Lest We Forget

25 April 2010 at 13:27 (Uncategorized)

Each year we remember the troops who died serving our country.  In the early hours of the morning people gather together and listen to platitudes and prayers.  They quote John 15:13 (Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends) – and talk about how these men made the ultimate sacrifice for us.  Perhaps though it’s a little disingenuous to say that these men laid down their lives – they went to war intending to murder, not die.  It proved to be a foolish decision, they put themselves and others in great danger.  These men acted recklessly.  Like drink driving or russian roulette, going to war is a really really bad idea.

Our troops arrived in a foreign land with weapons in hand.  They offered their opponents an ultimatum: surrender or be killed.  Trying to murder another human or brandishing such barbaric coercion is sickening, and it comes at no surprise that someone was going to get hurt.  We were far from innocent victims – we voluntarily brought suffering and death upon ourselves and our enemies.  We took up this deadly tango.

Even if you support these war efforts, and perhaps they are the lesser of two evils, the tragedies that we focus on during ANZAC day are still events we should regret.  These men didn’t do something great, the landing at Gallipoli only demonstrated their self-destructive ability to follow stupid orders.  The result was mindless, senseless, pointless carnage.

I find no pride in this behaviour.  It’s not something to respect, it’s something to strongly oppose.  The men who landed on the beaches don’t deserve to be honoured.  Even if their intentions were nobel their actions were preposterously stupid.  I understand the military isn’t a democracy – but what is honourable about a soldier who follows orders unquestionably?  They are just as dignified as the droids they oppose.  I prefer to honour people who think and avoid killing things.

And most of these “men” were young – 20, or 18 or younger still.  It’s much easier to get a bunch of boys with their perceived invulnerability to take senseless risks.  This is what I think we should really be reflecting on today.  Our elected officials – middle-aged men who should know better – are willing to send our youth off to be slaughtered.

The only winning move is not to play.

They talk at the war memorials about how we need to remember the past to prevent the same atrocities from repeating.  If that’s the case, don’t honour the fools involved, honour the brave conscientious objectors who thought for themselves and refused to participate.

“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.” – Gandhi

I think this simple act of civil disobedience is less esoteric than many perceive.  But it would be far from easy.  First, if conscripted you would need to realise you still have a choice, you don’t have to kill just because someone orders you to.  Act like an adult, hold yourself accountable for your actions and refuse to support acts of violence.  Segregate yourself from the war efforts, protest respectfully and serve your gaol time.

“You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul.” – Gandhi

As regrettably as they talk about the atrocities of war, ANZAC day is distinctly pro-war.  If only we had more heros like Gandhi who showed it was possible to overthrow an oppressive regime with non-violence.

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20 Comments

  1. nimeton said,

    Nice piece. I know we’ve had this debate before and I still disagree with you. I agree with your general sentiment regarding war but not to the extent of saying that the individuals involved should not be honoured/remembered.

    I would suggest that the coercion of the society at the time was too great for these individuals to refuse not to participate or to take your moral high ground, even if they really wanted to. Many of these individuals did not have a choice and they were not left with many options if they decided to go awol. As you point out, many were in their late teens/early 20s and I think it is a bit rich to be telling them to ‘act like an adult’. People in this age bracket do not have the ability (finances, influence, education, social standing etc etc etc) to stand up for themselves and do not have the option of saying ‘no’ (a teen trying to negotiate a work contract springs to mind as a modern dat example). I think this is fair enough.

    They deserve to be remembered and honoured because they died in events that were out of their control. Their country sent them to die, they didn’t do it to themselves. I agree that their actions shouldn’t be glorified or celebrated but you cannot condom them as individuals for their involvement. Their country owes these individuals for sending them to their death and a day to mark that is appropriate (Remembrance day is my preferred option and scrap anzac day).

    To apply a modern political discourse (your view) to decades past is, I think unrealistic as we don’t live in the same world now as we did then – the context is totally different. Thankfully attitudes and politics has changed over time and we have developed hopefully into a higher level society that comes up with arguments such as yours and as a result hopefully we will never see the same scenario again or indeed will say no if the option is ever put on the table.

    If the Australian public today voted to introduce subscription and send troops into war – after they know all too well the results of doing so that they didn’t then – I would be much happier to adopt your point of view and indeed have a go at the individuals involved.

