An important day for me as my father fought in New Guinea during the 1939-45 conflict we call World War 2. Dad has been gone from us now for 10 years, and I miss him more with every passing day. I often think I’d like some time back again, to make more of the few times he opened up about his experiences, and to get to know better what was a true gentleman, a quiet man, and a troubled man on some levels given what he must have seen and experienced.
I also like to sit quietly, watch the broadcast services from the Gallipoli Peninsula and Villers-Bretonneux provided in such excellent quality and commemoration by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Both services are wonderful remembrances, solemn and haunting, especially the vision from many, many points around both sites. I’ll never have the chance to go, so it’s important to me to try to be a small part of remembering. This year, I was greatly impressed with the speech given by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Mr John Keyes. He deliberately opted out of the standard finale, ‘Lest We Forget’, instead stating clearly, ‘We Remember’, and so we do and must always.
ANZAC Day is a sad time, a time for reflection, and a time to recall that war solves nothing. I was quiet put off this morning by this piece on ABC Radio National’s Saturday Extra. Professor Ian Morris, the author of the book War: What is it good for? The role of conflict in civilisation, from primates to robots; Sir Robert Fry, Former Deputy Commanding General of the coalition forces in Iraq in 2006; and Major General Jim Molan, Defence and security commentator, consultant and company director, Author of Running the War in Iraq (2008) together with presenter Geraldine Doogue, discussing in a very remote and academic nature, the supposed benefits which flow from conflict, loss of life and formation of nation states in the aftermath of wars. Frankly, I found the discussion rather off-putting and dismissive of the human element without which war simply would not exist. Benefits from young men & women surrendering their lives for distinctly political causes that somehow deliver ‘benefits’? I think the word is oxymoron.
I was also upset by the complete abandon with which the Gallipoli tourists – by which I mean those who feel the need to make the oft-espoused pilgrimage for various personal reasons – walking over the graves of those they’ve come to honour. As a young boy, I distinctly recall my father telling me that one should never walk on the dead. Those who have passed deserve our respect, be they fallen military, or just those who have reached the end of their time in this existence and been buried in the ground. There is nothing remotely religious in that sentiment, just simple courtesy and respect. The ground containing the husk of a human being belongs to them. We who live above it have an obligation to ensure we continue their memory and respect what they did with their lives, and for we who remain. Don’t walk on the dead.
I’m also concerned by the semi-circus hooplah with which some parts of the media treat ANZAC Day. The endless interviews with people who like to claim family members who fought in this or that conflict. Yes, it is important to remember, indeed, it is VITAL that we educate our young, who have never, and hopefully will never, experience war, into just what ANZAC Day means and why we commemorate it as we do. However, please, never make a form of celebration out of the day. There is nothing to celebrate. There is much to mourn. There is much to regret. There is also much to remember, as John Keyes stated. We must remember that fighting wars on behalf of other nation states is futile. It is wasteful of humanity’s most precious resource…..our fellow human beings.