Former army special services commander, James Brown, has said that Anzac Day has become a military Halloween, a lavish festival of the dead.
Let them rest in peace. “A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel!” Merchant of Venice Former army special services commander, James Brown, has said that Anzac Day has become a military Halloween, a lavish festival of the dead. That for me is a description not only of the centenary commemorations starting this year, but of every Anzac Day for quite a long time, with the exception of some rural and street corner services. Third Agers are among those who detest this. Little kids sobbing in the streets saying “They died for us”; teenagers, with pious fervour, placing wreaths and scripted to say, “They died for freedom”; inflated prose, macabre tourism… That’s what Anzac Day has become. And all the time we know that the Anzacs, those who survived, had devised for themselves the perfect commemoration… the dawn service and a simple march, and maybe a picnic after. We have forgotten that, and their taste for simplicity and contemplation on the day. We have not shown them respect by ignoring that. By the time the centenary festivities are done, the day will become like Olympic Games opening ceremonies, each successive Anzac Day outdoing the ones before. The funeral games. Stop: who are we commemorating here? Mostly, a bunch of kids. Kids who grew up horribly fast when they found that there was no glory in war, only suffering, horror and loss. Aussie and NZ kids, some with horses they loved, wanting to get away from home for a bit, see the world, have some adventures, serve the Mother Country. They became brave and sometimes heroic and damaged and dead. They called for their mothers as they died. Survivors came home to a life forever changed by what they had seen and endured. And, try not to forget this (it so often is): their families suffered from their anger and sadness, particularly their anger. I knew these men, some of them, and one of them was my father. They would hate what is planned for this year. They felt the absence of the young dead as we cannot and we should not try to stage it. Their families watched them booze away their pain, many of them. Watched them die young after the peace. Or live on with lingering illnesses and neuroses. That kind of pain must not be belittled by being commemorated by a circus, and worst of all, the patronising speakers who have worked the thesaurus for variants of blood sacrifice, spirit, legacy, pride, ethos; hoping reflected glory will come to them as they pull a long face and sing hymns out of tune. And by manipulated children with designer tears. If I had ever thought of going to Gallipoli for the festival of the dead, my father’s voice in my head would have scared me off. That voice is authenticated by his war diary. War politicised him. It didn’t ennoble or soften him. The speech he might have made on this April 25 would scare the pants off the Prime Minister and other worshipping bigwigs. Reserved as most returned WW1 personnel were, I believe they would have found their voice to condemn the military Halloween. Let them rest in peace. Look after the present survivors or war, as James Brown insists. Teach kids to detest and resist war, to get on with our neighbours, and to seek glory, if they need it, in life-affirming work. That’s it. *************** One of the useful things I did in my earlier life was to challenge the extraordinary powers of the Australian Bureau of (Census and) Statistics when they insisted I take part in a nine-month household survey that included invasive questions such as “do you have wheezes in your chest?” But it was on grounds of security I refused to answer, even though the ABS has always claimed that its information was secure and their questioners entrusted with private information above reproach. I was prosecuted, I defended – and won. It seems I was the only successful refusenik, but that might have changed since this occurred in the 80s. How happy were my supporters (and there were many), who objected to these inquisitions to which one must reply or pay (then) $100 per day per unanswered question for as long as the question remained unanswered. There is now a healthy internet rebellion about such compulsory surveys. My case gets honourable mention. And now the ABS has popped up again at my door. I was sick with a killer virus fo their first call and the questioner went away. I responded shortly after to a note in the letterbox by phoning, as required, telling them the virus still had me in its grip. I asked them ever so politely to stay away. But will they? After nearly 30 years, they are after me again, readers. Will the questions this time include really awful ones like “Are you incontinent?”, “Do you have an opinion of smokers?” as they did in the past? How this old woman longs to tell them to bugger off.