Monday Musings: ANZAC Day

For a whole range of reasons, most of which have to do with an increased busyness at the end of a week, the previously entitled Friday Filing has now morphed into Monday Musings and will appear late on a Monday rather than late on a Friday.

By the time this post is published on The Doohan Discourse, I will have already attended the first of many formal occasions to mark ANZAC Day 2018 – and will, in fact, be present at the second said event. It is, as one might expect, a significant occasion in the civic life of Australia and New Zealand. On ANZAC Day itself, hundreds of thousands of Aussies, Kiwis and others across Australia and New Zealand, and around the world, will gather in places small and large to honour the national significance of this particular day.

In 2018, there will be, no doubt, more attention given to Armistice Day in November as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, but ANZAC Day will, this year and always, hold a particular significance in our national life. Many will argue, cogently perhaps, that ANZAC Day represents the ‘coming of age’ of the Australian nation. We will remember, individually and corporately, the beginning of what would be a military failure mostly not of our own making, and remember those of our own who served and died on that day, those who served and survived that day. By extension, we will also call to mind those who have served, who have been killed and who have lived in military service of the nation since that day.

War is simply awful. Contrary to some beliefs in the part, there is nothing honourable about war. It is bloody, it is inhuman, and it is a scourge on the psyche of those who take part in it, often because of decisions of people other than themselves. Participation in war damages those who serve, often physically, sometimes psychologically, and always morally. It is right and proper, therefore, that we should remember those who have offered themselves in service to our nation. To forget, to pretend that men and women have not died while wearing the uniform of Australia, is not only to dishonour their service but to dishonour ourselves as a nation. We cannot expect anyone to open themselves to future service of our country in times of war and conflict if we are churlish enough to believe that we do not have a debt to those who already have.

The myths that surround ANZAC Day are part of the national mythos of Australia (and other nations), and while it is right that we should remember and honour those who have served Australia during armed conflict, our national mythos is not to be entirely encapsulated in war and conflict. There is more to Australia than our military history; there is more to Australia than ANZAC; there is more to Australia than the willingness of our fellow citizens to risk their lives for the nation.

To be abundantly clear at this point, however, I want to make it very clear that I am not suggesting we shouldn’t remember those who have served our nation through military service, either in times of war or in times of peace. I am, instead, hoping to prompt us to remember that military service – in times of war or of peace – is only one part of the Australian story, and other parts of our national mythos should also be honoured at appropriate times and with a similar level of recognition. In other words, our national identity is much, much more than just ANZAC, and much, much more than some sanitised version of ANZAC. There appears at times in public discourse around ANZAC and ANZAC Day a position adopted that nothing can be permitted to sully the military history of Australia and Australians, and most definitely not on ANZAC Day. It is almost as if some people within our nation need the clean-cut image that has been created around ANZAC to anchor their own Australian identity; yet such an Australian identity is entirely shallow, based on unreality, and ultimately unsustainable. If Australia and Australians wish to embrace the ANZAC mythos – and I believe they should – they also need to be prepared to accept and come to terms with the occasional unsavoury element associated with ANZAC.

So this ANZAC Day, one hundred and three years after the original landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula, we honour and remember those who died that day and those who lived. We acknowledge all those who have served our nation in many ways in times of war and conflict since then, in military service or in support of that military service. We recognise those who selflessly serve their nation in the Australian Defence Force down to this day.

Most importantly on this day, we pray for peace among nations, an end to war and conflict, and the ability for human beings to live in harmony with each other and the ability to resolve differences via dialogue rather than military efforts. And where that is not possible, we pray for the preparedness to not surrender our morality and integrity when we have no option left but to engage in armed conflict.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

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.

Excerpt from Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen.

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