Today's ANZAC Day. Last year I got all keen and went to the dawn service. This year wasn't really happening for me, so I wandered down around midday for the afternoon service. I always have really mixed feelings about ANZAC Day - it feels wrong not to participate in some way, yet each time I go along to a march or a ceremony I feel kind of out of place. It's not often that I chose to stand amid crowds of mums and dads cheering on members of the military, or sing the national anthem in implied support of our overseas troops. Yet I have to go and do something to remember, lest we forget, I suppose. I go because I need some occasion to recognise the terrible waste of war that sits, proud and ugly, in our Australian history. I go because I feel like not going would be terribly disrespectful to all those people who died...ungrateful, perhaps, although I don't exactly buy into the idea that they sacrificed themselves for our freedom. I sort of think that they sacrificed themselves for the folly and power play of politicians. But my war history is terrible so I'm never very sure of this gut instinct.
And so this year, as last year, I took my place before the shrine, just wanting to remember the dead and pay my respects, but finding that I was becoming increasingly confused and uncomfortable. Why was everybody clapping the uniformed soldiers marching by? Was it because they, too, are ready and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and way of life, in much the same spirit as the ANZACs? Perhaps it was a general cheering on a show of appreciation for the armed forces. I find it hard to clap to that. Do people consider the present-day military a personification of the soldiers who died? Maybe. I don't mind that idea so much. But what I find really difficult is the way present war is justified by the ANZAC myth - we remember, alongside those who died on the Western Front, those who are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Solomon Islands etc etc. That annoys me - I just want to remember those who died, not those who are presently fighting in wars I don't agree with. I don't like it when the lives of men who were virtually cannon fodder for the elite are turned into some nation-building myth, which somehow justifies more death, waste and injustice.
To be fair, this year wasn't as bad as last year. At last year's dawn service, this digger who had been serving in Afghanistan got up and told us all how he was proud to be following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather in both the great wars. It amazed me how powerful the ANZAC myth is - that it can make people proud of war. It struck me as a fantastic device used by the nation to normalise and glorify violence. This year John Brumby made a much more sensitive speech, which focused more on the tragedy of war. I don't mind John Brumby.