what counts : of war and peace and days of remembering

Some thoughts as we turn towards another ANZAC Day.*

For Australians and New Zealanders, 25 April is ANZAC Day. A day to remember one colossal disaster that happened within the epic disaster that is war. 100 years ago boatloads of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand landed on beaches in Turkey where their opposing forces were ready and waiting. To say this reception was unexpected is to say the very least. It was a bloody mess.

In the century that has followed, 25 April has become a day to remember sacrifice, loss, and the bond forged between Australia and New Zealand, between mates helping mates in impossible situations. Those 100 years have also seen healing and reconciliation between our two countries and Turkey, as the three countries curate a space in Gallipoli for commemoration, and come together this day each year to give thanks for life and for peace. ** #

There are many criticisms to be offered for the way war is at the centre of the most important rituals of our community in Australia (and elsewhere no doubt), for the way returning soldiers were not always treated with justice or care (Indigenous soldiers ignored by the community and the defence forces they served, ill and injured soldiers shunned and ignored ...), for the overlooking of other sacrifices made for the sake of peaceful, healthy communities. I see these criticisms made with tones of anger and resentment, in news and social media.

And I wonder.

What if we didn't rain on the parade of those for whom this is an important moment to remember? What if, instead, we took our critiques and worked for reconciliation where we see broken relationships; became instruments of peace and care in our own neighbourhoods; honoured sacrifice, generosity, courage and love where and when we see it?
What if we began to create rituals of commemoration for other moments when neighbours have stood by each other with courage and compassion, when beauty has shone through the ordinary like rays of sun through grey clouds, when communities have shown resilience and embraced hope?
What if we gently challenged the forging of national identity on the stories of war, and calmly insist that other stories be told?

The reality is that the moments when we see resilience, hope, and deep connection and commitment to each other are so very often moments of disaster, brought about by humans or by nature. A breadth of stories of courage in the face of challenge and danger of various kinds would shift the nature of commemoration from the disaster to the hope, I think. The shaping of our shared identity then becomes not a nationalistic honouring of war stories, but a human sharing of hope stories. I think.

In the mean time, let's continue to call our community to account for the moments we collectively choose to commemorate in the forging of our identity.

But let's not forget, overlook, ignore the daily opportunities we have to create a community that chooses to honour the sacrifice of doctors and nurses, emergency workers, putting in long shifts for the health and wellbeing of our community, of artists living on shoestrings in order to give us art, of volunteers giving parents of children with disabilities and the children themselves a break from the everyday routines, of _______ fill in the blank with a hero in your neighbourhood.

It is our everyday acts of attention, gratitude and kindness that will forge a community that honours peace-time sacrifices as much as those of war - and perhaps, even, in time, a global community that no longer feels the need to go to war.

* ANZAC = Australia and New Zealand Army Corps

** Updated: I have since been enlightened about another story that begins in the Ottoman Empire in April 1915, and which has been all but completely silenced. Read of the role of ANZAC soldiers in response to genocide happening around them here.

# A question was also posed on Facebook, as to whether Australia would be as welcoming of a Muslim nation wishing to commemorate a battle on our shores from a time when we were enemies, as the Turkish people have been in welcoming Australians and New Zealanders to Gallipoli.
We can temper that welcome from Turkey with the wish to provide a smokescreen for the parallel story of genocide in their land, or with the cynical eye towards tourist income, and probably not be wrong.
We might, however, pose another related question: would second Australians provide space to first Australians for commemoration of the losses of first and second Australians on invasion of our land with humility, humanity and genuine desire for healing and reconciliation? Now there's a question, indeed.


Heather said…
That last question. Indeed, can we?

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