Friday, April 24, 2015

Lest we forget (again)

The poppies are starting to appear everywhere again.

I'm in the interesting position of  writing my kid's school a letter to tell them that neither she nor I will be attending their student-led ANZAC Day ceremony while (with my Board of Trustees hat on) trying to help them find a bugler or trumpeter to play the Last Post on the day.

On a recent bike tour around the South Island, my parents came across the Kowai Peace Memorial. It was built with private money in the aftermath of the First World War, as central government were only willing to fund "war memorials" in the traditional (triumphalist, militant) style. Built, I might add, by Charles Upham and friends (or at least in Upham's patch - so presumably with his blessing). It's difficult to find much reference to this written anywhere* but the caretakers at the hall talked at length about how many returned soldiers wanted functional memorials that were explicitly peace memorials and, how the government had refused to fund anything but militaristic and ornamental war memorials. A cursory google search suggests that this was not too uncommon.

This story neatly encapsulates the way I feel about the day. I acknowledge that many people who fight and die do so in the honest belief that it's their duty, but I feel like that's all we're allowed to publicly remember.

People don't just die in wars, they kill, and rape, and torture. All armies, not just the "bad guys" - because that's part of war and always has been. This is a thing that people who fight in wars need to find ways to deal with. This is a thing to remember.

World War 1 (the one we specifically commemorate on ANZAC Day) was not a "war for freedom". It was a war that made little sense even to its initial participants and involved the ANZACs only because they were dutiful colonials. It was a war that sowed the seeds for World War 2, which in turn created the conditions for many of the ongoing conflicts of the modern world - including the ghastly mess our government has just committed troops to. This is a thing to remember.

People, recognising the waste and futility of the war, struggled and suffered to protest it. This is a thing to remember.

Even now, people who threaten the official story about emerging nationhood and glory and sacrifice for freedom are attacked, and denounced as traitors. At the same time (as my old friend Dougal points out) the official version seems determined to hit peak marketing-kitsch. This is a thing to remember.

Any fitting memorial to the people who fought and died and still fight and die in the belief that they're doing their duty as good citizens of their country has to, in my mind, be one that commits to wasting as few lives as we can in future. To that end, I recommend the White Poppy campaign - the proceeds of which go to research into peace and conflict and militarism.

I'll leave you with Andy Irvine's version of Marcus Turner's** excellent meditation on all this. We can do better, that's a thing to remember.

*Apparently The Sorrow and the Pride by Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean talks about it, but I don't have a copy to hand and shan't before I want to have finished this post.The Wikipedia article on war memorials mentions it, but only in regard to Europe.

** I'd have played Marcus Turner's version but I can't find it online anywhere - so Andy Irvine is what you get.

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