My grandfather sought to join the military during World War 2. As a very young boy on a farm, he had once whacked a thistle with a stick, sending needles high in the air, tumbling up and down – and looking up at them, the thistles hit his eye and blinded him. Despite being blind in one eye, he lied his way through the recruitment process, and managed to squeak in. When he marched with his comrades, he had to hold his gun at an angle, because a damaged hand, also from that farm youth – and he was discharged from the forces by a general who was visiting the event, declaring that he spoiled the look of a parade. He never fought, and grew up to raise two sons as an open-air campaigner.
My father and his twin brother were drafted into the military during the Vietnam war. Both sons of this man who had sought to join up, they asked for a moral exemption – and rather than argue religious standpoints, my father stood before a judge and simply argued that, if the task was put to him to kill another human being, he didn’t think he could do it. The judge accepted his reason – and my father served out his draft tour in kitchens, and his brother drove trucks. Dad signed up for another tour after his first – once the war was over – and he supported my mother, and my sister, on that salary, which gave him training he needed to get jobs at restaurants and hospitals, which helped him be mobile enough to move across the nation, to the churches he worked at, and eventually helped to raise me.
I am not a fan of my childhood. Religion plays a big part of that.
I am however, occasionally and quietly struck in this time, about how the military in Australia, something to which I am directly connected, works in this twisted paradigm. We hated America for dragging us into Vietnam. We hated Britain for dragging us into Gallipolli. We did Roosevelt’s bidding at Versailles, weaponising our racism, in an effort to appeal to the superpower. We begged Britain for help in World War 2 against threats we imagined and we filled trenches with our blood hoping to appease an empire that had told us in no uncertain terms we only mattered, as we were useful. We clung to the rocks of the familiar and we tried to buy our places there with blood and honour, and we died in the name of our fears and our hopelessness.
I still like Anzacs. I still like our veterans, in a conceptual way. I like the Rats of Tobruk, I like the Ghosts of the Jungle, I like the Special Air Services (Royal). I like what we did with what we had, in the context of wars that existed. I like this video.
I don’t like war. But I can’t hate our warriors. I can’t hate the people who, when given an order to die, in the name of ideals and systems they could not, in that time and place, change, chose to die, in the hopes it would make life better for their friends and families.
Yes, our nation has deep problems. Maybe we shouldn’t be here. Maybe everything we’ve done, everything we are, is rotten, branch and root, and I should be disgusted at myself for not being able to hate these people, and myself.
I don’t know.
It’s Anzac day. Think of the people who suffer and sacrifice. Make the systems better and preserve them from ever having to do the same thing again. Think of impossible holdouts and ingenius solutions and the war machine being stalled by people who refused to die when a superior force told them to be no more.
Oh, and the first politician to invoke the Anzac Spirit to make a point about immigration needs to be spat on.