    ~~~~
    One point that I do agree with you on is that places such as the Australian War Memorial and days such as ANZAC day and school history lessons for that matter should indeed have a greater focus on those that spoke out against the wars and continue to highlight the problems with war and indeed the politics of war that tends to serve a select few and not the general population.

    ~~~~~
    Meanwhile here are some interesting thoughts from Paul Keating on ANZAC day:

    “”Gallipolli was shocking for us,” Mr Keating said. “Dragged into service by the imperial government in an ill-conceived and poorly executed campaign, we were cut to ribbons and dispatched. And none of it in the defence of Australia.””

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/a-nation-reborn-at-anzac-cove-utter-nonsense-keating-20081030-5enw.html

    • monototo said,

      You’re still saying…
      “Many of these individuals did not have a choice and they were not left with many options if they decided to go awol”

      Which is it? Did they not have a choice or did they have not many options? It can’t be both! There were of course other options besides going to war or going awol – they could’ve, for example, protested and gone to gaol. There were russians under order No. 227 who declined to step forward, there were Indians who were gaoled, flogged or shot during Gandhi’s insurgence. This idea that the individual has no choice is the greatest enemy of Satyagraha.

      “many were in their late teens/early 20s and I think it is a bit rich to be telling them to ‘act like an adult’.”

      Kids who drink drive have also acted stupidly. Just because they’re poorly-informed and feel invincible doesn’t make their actions any less stupid. If you’re going to handle a gun or a motor vehicle you should act like an adult and be held accountable as an adult.

      I agree that they deserve to be remembered – but not honoured. There’s nothing honourable about doing something really stupid. We should remember them remorsefully because Australia and New Zealand put their young men in a position where they felt like they didn’t have a choice. But they had a choice and they’re still personally responsible for their actions.

      I also disagree that there’s a problem applying modern judgement to events of the past. I’m no pretending that the idea of abstaining from war was as accessible then was it is now, I’m not saying that they should’ve known better or held our insights. I’m merely saying that their actions were timelessly stupid and regrettable. It’s interesting that you agreed with me here

      Finally, your idea that we should have a greater focus on those that spoke out against the wars and continue to highlight the problems with wars is an excellent suggestion.

  2. Kent said,

    I think blaming young men for obeying conscription laws is unfair.

    • monototo said,

      1) Is it ever fair to hold someone accountable for not breaking the law?

      2) At what age do people become responsible for their actions?

      3) Is it fair to hold military personnel responsible when they are ‘just following orders’?

      • Kent said,

        1) Our unknown solider is accountable to whom, and on what basis? The state? The state can only hold people accountable for breaking the law. So if it’s not the state, who is holding our unknown soldier accountable: the court of public opinion? That’s fairly fickle. Or is just you holding them accountable? Why should they be accountable to everyone? Tell me what you mean by holding our unknown soldier “accountable”.

        2) Of course every adult is responsible for their actions. That partly defines the word “adult”. But responsible to whom? Responsibility implies a relationship involving obligation of some kind. More or less what I said in (1). Who is our unknown soldier responsible to, for his actions? I would argue, no-one but himself, the state, and any other organisations he holds himself under a state of obligation to.

        I think many returned soldiers have enough trouble dealing with their personal responsibilities (otherwise known as guilt) on their own without people like us telling them what to think or feel.

        3) Of course. But there is a scale of offences, which is recognised in international law. Killing civilians, regardless of orders, is not okay. But killing the enemy in a war is okay. It is a legal, state-sanctioned order. Once again the question of accountability comes. See (1), again!

        I agree with the vast substance of your comments. But I strongly disagree with what you say in the first paragraph of your response to Nimeton. Of course people have choices. Anyone can take the path of nonviolent resistance. It may lead to jail, as you say. For those already in the military, it will lead to execution, not just jail. Why would they make such a choice? Because they believe that the alternative is wrong. But that is a personal belief.

        I am constantly struck by the immense tragedy of a newly recruited soldier having to choose between suicide (execution for cowardice or desertion) and murder (fighting the war). It is a choice that I must leave to the soldier to make. So far as I can tell, you are saying that they should have chosen “suicide” (for civilians, it would be jail, for sure). That is what I find staggering. I cannot imagine telling anyone what to do in that situation.

        On Remembrance Day, I remember those men who made that choice, and then died.

        • monototo said,

          A few weeks ago I talked some more with nimeton about this and he emphasised that he agreed with 95% of what I’d written and that most people would probably agree with 95%. The 5% is what we’ve talked about here – the stuff about blaming the individuals involved.

