Sorry. I still don’t get it
I was up well before dawn on Anzac day. Though that has more to do with being a parent of small children than it does with any kind of duty on my part to observe the significance of our public holidays. (I wrote about a similar occasion here.)
We did have the TV on for part of the morning however. And I got to see the parade and the telecast of the dawn service from Turkey. And once again, I was more confused than anything as to why these occasions are treated the way they are. There’s an overall tone of reverence, which I guess is appropriate but I find the emotions misplaced and lost in a sea of euphemistic rhetoric that only gets pulled out on such occasions.
We are told not to forget because those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Well, for starters, I think that’s rubbish. You only need to glance at the Middle East to see an example of long memories being part of the problem. And if we commemorate our country’s war battles so as not to forget, then by clouding the whole occasion in sentiment, emotion and euphemism, I tend to think we actually have forgotten. As the reportage or recollection of any given conflict is retold and rehashed, it gives itself over to mythology, becoming cushioned in this layer of flowery language, which, far from being respectful, I think diminishes the reality of what was experienced by those who were there.
We hear about ‘the Anzac spirit’, courage, sacrifice, and the bravery of the men who gave their lives for god, queen/king and country so that we might enjoy the peace and prosperity our country is built on.
But what really happened? Have you seen the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan? Men were ordered to go “over the top” (or off the boat as the case may be), and in trying to secure a bit of land, being told to kill other men where necessary, were shot at themselves.
Bullets hit their arms, their chests, their heads. If they moved, they were a target. Many lay wounded and died slowly, no doubt painfully. It was gory. It was bloody. And this is only what I can imagine.
I don’t know what the gunfire must have sounded like, or what the gunpowder and human flesh must have smelled like. I don’t think any of the soldiers that lay there dying were thinking how proud they were that their country could now build peace and prosperity because they’d lost an arm and were bleeding out. I think they might have been reflecting on their soon-to-be widows and fatherless children, the grief they were going to be feeling and about just how fucked it was to die in a cold bog of mud and blood a very long way from home. And this is only what I can imagine.
As the saying goes, we lost the battle but we won the war. The outcome of any given battle may have had little or no bearing on the outcome of the greater conflict. We revere this battle because we lost it. But we’ve turned it into something noble, something that makes us proud to be Australians, when it should really make us shudder and weep.