary people who had the rare moral and physical courage to listen to their conscience and act accordingly.

“Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be…” urged the White Rose conspirators in their first leaflet, the text of which is reproduced at the end of the book. That these words should have had to come from a group of young people – some of the very few who managed to put up any kind of meaningful resistance to the Nazis is haunting. It’s a stark reminder to us all that the young offer more than naivete when it comes to political discourse.

“Every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure…” the group say in that same first leaflet – a message that we all do well to consider carefully.

Every year people ask me why I wear a white poppy. The post below is something I wrote a few years ago for my old blog, it goes somewhere towards explaining why.

Wearing the White Poppy

un-gunIt’s been quite a few years since I last wore a red poppy.

Instead, because I think that remembrance is important, I wear a white one, which I buy from the Peace Pledge Union.

It’s not an act of betrayal, nor is it a denial of the genuine human sacrifice made by human beings who were motivated to offer up their bodies because of love or duty.

Both of my grandfathers fought in WW2, they did what they thought they should do, what they believed was right. They were brave men, they emerged alive from that dreadful conflict, but not unscathed.

I do not wear a white poppy as some kind of denial of the sacrifice that millions made.

I wear a white poppy because I believe in remembering all who died.

I wear a white poppy because I don’t want to see any more wars.

I wear a white poppy because death doesn’t win.

I respect the right of everyone to wear a poppy, or not, according to their conscience. I don’t think you should wear one just because that’s the ‘done thing’. I choose not to wear a red poppy, and I do so for the same basic reasons as I choose to wear a white one.

In the UK the red poppy has come to be almost totally synonymous with the remembrance of dead service personnel, specifically dead British soldiers, sailors and airmen and women. I have no problem with remembering dead servicemen and women, of any sort. But I want to go further, I believe we should remember all who die in war. The innocent victims, the enemy combatants, the conscripts, the deserters, the shell shocked, the courageous and the cowards. The children, the women, the young, the old, the pregnant, the unborn, the confused, the disturbed, the traumatised and the tricked. Those who did what they were told, and those who did what they believed in, those who weren’t sure, and those who were overconfident.

The red poppy has come to be synonymous with the aftermath of international conflicts, it’s as if those conflicts are an inevitability. They aren’t. The more we consider war and its causes, the more we see that there are other ways of dealing with conflict. War is not inevitable, and shouldn’t be seen as such. We should be working together to bring an end to war.

“Last years British Legion Young Professionals’ Poppy Rocks was sponsored by Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms company. Lockheed Martin also manufactures the Trident missile. Each of Britain’s missile submarines is capable of carrying 16 missiles. Each of these missiles can kill far in excess of the 888,000 dead represented by the red poppies at the Tower of London.” PPU.

The red poppy, with its blood stain shape and colour is a reminder of the bitter truth that in war, blood is shed, real, hot, red, human blood. That is the horrific reality of war. The myth of war is that if enough blood is shed, we can triumph. The myth is that good can overcome evil, if only there is enough death. It’s not true. Perhaps the only real inevitability is that wars lead to more wars.

The white poppy with its simple, central, bold message of ‘peace’ calls us to reconsider, to stand back from our allegiance to death and the myth of redemptive violence and remember the dead.

What is called the utopian dream of pacifism is in fact a practical policy – indeed the only practical, the only realistic policy that there is.
Aldous Huxley