Monday, April 25, 2005

forgive and forget not

What a strangle article by Michael Duffy at the weekend--"War is fun and a big picnic, lest we forget". He seems to be complaining that Anzac Day celebrates failure whereas we really should be celebrating our victories in warfare. Oh and by the way, it’s basically in our genes to be violent.

“It has become respectable again to think and talk about Australia’s involvement in war. But—and this is crucial to Gallipoli’s unique status—we prefer to focus on only one aspect of that involvement, the Australian soldier as victim. The digger as killer and victor is being airbrushed from public memory. Gallipoli suits this purpose admirably... Gallipoli is a glorification of futility...Let’s not forget how it enables us to downplay our success as warriors and our enthusiasm for killing...
By all means let us honour the dead on Anzac Day. But let’s not forget those Australians who killed, survived and often won. Their case is more morally complex and disturbing. It forces us to confront aspects of our humanity that we in this unnatural period of peace have begun to forget.”

First of all, we’ve been “killer and victor” in at least two recent wars I can think of that haven't exactly been "airbrushed" from people's memories yet, except perhaps Duffy's. We’re in "an unnatural period of peace"? Could’ve fooled me. I’m not sure I get him. Would he like us to have a day off to remember the invasion of Iraq instead (“Mission Accomplished Day”, maybe?), so we could congratulate ourselves on our innate fighting, winning spirit?
Oddly, Duffy goes on to detail how "there is plenty of historical evidence that men like war". He writes of the "seductiveness of war", "in terms of intensity, excitement, comradeship and meaning". He writes, "In general, for many men war has been fun". I think a helluva lot of returned soldiers would disagree. You only need to listen every year as Anzac children recall how their soldier father, on returning home, never again spoke of the horror he had lived through.
I’m sorry, but it’s just too easy to say "men are born to fight" because that dismisses the moral culpability of those who declare the wars, who set up the geopolitical circumstances that cause wars. Let’s not forget it’s organised killing.
No; I don’t agree with Duffy that it’s just in our genes, that our habit of using violence as a means of conflict resolution is the result of "survival of the fittest…and the fittest were those whose qualities included a capacity for violence." Hey, we’ve evolved a bit since our caveman days. Maybe, once upon a time, without language skills or the ability to negotiate and rationalise and reason, we had to resort to violence. But in the modern age, it’s not only the physically strong who succeed and pass on their genes. No, wars are a failure of diplomacy, not some immutable urge. So it’s right that we remember the tragedy and atrocity of war on Anzac Day, rather than celebrate a "win".
Me, I’ve never really felt that Anzac Day was part of my story, because I’m a migrant (arriving in Oz in 1971) of German, Italian and Polish stock. When I went to Turkey in 1992 to pay my respects it was mainly to accompany my true-blue Aussie boyfriend, for whom the story and the place were sacred. Still, I was as moved as he and everyone else was by the appalling sense of waste and tragedy; and not just for our young compatriots, but for all the Turks too.
Lest we forget the horrors of war. Absolutely.