TUMBY BAY – For the past month or so, the Returned Services League (RSL) has saturated us with television commercials drumming up interest in today’s Anzac Day celebrations (now cancelled in Perth because of Covid).
That Anzac Day has been turned into a lucrative money-making industry for many organisations, including the RSL, couldn’t be made any clearer.
The advertisements exhort us to not only honour and commemorate but also donate money. This is particularly telling.
So too is the fact that many veterans of Australia’s recent wars find the RSL irrelevant and do not participate in Anzac Day commemorations. My son, who served in East Timor and Iraq, is one of them.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that once the now aged veterans of the Vietnam War fade away so too will the RSL.
Anzac Day has, rightly or wrongly, been depicted as glorifying war. As has, in recent times, the Australian War Memorial.
This is a complex argument but it is instructive that one particular group from Australia’s many wars has always been judiciously ignored by the RSL.
This is the cohort of conscientious objectors.
The courage of these people who refused to participate in the military because of their opposition to war has never been acknowledged.
If you don’t think that it takes courage to object to war and refuse to take part in it, read the unflinching account by New Zealander Archibald Baxter (1881-1970) in his book, ‘We Will not Cease’, first published in 1939.
In 1915, when he was 33, Baxter was arrested, sent to prison and shipped under guard to Europe, where he was forced to the front line against his will.
He was punished to the limits of all dignity. He was beaten, starved and left for dead naked and strapped to a post outside in the snow.
Baxter survived but, in a final attempt to discredit him, the authorities consigned him to a mental hospital.
You can also read the autobiography of American dissenter, David Dellinger, one of the famous Chicago Eight, ‘From Yale to Jail’.
Dellinger (1915-2004), a lifelong anti-war activist, refused to fight in World War II and actively opposed every US war thereafter. He served many spells in prison.
Dellinger was subsequently prosecuted and imprisoned by the US government for (among other things) conspiracy to cross state lines with intent to incite a riot.
Just imagine if there had been more men with the courage of Baxter and Dellinger. Just imagine if men refused to bear arms and fight each other. It’s not an idea as unlikely as it seems.
ABC broadcaster Phillip Adams tells of how, during World War I, there were more than 23,000 courts martial of Australian soldiers resulting from desertion or soldiers going absent without leave. This is not a small number.
Adams sheds light on the many men who resisted war however they could, and reveals the determination of some national leaders to continue World War I despite repeated opportunities to settle for peace.
American president Joe Biden is finally bringing the disastrous and pointless 20 year war in Afghanistan to a close. That war took the lives of 3,502 soldiers, including 41 Australians.
And it led to the deaths of at least 150,000 Afghan civilians. There are no accurate official statistics.
All this for nothing.
This is not something worth glorifying.
As William de Maria observed, in a piece published yesterday in PNG Attitude: “This once-a-year military version of the Melbourne Cup is now a flag waving carnival of deceit and smugness. A Mardi Gras with guns.”
Let us all become conscientious objectors to this modern rendition of Anzac Day.
Let us make Anzac Day a commemoration of courage and sacrifice, and with an unwavering commitment to peace not war.