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Another way to honour the Anzac spirit?

Australian writer and former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons had a brave and timely opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Anzac Day.

While he starts with the appropriate deference for the sacrifices that we remember each April 25 with our cobbers across the ditch – “many emotions will resonate – reverence and respect, amid remembrance” – FitzSimons argues “one emotion is painfully missing” in our annual observance: “Rage.”

Rage at the sheer human waste that resulted from the cavalier attitude with which officers in the First World War condemned the men they commanded to the role of mere cannon fodder in that increasingly industrialised slaughter; rage at the lack of remorse of those responsible.

As FitzSimons notes, this is an inconvenient aspect of ‘the Anzac legend’ that is seldom acknowledged in our commemorations and one that’s pretty much never welcome – witness, for example, the reaction when former Australian prime minister Paul Keating derided WWI as a “quagmire of European tribalism”: he was roundly attacked, “with the broad theme being that by denying the nobility of the Great War, he was spitting on the graves” of those Australians [and New Zealanders] who died or were maimed; physically, psychological, and spiritually.

For those who might question the veracity of his view, FitzSimons then goes on to provide details of just one example of the pointless butchery that conflict comprised [for those who wish to read it themselves, the article’s titled ‘The missing emotion that needs to be articulated on Anzac Day – rage’ and is available online for free].

The piece also put in mind another aspect of Anzac Day that increasingly clangs discordantly in the ears of this writer – the insistence on the part of politicians that those who served and sacrificed did so to secure the freedoms that we continue to enjoy today.

But what freedoms might those be, pray tell?

The hard truth is that a number of what we may have assumed to be our natural freedoms until just a few years ago have recently been subject to rapid erosion.

One of the remarkable – and remarkably unsettling – features of the covid-19 pandemic, for example, is how quickly apparently liberal democratic governments began to insist that what had hitherto been regarded as intrinsic human rights were suddenly subordinate to what were presented as pragmatic pandemic responses, and how eager the majority of their citizens were to accept this [bringing to mind Benjamin Franklin’s observation that, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”].

Perhaps there were arguments for some of the curbs on freedom that were introduced, although as further information emerges, mainly from abroad, it increasingly appears that many of them were more a product of policy preferences based on “the vibe of the thing” [to quote Dennis Denuto in classic Aussie movie ‘The Castle’] than anything remotely like solid scientific evidence – even within the context of what was known at the time.

And although the pandemic is for most intents and purposes officially over, having got a taste of posing as “the single source of truth”, there appears to be an ongoing obsession on the part of governments to tighten their control over what information and opinions their citizens are allowed to utter – or be exposed to.

Perhaps another, enduring way we can honour the Anzacs, then, is to exercise the right – while it still exists – to say, “Yeah, nah” to such encroachments.

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