I am a bit under the weather with a cold, but I didn’t want to let Anzac Day pass by without a brief comment. For the first time ever, I watched the Anzac day coverage on TV, including a doco on Australians in France during WW2 and the dawn service at Villers Bretonneux.
Anzac day always affects me powerfully. I have never been to the big Sydney march because I’ve been afraid of being too overwhelmed by it. So yesterday was an excuse for an emotional binge. I’m not sure why it affects me this way. My father is a veteran of WW2 (he fought in Papua New Guinea – Kokoda, Sanananda, Gona & Bune), so perhaps I cry because it reminds me how much I love him, and that his life will be over soon (he’s 94). Perhaps it’s because I grew up surrounded by people who had lived through WW2, and whose fears about war had resurfaced with the conflict in Vietnam. Perhaps it’s just because of the tragic loss of so many young people’s lives, and the horrible stupidity of war. Perhaps for all of these and many other reasons.
At any rate, I know I am not alone in having these powerful feelings, and I have made a decision to face them. A pastor at the Villers Bretonneaux service yesterday (still today, in France), said: “Let the memory of those who suffered and died here inspire us to be peacemakers.”
To me, that is the core message of Anzac day. Not to glorify war, or to build up nationalistic pride, or to bolster feelings of bitterness and revenge; but to remember, and in remembering to grieve fully for what has happened. And in grieving – through all its stages of disbelief, anger, sadness – to heal. For it is only in healing that we can ensure that such horror doesn’t happen again.
This, I believe, is why wars keep happening – people don’t heal from the experience and thus keep perpetuating it. Of course there are economic and political pretexts, greed and imperialism, but if people could really deal with the emotional legacy of war, they – we – would not allow it to continue.
So that is why, this year, I really allowed myself to grieve on Anzac day. And also to contemplate a hopeful future. There were Asian faces in the various bands that acconpanied the parade. Unthinkable 50 years ago. An elderly white man marched with a child who appeared to to be of mixed Asian background – perhaps his grandson? Representatives of the ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’, men of Papua New Guinea who assisted Australian troops, marched proudly in the parade. The school children of the village of Villers Bretonneux, ‘liberated’ by Australian soldiers in WW1, sang Waltzing Matilda (how delightful to hear it sung with a french accent 🙂 ). Less than a century before WW1, Britain and France had been at war.
There is hope for the future when people overcome their differences and recognise and love each other’s humanity. And this is where I put in my plug for mixed couples and families. This is what we do every day. Congratulations to us all.