Monday, 26 March 2012

"Best we forget"

is what the headline reads in today's paper. I was going to write about something else entirely this morning but this makes me angry.
Apparently there are suggestions that acknowledging the centenary of ANZAC Day should be kept low key because Australian involvement in current conflicts is unpopular with young Australian and because of the potential for upsetting Australians of other backgrounds.
A considerable sum of money has been spent by the government on "researching" this. They say ANZAC Day commemorations are "something of a double-edged sword" with respect to young people and that we need to be sensitive to the fact that some migrants fought on "the other side" in some conflicts.
I do not disagree with either of those statements but I do believe that we all need to be aware of the fact that there are wars, that people die in wars, that people are injured in wars, that land mines kill and mame, that wars are about power and suppression and the denial of rights. War is never good.
We lived in the centre of a "soldier settlement" when I was in my teens. My father was appointed to the area school. We were surrounded by farms settled by soldiers who had been placed on the land after the war. The government did not know what else to do with these men. Many of them had never farmed but they had no other qualifications. The incidence of physical and, more particularly, mental illness was high in the local community.
Everyone participated in ANZAC Day there. We all knew what it was about. The little ones still got the story about Simpson and his donkey but we got other stories. Our history teacher was the wife of one of the soldiers. She made sure we understood, as best teenagers can, just what had happened, why it had happened, how Australians came to be involved and many other things.
On ANZAC Day itself we turned out in school uniform or Guide and Scout uniform. We were inspected for clean hair, clean fingernails, clean shoes, clean and pressed clothes. We understood that you turned up for the service looking the best you possibly could because it showed respect.
It showed respect. I think that is what angers me about the suggestion that the centenary commemoration should be low key. We should never celebrate war but this is not about celebrating war.  It should be about showing respect for those who died. 
Going low key suggests that the Australian involvement is something to be ashamed of. It is not. Going to war is not something to be proud of but that is not the same as being ashamed. If future generations do not know about these things then, as the saying goes, we will be "condemned to repeat it".
If migrants to Australia fought "on the other side" then they too have to respect our right to acknowledge ANZAC Day. There was a large Greek gathering in Melbourne yesterday - to celebrate the Greek National Day, the day they broke free of the Ottoman Empire. If they can do that and have television coverage, if other groups can also celebrate their national days, their New Year, their religious festivals and other events of importance in the countries they come from, then we must have the right to do similar things.
We have a duty to do it as well.

4 comments:

the fly in the web said...

My grandfather was from Australia...came to England and met my grandmother when wounded in France in the Great War.

Enough of this lily livered pandering to the off chance that some group or other might be offended...
It is government not wanting to call attention to its current involvements which is at the bottom of this and you have a right to show respect for those who died and you also have a duty to see to it that you can't be pushed aside.

Your respect is those men's memorial.

liz fenwick said...

I'm with you on this one Cat but you knew that!
lx

Anonymous said...

I'm with you too Cat. Chris

catdownunder said...

Thankyou all - I thought you would agree but I still felt cross enough to need to write it!