Current Issue #488

March and other horribles

March and other horribles

This month we have International Women’s Day, which does not seem to stop the clocks, despite the best efforts of women.

The god of war is practicing the drums ready for the Ides and other horribles, though March is a bit less oppressive this year because the gruesome crucifixion rituals are not until April, where they lead up to more gruesomeness with Anzac Day.

This month we have International Women’s Day, which does not seem to stop the clocks, despite the best efforts of women who have good reason to make the day central to our thoughts.

As with other ‘days’ that are meant to give us pause, International Women’s Day has its celebratory aspect (“how far we have come, girls!”) and its sorrowful and maddening aspect (“how far can we claim to have come, girls, when… this is still happening in Afghanistan, and some Adelaide homes for that matter?”). The jokers will be all over the internet saying every day is women’s day and men are now the oppressed, blah, blah… and much worse. But I will be wearing the purple and green for my own memories, and so will a lot of women of my age who were at the sharp edge of change in our youth.

Thursday, March 8 is a day when I particularly want to shake some women until their teeth rattle… those who say they got their success “on merit” without help from their foremothers: those who say, “I am not your sister” (but they’d love to be a brother, wouldn’t they? And they hope that denying female solidarity will make them more popular with the brotherhood), and especially the ones who cannot see that unless a woman has control over her own body she has jolly little else… I could go on. But by March 9 I have stepped back to cutting things out of the paper and fuming about them, trying to bring a bit of feisty oldenpause to the internet (a younger woman asked me if oldenpause is better than menopause: I was able to tell her, “oh yes, you bet on it”) and watching the wheel being reinvented.

If I may jump a month ahead, I must say that I don’t recover from Anzac Day so quickly. Perhaps it’s better to mention this now because by April things are on the boil and my views might get me in the pot. But the Gallipoli Gala and festival of fake grief that Anzac Day has become sicken me. Particularly little kids slobbering over slaughter and mouthing things they cannot understand.

British columnist Matthew Parris asks why, as the Great War recedes further into the past, does it loom larger? He thinks it is because the First World War is “more bewildering” than the Second World War whose causes were, apparently, satisfactorily explained to him as a child.

But I think it is because it is easier to romanticise and mythologise something that it is long in the past. And WW1 had the horses, the great cavalry charges, wads of time between a war event and news, sanitised, of it reaching home, and young people leaping at a chance to enlist and get away from home at a time when hardly anyone travelled much. War was thinkable, because it then took so long for people to discover the unthinkable.

But the truth is that all wars are about death, lies, slaughter of the innocents, and torture, always torture. And this is not a truth for little children to be mouthing on Anzac Day. Instead their script is almost invariably, “they died for us”, which makes them sound like Jesus, when many of the casualties of WW1 were kids themselves, after a bit of adventure or conned by posters, often dying of terrible illnesses. Not at all like Jesus. And they did heroic things, especially for their mates and sometimes for their horses, and they did awful things because they were in situations beyond their judgment and experience as often are the young people shoved into front lines today. Paul Daley’s account of the massacre that followed the Beersheba charge* (something that certainly doesn’t fit with the romantic idea of Diggers) is shattering. But it is only surprising to those who have such a naïve idea of war that they mouth stuff such as, “they died for us, and for our freedom”.

If people are going to make speeches and kids do sound bites on Anzac Day let it be something nearer the truth: war is hell for everyone, for both sides, and both sides do terrible things. So let’s work towards doing away with war… something like that, anyway. The Dawn Service, a nice march and some quiet reflection are best, I think.

And the wrath of many may now descend on horrible old Shirley’s head. What would she know? Now there’s a thing. I am a survivor of World War 1. My Dad was at Gallipoli and in Egypt, a glorious Light Horseman. And he brought home the horrors of war in his head and the family suffered ever after. As do often the families of those returned from war. The victims of war include those born decades later.

Don’t buy into it kids. Let the RSL have a nice day, bow your head for the Last Post, but it’s not a gig for the innocent.

*Beersheba, by Paul Daley. Victory Books, Melbourne.


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