Lest We Forget

April 25, 2007 at 12:55 am (Uncategorized)

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia, an annual public holiday. Scores of people have braved the truly dreadful weather in Sydney this morning for dawn services around the city to remember the disastrous Gallipoli landing of WWI, and all the fallen men and women who have died serving their country.

I always get emotional thinking about all those lives lost so young. It’s part of Australia’s mythology now, the ANZAC legend, and it certainly captures my own imagination time and time again. I just can’t bear to think of all those kids, so many of them still just kids, trapped on that beach, dying en masse, pawns in a political game being played behind closed doors and in secure premises far from the Front. It makes me sick to know this is always still the case in war. Politicians commit their young people to wars they themselves would never dream of fighting. I kind of prefer Homer’s version of the (arguably apocryphal) Trojan War. In Homer’s skirmish, even the gods are fighting, but the kings are too, down alongside their subjects. I can’t help thinking John Howard might have waited for better intelligence before committing troops to Iraq if he thought he’d have to go too.

When I see elderly Diggers every ANZAC Day out wearing their medals, I always get a stubborn lump in my throat and spontaneous tears well up in my eyes. I don’t know why this always happens, it’s partly because I am hopelessly sentimental, but I think part of it is definitely related to the idea that people made real sacrifices and experienced devastating horrors so that Australians back home, their loved ones, the people they cared about, could live in peace and prosperity. And it is the same peace and prosperity we in this country continue to enjoy today. Australia has been called the lucky country, but on days like today I like to remember that luck really has nothing to do with it. Certainly there was no luck in landing at Gallipoli that fateful morning. I look at the Diggers out marching today and I always want to walk up and say thank you, but I’m always afraid I’ll immediately burst into alarming and inappropriate tears. I know I would – I get choked up just thinking about it. So how do I express it, the largely inexpressible and deeply conflicted feelings I have about all this? Because I am conflicted. I don’t believe in war, I don’t believe it’s the solution, I don’t believe in sending people off to die, but I look at history and I see that war will always be with us. And that even today some people who go off to fight really do it in the belief that they are fighting to preserve our way of life. I have to respect that, and I have to appreciate it. It’s for that reason I want to say thank you to the Diggers.

Postscript: I was talking to Llew about the conflicted feeling I have every ANZAC day, and he made the very true observation that there is something fundamentally different about being conscripted to war as opposed to willingly joining the armed forces today. That definitely resonates for me. And although WWI, II, and the Vietnam War all brought conscription to Australia, it’s worth remembering scores of young men also wanted to enlist, and did so voluntarily. That’s very different to joining the army and receiving the proper education and training before going on a tour of duty. That difference is part of why I get the lump in my throat. Most of our wartime casualties have been civilians dressed up to look like soldiers.

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