Where the fuck do I start? For me, Anzac Day is a tangled mess of emotions and ideas — some about grand themes of global and national politics, others deeply personal.
What pleases me most about Anzac Day is that Australia and New Zealand commemorate the sacrifice of their war dead not through parades of tanks and missiles and a glorification of war but with highly personal ceremonies of remembrance starting before dawn.
We talk not of our nation’s military prowess — though Australia is, by all accounts, capable of fielding professional military forces which make almost everybody else look like disorganised amateurs — but of the personal qualities which have made this nation great.
Those qualities were listed in an Army recruitment advertisement designed by a soldier. They were reiterated this morning by Major General Mark Kelly:
Regardless of religion, racial background, or even place of birth, we gather not to glorify war, but to remind ourselves that we value who we are and the freedoms we possess, and to acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who contributed so much in shaping the identity of this proud nation…
The term Anzac has transcended the physical meaning to become a spirit, an inspiration which embodies the qualities of courage, discipline, sacrifice, self reliance, and in Australian terms, mateship, and a fair go. This is what Anzac means to me.
These are the qualities which once gave Australia such a fine reputation overseas — before our foreign policy became one of subservience to American Neocons, and before symbols of military might were perverted into supporting a never-ending War on Abstract Nouns. Before quiet patriotism turned into loud but ignorant flag-draped jingoism. John Birmingham wrote about this in his Quarterly Essay, A Time for War: Australia as a Military Power. But what does it all mean now under Chairman Rudd?
I ponder my own personal ethical dilemma. I feel the “boy’s toys” thrill when I hear an F-111 strike bomber roar into action, and can rattle off endless facts about military history. I’ve felt the power as I’ve squeezed the trigger of a semi-automatic weapon loaded with live rounds. Yet at another level I know it’s disgusting. We’re fat, (mostly) white westerners at the top the food pile, gorging our way through the world’s resources while portraying a handful of frightened refugees as some mortal threat. We ship them to concentration camps, for fuck’s sake! At gunpoint. And before anyone suggest this is some party-political thing, let us not forget that a Labor government created that policy of mandatory detention.
And in amongst all of that, I remember a dead soldier.
I remember a young man who made his choices with eyes open. He was defeated in a battle filled not with the sounds of gunfire and the splatter of blood — I’m sure he faced those piddly threats with his usual joie de vivre — but the roar of thoughts in his own mind. I remember how his death affected me and devastated his family, how the Senate thought the Army had failed to take proper care of their own, and how lives continue to be lost despite those Senate recommendations.
They shall grow not old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning
We will remember them.
Lest we Forget
Nicholas St John Shiels, service number 456021, you are remembered.
I pray that the commanders of Australia’s military forces, and their political “masters”, will one day remember that there are more important, more admirable personal qualities than the ability to cover one’s own arse.
[Photo credit: The rosemary sprig was taken from Matthew Hall‘s Twitter page. If I owe someone for that usage, I’ll make good.]