Learning from the past

Gallipoli was sometimes described as the making of Australia.
If so, it did so by stripping, not by adorning.

By Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ
Consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services

This year, Anzac Day recalls not just those who died in previous military campaigns; it also draws our attention to those who are dying in current wars. The bringing together of past and present is important. It encourages a realistic view of the First World War – of which the landing at Gallipoli was a small part – and invites us to attend to the full reality of what we see around us in Myanmar, Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan. That view draws our attention to today’s importance as the United Nations’ International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, introduced by the UN General Assembly in December 2018.

Anzac Day rightly commemorates those who served, were injured or died on the Turkish beach. They fought on behalf of the Australian people, and they, their families and children should remain in our memory. The battle which we remember, however, was a defeat that failed in its goal. Much of the fighting there was hand-to-hand. It was part of a long war, however, in which massive developments in weaponry meant that killing and dying took place on an industrial scale and often without any sight of opposing troops. It was an introduction to the war of machines. That war that took so many lives did little more than prepare the seeds for even more destructive wars in which citizens as well as soldiers were fair game.

It was a step on the road to the helicopters of Myanmar, the drones in Ukraine and the destroyed cities of Gaza, wars in which what counts as victory is the destruction of homes, of lives and of civil society, resulting in the embitterment of generations. It was the expression of a geopolitical approach in which millions of people are considered expendable for the prize of a passing advantage. As a Roman writer said of their legions, “They make a desert and call it peace”.

Anzac Day is also a day of compassion for those who suffer in war, both in the past and the present. As we think of the soldiers who fought and died at Gallipoli, we imagine also the families they left behind. So too the soldiers who returned home wounded inwardly by the war. In addition, the subsequent burden borne by their families, women widowed and left single by the death of so many marriageable men, small towns stripped of a generation of young men, and the grief that enveloped so many people. Gallipoli was sometimes described as the making of Australia. If so, it did so by stripping, not by adorning.

That is why, in the face of present conflicts, Pope Francis follows earlier Popes in speaking of war as the enemy and calling for diplomacy to end them. This is always unpopular with people who see diplomacy as appeasement and anything short of unqualified victory as defeat.

Anzac Day reminds us of the price that people pay for the wars their leaders join. The present wars remind us of the destruction of peoples and of their culture made possible in war today. Both call on us to support the work of people who try to make peace. In the heat of war, they are often accused of appeasement, but their words contribute more to human happiness than do their critics’ bombs.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ was recently made a life member of the Australasian Catholic Press Association.

Banner image by Lighthousebay, Canva.

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