For a juvenile culture and immature country like NZ, attempting to comprehend the magnitude of our slaughter; the contemptible way Māori were treated on returning from war; the lack of support services for those mentally scarred; the sacrifice of pacifists and the pointless murder of our own brutal invasions is more akin to unblinking sheep nervously stepping into the Lourve Museum to study contemporary Art.
We simply lack the sophistication to even begin to ask those questions.
Every ANZAC Day it’s not a case of ‘lest we forget’, it’s a case of ‘lest we remember’.
As the dead groan under their weight at the horror with which we cheerfully threw them into, they scream at us to never make the same mistakes.
We always make the same mistakes.
Right now we have the NZDF hiding a war crime in Afghanistan and the recent atrocity in Christchurch brought a medieval war to our homes.
This ANZAC Day it feels like we are desperately searching for the meaningless in horror, like a wilful forgetting in exchange for hollow gestures.
Haven’t we grown up as a country that will no longer feed the dogs of war with the lives of our brightest and youngest?
When we do go to war it should only ever be for the right reasons and never simply to please an overseas power.
Aren’t these the lessons we are supposed to have learned when we walk around our War Museums staring at the cringe worthy posters calling on men to fight for ‘King and Country’ as we pass name after name after name after name of the ‘glorious’ dead’?
Isn’t that what we should be solemnly promising the dead at dawn? That they have not died in vain and that we have learned to avoid conflict without flag blinded nationalism that pointlessly slaughters so many?
We have learnt nothing and in the wake of the Christchurch atrocity we are no longer sure who we are.
Accusations that a Poet as brilliant as Baxter was a rapist seems to sum up our existential identity crisis better than anything else right now.
The Gunner’s Lament
A Maori gunner lay dying
In a paddyfield north of Saigon,
And he said to his pakeha cobber,
“I reckon I’ve had it, man!
‘And if I could fly like a bird
To my old granny’s whare
A truck and a winch would never drag
Me back to the Army.
‘A coat and a cap and a well-paid job
Looked better than shovelling metal,
And they told me that Te Rauparaha
Would have fought in the Vietnam battle.
‘On my last leave the town swung round
Like a bucket full of eels.
The girls liked the uniform
And I liked the girls.
‘Like a bullock to the abattoirs
In the name of liberty
They flew me with a hangover
Across the Tasman Sea,
‘And what I found in Vietnam
Was mud and blood and fire,
With the Yanks and the Reds taking turns
At murdering the poor.
‘And I saw the reason for it
In a Viet Cong’s blazing eyes –
We fought for the crops of kumara
And they are fighting for the rice.
‘So go tell my sweetheart
To get another boy
Who’ll cuddle her and marry her
And laugh when the bugles blow,
‘And tell my youngest brother
He can have my shotgun
To fire at the ducks on the big lagoon,
But not to aim it at a man,
‘And tell my granny to wear black
And carry a willow leaf,
Because the kid she kept from the cold
Has eaten a dead man’s loaf.
‘And go and tell Keith Holyoake
Sitting in Wellington,
However long he scrubs his hands
He’ll never get them clean.’
James K Baxter