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And so this is Anzac Day… or Easter Monday… whatever. Either way, it’s a public holiday and one of our nation’s favourites. I, for one, hold Anzac Day as sacred, and revere its traditions: the silent solidarity of a dawn service; the chill up your spine from The Last Post; the bonhomie of two-up and schooners at the RSL. But somewhere in the back of my mind lurks an uncertainty. Do we, as a nation, glorify war?

Australia wears war like a medal – competitively, proudly, savouring the small weight of it and the heavy toll it represents. My English husband can’t get his head around the importance of war to this, the lucky country. Why would somewhere so sunny, so carefree and so very remote be ostentatiously proud of playing a small role in a lot of big wars? Are there not better things on which to pin our national identity?

My father fought in the Vietnam War, which for a long time was shunned from the “lest we forget” legacy and relegated instead to a new category: Best we forget. See, we lost that one. And no-one was very supportive of it by the time Australia finally pulled out. But for the young men conscripted to join the Americans in a thankless losing battle, there wasn’t exactly much choice.

My dad was allowed to join his father to march in the Sydney ANZAC parade in 1989. My memory is patchy – grey denim, men with beards (my dad included), fathers alongside the grandfathers, all with medals pinned to their chest, reaching for the ice-cream containers of cookies we’d baked; the smell of rosemary, remembrance.

That day the Anzac legend encompassed a whole new genre of war and opened up the ideal. The original Anzacs fought for our freedom and were all that lay between my easy life and Japanese or German colonisation. But what about the Vietnam veterans? It’s not like Ho Chi Mihn had his eye on Canberra. And how about modern veterans of the Middle East? Are kids in school taught about their tours of duty or individual acts of heroism the way I learned about Simpson and his donkey?

These are difficult questions to ask, but even harder to answer. As time proves the ultimate battlefield for our diggers and isolated wars continue to attract Australia’s forces, the “Anzac legend” morphs into the “Anzac spirit”. A celebration of bravery, courage and the skills of today’s soldiers.

So do we glorify war? Perhaps. This gives the expression “lest we forget” even more poignancy – as a reminder that war is a terrible thing. When I told Dad that a young soldier I know was itching to go to war, he replied simply, “then he’s a bloody idiot”. Lest we forget.

Published: Apr 28, 2011 2:05pm by johegerty.

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