Tuesday, April 25, 2006
I used to sleep in on ANZAC day, and I would tell everyone that it was an anti-war statement. I’m as anti-war as anyone you’re likely to meet. I abhor violence of all kinds, but most especially violence perpetrated in the name of ‘keeping the peace’. It sickens me to think that the lives of soldiers are put in danger by our leaders for their own macho pride or political gain. I know that soldiers choose that danger when they choose their profession. I’ll come back to that. But ever since that day in 2003 that I joined thousands and thousands of people marching against war in Iraq, well, OK, I joined thousands of people for the speeches out the front of Melbourne’s State Library and then ducked into Rue Bebelons, that little bar with red walls and cut flowers perched in massive vases everywhere, and my friends and I had a couple of beers apiece while we waited for the marchers to file slowly past. In the end, it didn’t matter whether we were drinking or marching against the war, the government ignored us all and sent troops to Iraq anyway. It did this unashamedly for the purpose of securing an alliance with America and helping them keep the oil prices down. Ever since that day, I have been extra cynical about the reasons why countries find themselves in conflict.
That you’re against violence is a very easy and acceptable thing to say, but my problem is that I don’t really have an alternative to offer - at least not on the scale of international conflict. If I found myself in a country under attack, especially if that country was Australia, I wonder would I wish for defence from armed forces of some kind? Would I be thankful if they were there? I have no idea. As I sit comfortably at home on this sunny public holiday, it’s easy for me to spout that any desire to be defended would be outweighed by my belief that fighting is not the solution. I think to myself that any fear I felt during an attack would not be diminished knowing that there were guns on my side too. But I don’t know for sure that that would be the case. And the truth is that even now that we live in Townsville, one of the few places in Australia that has actually seen an attack by a foreign army (though it was in 1942), I still can’t imagine what it would be like to be a civilian trapped in a country at war.
Hayden always attends the ANZAC day ceremony, in remembrance of an uncle that he lost, and last year I went along for the first time to accompany him. I was hoping to be moved to consider war and peace and the value of life. I was hoping to gain some understanding of the point of view of the soldiers. The version of the ANZAC story that I was told in school emphasised how young and naïve the Australian and New Zealand soldiers were, and I was hoping to gain some idea of why people still choose to join up and fight in these days, when the dangers are more fully understood. But at that ceremony I really wasn’t moved at all, and that’s not just because I was irritable from getting up before the light and leaving the house without a good strong coffee. The ceremony itself was such tinny affair, lacking in any kind of solemnity, and I was sure that any real diggers would have to have been ashamed of it. It was more like a family-entertainment dress-up show than a commemoration of lives lost in war. There was a primary school band playing, and some high school swot who’d been given a trip to Gallipoli because she was the perkiest blonde in her year told us how she would ‘never forget that trip’, though she didn’t tell us anything specific that she remembered about it either. Afterwards there was a lot of public drunkenness and gross behaviour of seedy looking guys with grandad’s medals pinned to their jackets worn with jeans and sneakers. The whole thing made me queasy.
This morning when the alarm went off in the dark, I remembered the awfulness of that Melbourne ceremony last year and I wondered if this morning’s ceremony would be any better. I was interested because Townsville has a big army presence, and I wanted to see how a real army town went about remembering its dead.
And I am glad that I made the effort to get up and go down to the War Memorial park. The park is on the waterfront, opposite the marina whose water this morning was as still as a mirror. It is a beautiful spot to see the sunrise on any day, and this morning it was most movingly accompanied by a simple, serious service and the laying of many wreathes. A female soloist sang Amazing Grace beautifully clearly and without warbling, and after the ceremony was over I walked across to the memorial, passing a cordoned-off VIP-style area where many women, some older but some less so, sat quietly and sadly by themselves. One of the speakers, himself a veteran, had spoken of the ‘futility of war, but the necessity of defending freedom’. I was grateful to have heard the soldier’s point of view so eloquently expressed, but I’m afraid I still feel nothing but sadness about war. I don’t feel that any honour at all on the soldiers’ behalf, though I suppose that they feel that honour themselves. I hope that it is enough for them.
Posted by Naomi at 8:34 am