I promised myself that I would be restrained in my comments on Anzac Day this year. Why oh why did I then listen to the radio?
Let me start by saying I have much respect and sympathy for those killed in wars. It makes me very sad. I support services where the dead in wars are remembered. I support the wearing of poppies to represent the dead. I mourn over wartime tragedies.
But I mourn inclusively and, as a person interested in history, I like our stories to be accurate, not fuelled by too much grief, too much pride or anger. And I do not like unrealistic images, that can rarely or never be matched, thrust before returned or serving soldiers or our young children. These things only lead to more tragedy.
My attitude to Anzac Day has been forged by several events over many years. As a child in the fifties I met one of my father’s workmates, a good and sincere German man who had fought for Germany during the then recent war. He had been in an English POW camp where he met some Australian soldiers working there. His wife and daughter had been killed during the allied bombing of Berlin. He thought he had been nobly fighting for his country. He mourned the dead on both sides, particularly the civilian dead, and I realised then, at quite a young age, that wars had at least two sides and that the soldiers on all sides were just real people with losses of their own.
During my University years I was involved with some protests against the Anzac Day march. We asked how could such a jingoistic event ever help lead to a cessation of warfare? Protests such as our very peaceful ones were tolerated and not even interrupted or moved on. Our freedom of expression has been limited so much that I would not think they would be tolerated now, almost sixty years later.
A number of men from my family and my late husband’s family fought in World War II. But men who did not or could sign up were given quite a difficult time. My father, for example, had not been able to fight in the war because his work as a professional engineer for the Commonwealth Government was regarded as essential and despite several attempts both by himself and with some representations from the navy who wanted him to work on something to do with radar, he was not released. He suffered a bit of backlash. Just very recently I read a book in which the well known author suggested she thought that her now deceased father had deliberately obtained a job regarded as essential, specifically to avoid military service. This was very difficult to do, but such was the attitude of the day it was often assumed. My father in law was not accepted for service either as, at his medical when he tried to join up, he was told he had a bad heart. It was widely said about him that he had feigned this bad heart. He sometimes seemed to accept this view himself. Which was the better option for a sense of self? He had his first heart attack at the age of 41 while working as an ambulance driver, and died very young a few years later.
When I was a young married woman the son of one of our next door neighbours was sent to Vietnam as a soldier.
The neighbour on the other side was an older man who was a TPI pensioner, unable to work since his return from World War II via a long period of incarceration in Changi. He was a lovely man. He would not belong to an RSL Club or celebrate Anzac Day. In fact he would not usually speak of the war at all. However one day, when he and I were with my almost two year old son, something my son was trying to do triggered his memories and he spoke to me about it a little. He expressed himself as concerned about the glorification of war and stated that there was nothing he could see that was worth making men kill other men. There must be better solutions that could be found rather than continuing to fight wars.
Eventually the young neighbour on our other side returned, physically unharmed. But he could not march on Anzac Day! It had only been the Vietnam War in which he fought!
No old Turkish veteran could march on Anzac Day. They were the enemy!
Those anomalies have been fixed, but too late for me and most of them, I would imagine.
On Friday I was speaking to a friend among a group sharing their mild annoyance of having to work during the long weekend. My friend was working all three days and complained that Anzac Day was one of the worst days to work. She works in a role delivering a public service. She rued that there would be fights between the drinkers and among Two Up players after the remembrance services and marches were over, there would be domestic violence when some of those people returned home and, during the day, there would be the regular spike of Anzac Day suicides and attempted suicides from returned veterans with which she would have to deal. These veterans were probably feeling much like our former, now deceased, neighbour.
Many men were extremely brave. We must acknowledge bravery when we see it but we must not, even inadvertently, belittle any soldiers who did not rise to great heights. At the same time there is nothing magnificent in just killing. There must be a better way to work these things out and glorifying something not glorious is not one of them.
I remember with sorrow and love all those soldiers who served in all wars and those who died in wars. I also remember, with sorrow and love, those people who died with, and perhaps because of, them.
And yet, the radio broadcaster today talking of a plot being foiled by our excellent, ever vigilant policing authorities that had stopped a 16 year old in a planned attack on a venue today, rightly wondered about the ideas that must have infiltrated this young boy’s mind. However he added seemingly bemused, and like so many people obviously not thinking it through, “But why would he plan to do such a thing on Anzac Day? That makes it so much worse.”