It’s Anzac day this week and the Chinese made lapel poppies are sprouting and flourishing to usher in another phase of jingoism and lest we forgets and we will remember them’s. Grand children will proudly wear their forebear’s medals, regardless of what they are or what they were received for.
I’ve attended parades here and in Australia and at the massive Sydney march watched the uniformed Aussie’s dash out of the pubs to take their place in the parade and then observed as the rest of the day disappears in an alcoholic haze. It is worth avoiding some pubs on Anzac day in Australia, they’re still spoiling for a fight.
I’ve attended the ceremony at Tinui in the Wairarapa , the site of the first Anzac parade in Australasia and taken the steep climb to the cross at the summit. And yes – I was moved.
If you’ve got this far then the next bit wont surprise you. Some of it makes me slightly queasy. I’m not sure why but here I’ll try and articulate.
The urge to remember seems to strengthen rather than diminish. The desire is to go back in history to what is now almost beyond any human memory – but for what? The usual position is to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The easy response is to ask how Syrian children feel about that. There is another argument that says that warfare that resembles the World Wars is now defunct, superseded by technological advance, armed forces in every first world country are getting smaller. And I suppose the response there is to tell that to the same Syrian children we were just talking to. Late last year I finished a book by the Swedish economist Johan Norberg that argues in statistical terms that life just gets better, less conflict, less disease, less hunger – OK lets widen the group of children we talk to now. Let’s add African children to the Syrian group.
My father served in the Navy towards the end of WWII, never saw a shot fired in anger, but he certainly volunteered with that as an expectation. S.L.A. Marshall is a US Historian who contends that only 15-20% of soldiers in the US army actually fired a gun towards the enemy in WWII. The desire was always to shoot and miss. My grand father enlisted at 17 in 1915 and for some reason I never worked out, was put in the Indian army as a driver, he made it to Second Lieutenant and then was seconded off to the hated Black and Tans in Ireland. He resurfaced in WWII in Dad’s Army but did score a gig as a civilian observer on a supply ship at D-Day. He died before I was born but it does beg the question of why in his late 40’s and running his own business he chose to go and of course why he was required to.
Like many a boy/man I’ve asked myself the question of whether I’d go to war and not surprisingly of course come up with the answer that yes, I would. Maybe I’ve been inspired by President Trump’s assertion that he’d stride into a school, unarmed if need be, to take out a gunman. Even though, poor man, he suffered from bad feet at the time of his Vietnam draft.
There are truly brave men out there who I intend no dis-service. Willie Apiata springs to mind as does Sir Charles Upham. A good friends Grandfather chose to be a Conscientious Objector in WWII, a very brave call in my mind. My understanding is that the ultimate Kiwi hero Sir Edmond Hillary would have taken that path if his brother had been the nominated beekeeper rather than himself.
I’m currently reading a book written by a neighbour. It’s the story of his mother and father-in-law and how they met in the Second World War, he a POW in the NZ army, she a member of the Slovenian Partisans. It’s a great story and because I know the daughter and son in law, I know there’s a happy ending, I’m enjoying it. There is still a market for these stories. Earlier in the year I read a very well written book by an English friend but the perspective taken was from the German side. Sales haven’t been as good as they were for the previous book by the same author, who that time wrote of a character on the Allied side. My point here is that we’re still interested in stories that portray us as the goodies and them, whoever they were, as the baddies. Isn’t it time, and I include myself here, that we grew up?
In last Sundays paper, NZ historian Dr Ian McGibbon, argued that one key strand of the New Zealand Gallipoli story was a myth. The story as I understood it had Lieutenant Colonel William Malone refusing orders to take his men over the top in broad daylight as it would have resulted in carnage. McGibbon argued that this didn’t happen. Malone would have been subject to a court martial and likely shot by his own side. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one disappointed by this revelation. You could just about hear the harrumphs from the RSA’s.
My personal theory that has probably been espoused elsewhere is that Anzac Day and the like are filling the void vacated by religion. It has become something to believe in. There is a theory that large scale music concerts are filling the same void.
So, happy Anzac Day to you and believe me I’m not doubting that I personally am very lucky to live where I live and that I’m indebted to our forebears for doing what they did. They fought though in what are pretty much universally agreed to be “good” wars. And if I did go to war, what would I have done, well I almost certainly would have shot to miss. Why? Well according to Marshall, there’s an 80% chance I would have done.