Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lest we forget

The war remembrance business has changed.
When I was a girl, Anzac Day was a day to be feared - a day when the WWII vets would don their medals, march, and then get seriously and nastily drunk. The veterans were as ugly as the war - those poor, repressed men shielding the terrible truths of their experiences. The unspeakable. We never understood why they behaved as they did because they never explained it. It was not done to talk about the bloodbaths of war. War was a thing that men did and then put behind them - if they were men.
Come the 60s and our brothers and boyfriends were being conscripted to fight in Vietnam. It split the country right down the middle as the protest movements took to the streets. Passions ran high. We fought against our boys fighting. Our boys, on the other hand, often believed in the cause and were offended by the objectors. It grew terribly messy. At home and in Vietnam.
The Viet Vets returned to a thankless reception. They returned to the slow and hideous realisation that the objectors had had a point. The war had been a terrible mistake and, rather than having been its heroes, they had become its victims.
Anzac Day went on each year, but the Viet Vets did not march. They had different sorts of war wounds to lick. In many ways, they were crueller than the physical wounds of the old Diggers.
It took about a decade before they started to appear - and then it was on motorbikes in leather jackets. They were the rebel returned men.
And now they were heroes. The Anzac crowds could not yell loudly enough for them. The RSL might not have liked the biker image but the people loved it. And it was a way for the Viet Vets to assert their difference.
Thereafter the Anzac marches grew and grew - despite the fact that the old soldiers were dying off. What had happened was a change in perception of the Anzac ethos. What once had been seen as a celebration of the spirit of the fighting man and of the bravery of defending one's country now began to be seen as a multinational day of tribute to the fallen - and of mourning for the senseless carnage of war.
The world has grown up in so many ways. New cynicism. New instant, global media. Peace no longer is seen as some sort of hippie/leftie thing. Peace is what sane people crave. And now sane people see the profiteering of war, the corporate motives which lie beside and behind the politics. They are aghast - for in front of them now is the war of oil.
So they go in yet greater numbers to the Anzac marches because they feel yet more passionately - and they want to be seen to be doing something. To be among the numbers.
And they discover that 75 years ago, when the great national war memorial was created, it was never, never erected to honour war, as so many people mistakenly thought. It was honouring only the sweet souls - keeping them in memory.
For, the message of our fathers was that such losses of life should not be repeated.
Their quest and their message was that there must be found "some better means to resolve international dispute other than slaughter".

And so say all of us - again and again and again.
Do you hear us, oh our leaders?

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