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When I was growing up, and coming to realise that there is no glory in war[1], I came to appreciate the wisdom of Australia, and New Zealand, commemorating a defeat.

There is, or there was, a truth to that.  The truth that

  • War is hell.
  • The price is always higher than you know.
  • There are always victims who never return, or who never truly recover from the horrors they encounter.

Yes, there are occasions when war will be necessary or justified, but these are rarer than usually thought, and even those should not be glorified.

So it was that I came to appreciate the subtlety of ANZAC Day for it did, and does, recall a terrible defeat. Just one more pointless campaign among many of the First World War[2].

Commemorating a defeat carries with it the national reminder that war is not to be glorified, that it is to be a last resort, and that when the sword is drawn the nation will be paying the price for years to come in shattered families and broken lives.

At one time I fondly believed that to be the national view of ANZAC Day, and it still is my view of what the day means to me and should mean to more.

As the memories of Gallipoli have passed from lived experiences to dry history to legend to mythology, I believe that some of that wisdom has been lost from Australia.

As much as for the forgotten soldiers, I weep for the passing of that wisdom.

I see the commercialisation of ANZAC Day, and I weep for my country.

I see the creeping glorification of the ANZAC experience, the hagiography of the diggers, and I weep for my country.

I hope that this too shall pass, that one day Australia will reclaim the wisdom of commemorating the price of war on ANZAC Day.

In the meantime, as best as I can, I will remember both the fallen and those who continued to pay the price for the long years after they returned. I will respect their achievements, but hope that no one ever has to repeat them. And, so, finally I come to the Ode of Remembrance:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

Rest in peace.

[1] Which I will admit took me far longer to realise than it should, but I was young and more foolish then.

[2] I’ll qualify that by noting that Gallipoli may have been the making of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and so in a bitter irony the allies may have achieved more for the world by losing at Gallipoli than they would have by winning.