Lest thou forget
The things which thine eyes have seen
MANY of us will tomorrow bow our heads to honour Diggers who made the ultimate sacrifice, and those who selflessly gave up their families, hopes and dreams.
As the bugle sounds the haunting melody of The Last
Post, some of us might catch a fleeting glimpse of the horror and hardship endured. Some will shed a tear for the 60,000 Aussies killed in the four years of the Great War. It is an epic tragedy. Just as tragic is that our honourable and very human sense of remembrance is being hijacked.
Our noble desire to honour those who fought for freedom on our behalf — not just from 1914 to 1918 but in so many other wars around the world — is being commandeered by an insidious war machine.
If we do not extricate our respect for the fallen from the tentacles of the international arms trade, the terror of mass shootings that occur in the US on a weekly basis will be replicated and magnified on the global stage.
Rather than a lone gunman slaying dozens of innocents in schools, nightclubs, concerts and houses of prayer, the slaughter will be amplified and visited on victims in the hundreds and thousands.
The conflict will be between nations, religious sects and competing ideologies and causes, some of which are yet to be imagined.
The widespread warring in the world today will seem in hindsight like an epoch of peace.
The fear and distrust of neighbours that drives Americans to arm themselves to the hilt and fill their suburban homes with the tools of war is being spread unbridled on a global scale.
Whether Filipinos, Vietnamese, Aussies or Indonesians, we are urged to deck ourselves out with submarines, missile systems, warships, jetfighters, helicopters, bombs, guns and military fatigues.
We are told that mutually assured destruction will bring about our safety, like it did during the Cold War between Russia and the US.
But just as the mass murderers slay innocents in the US without remorse, rogue states, runaway ideologs and megalomaniacal leaders do not fear their own destruction; the life-or-death throw of a dice exhilarates, ennobles and emboldens them.
Easy access to the tools of war empowers them.
The arms industry is a merciless, soulless and morally bankrupt industrial behemoth that preys on governments. It is arming the world.
The trade’s allure to governments Left, Right and Centre is that it delivers them power.
It’s easy. Governments spend public money building gargantuan defence departments that stimulate economic growth and jobs. We’re all militarising, Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand. All of us.
In Australia, states and territories squabble over defence contracts. Private engineering and manufacturing firms join overseas partners. The economic stimulus is real and measurable.
Governments thrive on the buoyant economic indicators delivered by the war machine, and their leaders are exalted by the spread of nationalism as they lay wreaths at our shrines.
There is a growing awareness to be found in letters pages of newspapers around the country that the level of patriotism around days of remembrance — such as Armistice Day tomorrow and in the grand memorialisation of war in general — is at fever pitch, verging on hysterical.
Many who died and fought in our name would be aghast at the misappropriation of their sacrifice.
Councils around the country pour millions into worthy memorials such as the $11 million footbridge being built in Hobart to link the Soldiers Memorial Avenue with the Cenotaph.
Half a billion dollars is being funnelled into the Australian War Memorial in Canberra — with space ominously set aside for conflicts yet to be fought — and $100 million was spent on the Sir John Monash Centre in France, which opened this year.
The Invictus Games, which drew much-needed attention to the plight of those wounded in war, were sponsored by weapons-makers Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing.
Lockheed is also working with the Australian War Memorial on commemorations.
There’s been recent talk of saluting veterans and giving them priority boarding on aircraft. The idea was howled down by veterans, who wanted nothing of the sort. Hardly surprising considering the legendary character of the Aussie Digger. Our soldiers infuriated British officers during the Great War by only saluting superiors they respected.
“Why do you not salute?” a British colonel asks an Australian private in a famous cartoon published in 1917. “To tell you the truth, digger,” the Aussie replies, “we’ve cut it right out.” And there’s the rub. I dare suggest many for whom we bow our heads tomorrow would turn in their graves at this glorification of war and fervent patriotism. Upon return to civilian life, many refused to speak of the horror they endured. Words failed them. War is hell. Some estimate that more than 80 Australian veterans killed themselves last year, and Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing figures show 325 took their own lives from 2001 to 2015.
Tomorrow, as the bugle blows, remember that armistice means to stop fighting. We owe the Diggers that much.
Lest we forget.
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