Today in Australia (and thus in my heart) is Anzac Day.
As James and I returned from Oklahoma City late last night, I read a news article reporting the defacing of a north Melbourne RSL’s war memorial. Vandals had used red spray paint to scrawl ‘War is Murder’ and anarchy symbols across it. On today of all days, I wanted to use this platform to share some thoughts about what perpetuates the idea that such actions are permissible.
At it’s very fundamentals, I disagree with war. If we remove everything else from the equation, and present the bare facts of warfare, the idea of two groups of people killing one another is inherently distasteful: in fact, it’s repugnant. Why wouldn’t it be? But like life itself, war and the reasons for war are rarely simple. In fact, they tend to be overwhelming complex and subtly nuanced: something which, in their petty, hateful crime, these vandals seem to have overlooked.
To start with, very simply, what leads nations to war is not those who fight, suffer and die in those wars. For the most part, those of us who have served and continue to serve in the ADF do so out of a deep and pervasive sense of duty, a love for our country and a desire to serve humanity. If these brave men and women are sent to fight and to die on foreign soil, then that responsibility rests with the government… A government freely and democratically elected by the vote of Australian citizens.
NEWSFLASH: if your problem is with the political alliances and/or the economic and political agendas which lead us into war zones, then your problem is with the government. Vandalising these monuments doesn’t wound, impede or force reappraisals by the government. It only serves to denigrate the immense sacrifices of military (and non-military) personnel.
It is very easy to live in a free democratic Western country (particularly one as beautiful, bountiful and privileged as Australia) and having never known war, to deny and disparage those who suffered to ensure you have the right to freely express your opinions. It is easy, having never been faced with such horrors, to spew vitriol at people who were confronted by the unthinkable: forces pledged to destroy them, the people they loved, their way of life and everything that they understood to be good and true in the world. It’s easy, never having spent months and months away from your home, the people you love and everything you know in the world, to dismiss those who have done so. To deface a monument which honours the brave and selfless sacrifices of veterans is both as gutless and unjust as it is entitled. To imagine that as a 21st century citizen living in Australia you have any right to criticise and demean those people is about as entitled and self-centred as it gets. In fact, it’s a joke. Who the hell do these people think they are??
NEWSFLASH 2: It is almost certain that on some level or another, all men and women who have served in theatres of war were scared and unsure of what was to come. How could they possible know what they would face and the toll it was take on them? How can anyone know what it is like until they have lived through it?
It is extremely rare for people—regardless of whether it is in 1914, 1944, 1970, or 2013—to escape war without scars, be they mental or physical. Veterans have witnessed and suffered horrific situations during their military service; many of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to suffer the ongoing effects of their deployments on a daily basis. In perpetrating this despicable act, these vandals do something which degrades and cheapens the pain and suffering of every single Australian soldier, and those who love them. Regardless of your personal stance about war, our veterans deserve better than that, and no person has the right to dismiss the pain of another. Especially not when that person has made inconceivable sacrifices to protect the way of life you so foolishly and ignorantly waste in defacing public memorials.
To the men and women who paid for our freedoms, our privilege and our safety with their mental and physical health, and for some, with their lives, we owe a debt that can never be repaid.
Lest we forget.
Jagged cliffs kiss the pale sky;
The beach is narrow, swept clean by wind and waves.
There are no bloodstains now,
No bodies or echoing screams of agony:
One might never know that Innocence died here.
They called it our ‘Baptism of Fire’,
Where our very best and brightest perished,
Fallen beneath a hail of bullets.
For our boys, no tender goodbyes,
No gentle press of lips to farewell life.
At the end, they hear their mates calling battle cries
See them dying amongst rivers of blood.
It hurts to see them so, our boys, broken and bloodied,
When they stood so straight: keen of eye, strong of body and quick to laughter.
So brave, pressing ever forward amidst the insanity:
Some never even touched foot to the sandy shore.
Were they scared at the end, these brave men?
This was not the glory they were told was waiting,
Not the ‘grand adventure’ they thought it would be.
Perhaps it was quick, and their transition painless,
Maybe their struggle to survive was long, hard fought.
But in the end, some lived and thousands died
On that narrow beach in Gallipoli, on April 25th.
That’s why we have rum in our coffee that morning
And why we stand straight and tall and proud for the last post
Why we weep as we look at the flag and our National Anthem plays.
For our ‘Baptism of Fire’. For those we lost and have since lost.
For those who will be lost. For those who survived and fought on,
For those who are still fighting.
Lest We Forget.
25 Apr 2009