Today I got out of bed, bundled up Toop for her walk, and raised the Australian flag before heading off. I’m not particularly patriotic or caught up in symbolism or flag-waving, literal or otherwise. But I do like the odd gesture, particularly if it’s easy for me and mildly interesting. And the ANZACs deserve my respects.
High-minded talk about dying for my freedom and putting their lives and limbs on the line so that future generations may enjoy the liberties and luxuries we do aside, and cynical muttering about how wars and suffering don’t seem to have stopped even more aside, those old boys – indeed the old boys and girls of that entire era – were tough, and did a hideously difficult and painful thing for what they believed was a good cause. And I can’t and won’t argue with that.
If there’s one thing that living in a “foreign” country has taught me (and there are many things), it’s that there aren’t any bad guys. Heck, I’ve moved to a country that was on the other side during the war (did you know that Finland and Great Britain are the only two democracies to ever declare war on each other? I saw it on Qi once), but the Finns weren’t bad guys. They didn’t particularly like the Nazis, but it was them or the Russians. And ultimately the Finns had to take on Russia anyway.
And while I won’t go so far as to say the Nazis weren’t bad guys – their policies and actions were as disgusting and inhuman as any enacted by people in wartime – I think it’s safe to say that most of them, like the Russians and pretty much everyone else, were terrified, doing what they had been told was right for them and their families against an enemy they’d been lied to about relentlessly, following their orders and doing what they thought was the right and noble thing. I like to believe that there was not a single person, barring the odd psychopath, who would not have preferred to just sit it out and get along.
 And okay, the “just following orders” chestnut is an old one, not a legitimate excuse for killing, let alone the greater atrocities. But it is a very human thing, and not a trait unique to the armed forces. I’m in a position not to judge, so I try not to. It’s easy to tell right from wrong when you’ve never been confronted by two or more hideously wrong choices, and had your death and the deaths of your family held up as an alternative.
Yes, it’s easy to be a judgemental hippy while I’m sitting in my peaceful home, with my fat belly full of breakfast and no particular fears – all due, to some degree or other, to the people who fought and bled in the past to make this world happen. I don’t want to sound sanctimonious. If anything, the fact that these people did such things that no sound-minded person would ever want to do is proof of their greatness.
But here in this graveyard it’s still No-Man’s Land,
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand,
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
To a whole generation that was butchered and damned.
People can be lied to. Mobs can be dangerous when whipped up. Leaders can be ambitious, stupid, insane, or simply intent on maintaining their power by keeping said mobs distracted and pointed at each other. Sometimes this turns into a perfect storm of good intentions, nationalism, ignorance and hate, and then wars happen. But actual evil?
I don’t know about that.
I think the only demons we bring into a war are the ones we create. Of our enemies, with lies and propaganda and ignorance-fuelled assumptions, and of ourselves, with the tiny half-step each new fear and each new hatred forces us to take. A half-step here where we repeat an unverified story someone tells us, a half-step there where we assume the worst of the enemy of the hour instead of trusting our own senses and looking for some sign of shared humanity. A half-step where we voluntarily hand over some precious element of our lives to a mindless government machine because the illusion of safety is more important – or just more convenient – than the responsibility and accountability that comes with true liberty. But what would I know?
Half-step, half-step, half-step.
Until one day we look back and we can’t see the line we’d drawn for ourselves, back when our world wasn’t burning and everything seemed so simple.
The ANZACs didn’t die for our freedom or legal system or privileges or lifestyle. They didn’t die for anything so small and petty. They died for us. And I’ve hoisted the flag and piped at enough memorials to feel embarrassed on behalf of anyone who says those guys would have wanted any sort of war to still be going on.
They fought and died so this sort of shit would never happen again. Nothing less.
It’s insulting to their memory to call them naïve. It’s not their fault we failed them.
This is what I mourn, in my own self-righteous and over-privileged way, on ANZAC Day.