When it comes to war, few issues are as polarising as how we choose to remember the men who fought in them.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, giving it special meaning to many Australians.
People are posting videos telling Aussies that they need to go to a dawn service and pay their respects, we have news agencies providing “ongoing coverage of the Anzac legacy” and places at the service on Anzac Cove at Gallipoli are sold out. There is also something important that I believe warrants discussion – the anti-intellectual, frothing at the mouth patriotism that has been building in recent times and is starting to hit its zenith with the 100th anniversary.
In several online articles and videos, I have seen independent, thinking people attacked for proclaiming that we shouldn’t be glorifying the fact that we invaded another country for the British. They are told to show some respect, that they should be ashamed of themselves, that they should “say that to a soldier’s face”, or that great old line that is constantly trotted out – that they are un-Australian. The entire message is that unless you express only reverence and thanks for our troops you’re a piece of human excrement that has no place in our country. The lack of critical thought by Australians on this day continues to sadden me as people brush away any facts that get in the way of the narrative pushed by the media and government.
It isn’t disrespectful nor should anyone be ashamed to be against war and to point out historical facts, even on a commemoration day. We should be against war and especially so on these days, because wars are where our men get killed. They rob wives of their husbands, children of their fathers, and families of their sons. What’s even worse is when people are told to “say it to a soldier’s face”. Should someone be fearful of being beaten up for speaking the truth, for pointing out a historical fact? There is certainly a place for sensitivity and how you put something across, but implying that a point of view is only valid if you are willing to get beaten up over it (or that soldiers should beat you up in the first place for what you think) is right up there with the rhetoric I heard on the school ground when I was 10 years old.
I have also seen a few soldiers comment, telling these people to pull their heads in and show some respect, because they have fought for their freedom and right to speak. Well, first of all, you aren’t fighting for the right for people to say only the things you want to hear. That’s not democracy. Secondly, the only time any soldier has fought for the freedom of this country was during WWII in the Pacific Theatre. Literally every single other war we have fought was for someone else’s interests. Being a former soldier myself I understand the need to find meaning in your service, but that doesn’t extend to your beliefs being held up as something holy and untouchable because you are in the military.
The problem is that Anzac Day is veering away from being a day where we contemplate the horrors of war to one where we revere and celebrate the dead and display our patriotism. We hold up those that fought at Gallipoli as heroes rather than young men who got more than they bargained for when they signed up for the promise of adventure in another country. Many people now make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli not for solemn contemplation but as patriotic fanboys wrapped in the Australian flag while displaying their Southern Cross tattoo proudly. These same fanboys will be found in RSL clubs and pubs all over Australia getting blind drunk and acting as though it’s a big party in honour of fallen heroes. Worse still, many of them believe this to be a way of paying their respects. These same people are the first to call others “un-Australian” for expressing the view that we shouldn’t glorify going to war.
I know this better than most, because I served them while I worked in an RSL club before joining the army. They behaved like pigs that would literally drown themselves in beer if they could, and threatened me with violence a number of times for not serving them anymore when they were inebriated. This was over a decade ago and I have seen it get worse every year. We are now at the point where Anzac Day is used as an excuse for flat out racism, where bogans spit out such phrases as “f*ck off back home if you don’t like it here” if anyone dares to say anything they deem as unpatriotic.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have a day of remembrance for our troops.
What I’m saying is that we have to get past this nationalistic fervour that comes up every year. Rather than looking back at our fallen as heroes fighting for our ideals, we should be questioning why they were even sent to war in the first place. If you wish to pay your respects and give thanks, how about actually thanking a veteran for their service, rather than getting wasted, which thanks no one. Finally, it’s time we stop treating those who are against war as pariahs. There is nothing wrong with wanting people not to get killed.