          This 5% wasn’t meant to be central to this discussion. At the moment it only acts as a distraction, pointlessly upsetting people . After further reflection, I think it is probably more useful to oppose Anzac day and oppose wars without this distraction. What’s done cannot be undone; instead we should focus our energy on the future.

          I’m still trying to work out how I feel about any of this, I think I should refrain from talking about it at all for the moment.

    • selfish said,

      To hold that moral right is equivalent to the existence of a law is a fairly narrow and immature view to hold; do you really think this is true, or are you merely playing devil’s advocate?

      • nimeton said,

        “To hold that moral right is equivalent to the existence of a law”

        I don’t think anyone was saying anything this simplistic, selfish.

      • Kent said,

        What nimeton said. I never said nor implied anything about laws being morally good just because they’re laws.

  3. nimeton said,

    I stand by my comments on the ‘good intentions’ post. No one was forcing them to participate in what they did… they had the freedom to pursue other options.

    And I still stand by my comments on this post. Many of the individuals involved were forced to participate. Kids today are not forced to drink drive indeed they are not forced to drive full stop. Personal responsibility, freedom and choice go hand in hand. When you remove the freedom and remove the choice you also remove the personal responsibility.

    • monototo said,

      I didn’t realise the government possessed the ability to force people to behave in certain ways. How did they do this, mind control? subliminal messaging? Jedi mastery? I was unaware.

  4. Kent said,

    Governments do it through criminal law and the punishments it sanctions. But you knew that perfectly well.

  5. Dee said,

    (a) “We took up this deadly tango.” That’s brilliant.

    (b) It sounds like you’re blaming the military personnel for the wars, and I think the blame is more properly attributed to politicians or others who let conditions deteriorate so badly that some countries needed armed defence against the invasions of other countries. The time to stop a war is before it starts, and that might include changing the way old wars are commemorated, yes, but I think it’s cruel to say that individual fighters were reckless or stupid. I agree with Nimeton: it’s not right to judge their actions from a present-day point of view. Their choice wasn’t (1) kill the enemy, or (2) refuse to go; it was (1) do their duty, honour their families and country, protect what they valued and do the right thing, or (2) stay home like a coward, imposing a shame on their families so great they might never have been allowed to recover from it. That’s a “choice” in name only.

    (c) I think a possible problem with Anzac Day is that it personalises war when instead we should take a broader view. Focusing on individuals – honouring or criticising them – detracts attention from the real culprits: the people or organisations which pushed for military aggression in the first place.

    (d) Great post :) Just enough provocation to get tempers slightly heated, and the whole thing really did make me stop and think, dammit. Good job.

  6. Dee said,

    What planet are you on, by the way? Your timestamps are seriously wonky.

    • monototo said,

      Who said anything about a planet? All times are in UTC (+0) which are easier to work with from my space station.

  7. selfish said,

    “like an earthquake, no one wins a war”

  8. Ian Houghton said,

    I don’t know what you’re talking about selfish, I won my last earthquake 4-0. Tectonic plates didn’t know what hit ’em.

  9. Kent said,

    The following article describes those British men who refused to serve in WW1. Note that initially some young men who refused to join the military were sentenced to death.

    http://www.theamericanscholar.org/i-tried-to-stop-the-bloody-thing/

    Lest we forget their courage for doing the right thing.

    • monototo said,

      Thanks Kent, that is an excellent article.

      “Part of Russell’s intellectual bravery lay in his willingness to confront that last set of conflicting loyalties. He described himself poignantly in the autumn of 1914 as being “tortured by patriotism… I desired the defeat of Germany as ardently as any retired colonel. Love of England is very nearly the strongest emotion I possess, and in appearing to set it aside at such a moment, I was making a very difficult renunciation.” What left him even more anguished was realizing that “anticipation of carnage was delightful to something like ninety per cent of the population… As a lover of truth, the national propaganda of all the belligerent nations sickened me. As a lover of civilization, the return to barbarism appalled me. As a man of thwarted parental feeling, the massacre of the young wrung my heart.” Over the four years to come, he never yielded in his belief that “this war is trivial, for all its vastness. No great principle is at stake, no great human purpose is involved on either side. . . . The English and French say they are fighting in defence of democracy, but they do not wish their words to be heard in Petrograd or Calcutta.””

  10. whatevernevermind said,

    […] War Games […]

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