If anybody reading this is of a particularly patriotic bent, be warned that this might offend. I say, also, that this is not the lengthy essay it could be, merely an off-the-cuff blog post written at the end of a long, long day. Pax.
As I’ve said before, Anzac Day is one of those nationally significant days that causes great strife in our house. We have tried to maintain Boy’s neutrality in the face of knowing that, during WWI, Dr B’s forbears were trying to snot the hell out of each other while some of mine were probably trying to snot the hell out of both of them. You can’t buy into the patriotic propaganda when there’s never any acknowledgment of the fact that Dr B’s forbears were probably within their rights, one perhaps more than the other, and that mine were definitely in the wrong. My lot were invaders in anybody’s language. Do we ever hear that in the speeches? No.
Please don’t think that I’m suggesting that we shouldn’t honour the fallen. They did what they believed to be the right thing and far too many of them paid far too great a price. We know that. We do acknowledge that. But we find it hard to get teary about Laurence Binyon‘s For the Fallen, from which is recited a verse every Anzac Day and every Remembrance Day. For starters, Binyon was English. He had a right to rave about how wonderful England was and what glory there might be (dubious, in my opinion) in dying for her. We’re more inclined to side with Zora Cross:
I cannot love her pomp on land and sea
Her boastful Saxon ways,
Her bloody challenge to posterity,
Her pride of other days.
There’s plenty of anger in Cross’s long poem, Elegy on an Australian Schoolboy from which the above is a short extract. She wrote it to honour the memory of her younger brother who paid that ultimate price in WWI. It’s not that we necessarily hate England and the English (many of my forbears were English, after all; that would be foolish). They don’t tell us what we should celebrate or commemorate.
What makes us super sniffy is that amid all the rhetoric there is often mention of fighting and dying “for our freedom” or to “defend our country”. We only did that in Sydney Harbour and in Darwin. I’m prepared to stretch a point to concede that our presence in New Guinea was also probably more defensive than invasive. But most of the time, we were invading other countries. Sure, let’s honour our fallen but let’s keep it in perspective. We were an invading force. Tragically, we deserved to be snotted.
In the spirit, therefore, of acknowledging Anzac Day and those Aussies and Kiwis who have fallen while being the biggest bully on the block, or at least its mightiest sidekick, I can’t go along with Binyon’s ode. I choose to post from John Le Gay Brereton‘s Anzac these lines that it is easy to read as an acknowledgment of the wrongs we inflicted on our foes:
Yet here I stand and bow my head
To those whom other banners led,
Because within their hearts the clang
Of Freedom’s summoning trumpets rang.
Yes, let’s honour them all. We tried to take away their freedom. Let’s acknowledge, too, all the other invaders we’ve treated as pariahs upon their return: Dr B’s generation saw the Vietnam War inflict its long damage. We remember that, too. And we remember that, yet again, our government sent our military personnel to invade another country. Lest we forget, indeed.