Monday, 25 April 2011

Of poppies and pride

This morning Snuffly, his father and I trudged along May Rd in the rain to the Mt Roskill War Memorial.  There was quite a crowd; the hall was full, with many standing at the back or just outside.  The Auckland City Brass Band and a local Tongan choir assisted with the musical episodes, and the wreath-laying was done respectfully.

I wonder sometimes, during these ceremonies, what everyone else is thinking.  We bow our heads, we look grave, we wear our respect for the dead with a kind of pride, like our poppies.  There's a sort of enforced conformity about how solemn we must be on April 25th, as if it's a national funeral that we repeat annually.

I don't want to forget.  And for me, these days, ANZAC Day is about not forgetting the horror of war;  all of the horror, not just the experiences of soldiers, for "our boys over there", but for everyone touched by violent conflict. 

We often seem to have this strange picture of war in our heads, as New Zealanders, where we are always fighting the Nazis, have always been fighting the Nazis, and that's OK because everyone knows they were evil.  This simplification was understandable when I was an eleven year old standing on parade at the Devonport ceremony with my white Mariners' hat freshly coated with toothpaste.  But as an adult, especially since I went to Gallipoli, I know it's not true. 

At ANZAC Cove we were the invaders not the defenders.  I felt embarassed, in the mini bus driving through what is almost a holy place for Kiwis, while the Turkish tour guide told us what we wanted to hear about - the experience of people like us.  They took us to the Turkish memorial too, and it was significantly more packed than any of the antipodean ones, with Turkish flags flying.  To be The Other on that land, on their land, where their blood was shed too, was a bit of an epiphany for me. 

We put these poppies on our breasts, we bear them with pride, but we should not be proud of war, or of New Zealand's war record.  We've fought our own, we've fought alongside dubious allies for foggy reasons, and our people have done terrible terrible things to others in war time.  We shouldn't delude ourselves that no ANZAC every raped or murdered or stole.  Soldiering is not usually an act of self-defence. 

That's what is inside my head as I stand there while we listen to The Last Post.  The importance not only of remembering, but also of remembering as truly as we can.


Hugh said...

I have a lot to say about this but as usual some other bugger said it better, so here are the words of Tom Irwin from 'The History Boys':

‎"That's why. The dead. The body count. We don't like to admit the war was even partly our fault cos so many of our people died. And all the mourning's veiled the truth. It's not "lest we forget", it's "lest we remember". That's what all this is about, the memorials, the Cenotaph, the two minutes' silence. Because there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it."

Alison said...

Thanks Julie for expressing something I've been struggling to articulate for a long time now.

I actually don't attend ANZAC commemorations (and never have) because I've been so put off by the simplification from some quarters over the years. It's a day of considerable ambivalence for me. I don't believe as a nation that we've learned from our mistakes, so it feels rather hollow.

travellerev said...

So very true.