Lest We Regret

With William the Conqueror’s third most senior patrilineal descendent visiting Canberra on Anzac Day, it’s a very exciting time to be an Australian. But while we’re busy marveling at the fine breeding of our Reptilian overlords and making fun paper-maché masks of little Prince George, it’s important to remember what today is really about. On this day, as for the last hundred years, we celebrate the fact that 200,000 Australians were pointlessly killed and wounded because that baby’s great, great, great grandfather didn’t get along with his cousin.

John Howard and other glorious patriots argue that although Federation occurred in 1901, it wasn’t until the landing at Gallipolli that Australia was truly born as a nation. They’re right – as everybody knows, creating a country requires mass human sacrifice, like summoning an Elder God from the chaos dimensions. The best way to get people to worship a piece of fabric is by convincing them that they’re insulting the memory of thousands of dead teenagers if they don’t, and how can you do that without thousands of dead teenagers? The important thing about Gallipolli isn’t that we lost, or that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place, or that the whole farce was a crime against humanity conducted by Empire-builded sociopaths. What matters is that people died horribly there, and that gives politicians a wonderful opportunity to exploit people’s natural sadness over their deaths to bolster the power structures that killed them in the first place.

And what better way to commemorate the failed invasion of a sovereign country than a football game? When those mostly undereducated young men enlisted because they were gullible enough to to trust that their government wasn’t ruthlessly deceiving them, they were just like the Pies listening to Nathan Buckley give a pep talk in the locker room. When they suffered hellish conditions and were taught to kill humans because Russia fancied the Dardanelles as a profitable territorial expansion, they were just like elite sportsmen stretching before a nationally televised game. And when, after a colossal strategic blunder, their commanding officers ordered them to empty the bullets from their rifles and charge headlong into machine gun fire carrying nothing but knives on sticks they were more or less the same as thirty-six guys in shorts chasing a pig’s bladder around an egg-shaped lawn.

Of course, Anzac Day isn’t just about the First World War. It’s also about the Second World War, when Australia was actually under threat, and the precious few peacekeeping missions we’ve been involved in that had a legitimate ethical dimension. But more importantly, it’s about Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the other meaningless conflicts that need the legitimacy of a century-old tragedy to justify their carnage.

The beauty of Anzac Day is that everybody gets involved, like Carlton and United Breweries with their solemn and respectful “Raise a Glass” marketing campaign. Tonight I’m raising a glass to my great great uncles, Jack and Kevin, who fought in WWII and were both tragically cut down before their time. Not in combat – they returned home with mostly psychological wounds – but from drinking-related diseases. Neither touched booze before they enlisted, but with no support network for their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder except for the RSL, with it’s proud culture of manly silence and drinking to numbness, the brothers stopped being so unaustralian and embraced the Anzac spirit. VB was probably one of their favourite beers. At least, that is, before alcohol addiction systematically and utterly destroyed every aspect of their lives, as it did for thousands of their comrades.

Every year, on this day, the poem “In Flanders Field” is read in services across the country. This is it’s final verse:

“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

What a heartwarming and inspiring message. We must continue to fight the wars of the past until the end of time, or the ghosts of dead soldiers will haunt us and never find rest. That, I’ve learnt, is the real message of Anzac Day. Not that war is a futile tragedy we should do all we can to avoid, but rather that it is glorious. We must follow it’s victims into the grave, guns at our sides and flags on our backs, and never have the cowardice to ask “why?”

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