We were told to ‘stand at dawn’, and ‘to remember them’. We are told they died for our freedom. They made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’, for ‘King and Country’. In reality, from communities across our country, our sons, brothers, fathers and uncles were rounded up like sheep and exported to fight foreign wars. So today, ANZAC Day, throughout our communities again, people parade and march in an ode to war, a tribute to nationalistic, militaristic and patriotic ideals and those who died in leaders’ pursuit of them. I will remember them but I will not honour war.
Through our own ANZAC Day, war, and war death are made heroic and glorified. It makes it easier to accept that our people were killed in brutal conditions, far from home for questionable goals and strategy. We should remember them- the millions killed in active ‘duty’, those conscripted, those incarcerated or killed for refusing to serve. The men, women, children, and animals conned, coerced, corrupted and killed. The cities destroyed, the barbarism and horrors of war. And I do remember them – I respect them, but I won’t glorify war.
We learned lessons though didn’t we. Flag-draped coffins returning home are bad for domestic politics in the modern era. But being in the military is dangerous, not just because of enemy fire. In the New Zealand, Australia and the US armed forces, high suicide rates mean many more military personnel die from their own hands than even are killed in active combat.
For citizens, the period of ‘long peace’ after the Second World War has given way to ‘the new peace’. – A time without major military conflict between dominant nations, arguably because of nuclear deterrence, global economic co-operation, democratisation, the reduction of poverty, empowerment of women, human rights doctrines, education and quality of life changes as well as the unacceptability of wars of aggression.
But wars have become both more precise and also less discerning. It’s no longer acceptable or necessary for most western nations to send their men and women physically to war. In our time, our men aren’t dying in their thousands on foreign battlefields – which were just – fields, not too long prior. No muddy, bloody, trench warfare needed here. Sophisticated military technology has sanitised the act of killing. You don’t need to get too close to your target as drone strikes and American sniper type methodology show.
We are privileged in time and place to stand distant from war. Our women and children aren’t being bombed out of, or shot in their homes. But Operation Burnham exposed by Nicky Hager and John Stephenson show that innocent people are still – at least fairly recently, at risk of being killed in remote lands by New Zealand soldiers with guns. Let’s hope that particular era is at an end?
Let’s not forget the millions of refugees and displaced persons, the Palestinians, Syrians, and Yemenis, for whom war is not some distant legend, but a reality. We need to ensure that our own country and companies are not complicit in supporting wars, militarisation, oppression and aggression by other means; whether it’s through trade, supply or maintenance contracts, militarised space payloads launched from Mahia, through the Five Eyes Alliance, or active duty. No, not on Anzac Day nor on any day, will I accept war.
World War One British poet Wilfred Owen enlisted in the military and despite or maybe because of, shell shock and injury, he returned to the front line where he was killed a week before Armistice. The absurdity of his life and death, and of all victims of war, complete the story. It’s a lie – dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.