Monday, 24 April 2017

Anzac Day : Lest we Forget

Lest we forget

Forget what exactly - the deaths of the young Kiwis in Gallipoli and France?   Or the cynicism and venality of the economic elites, the casual cruelty and gross incompetence of the military elites, and the servile complicity of the political and religious elites which took NZ into that inglorious imperial shambles - and which used it subsequently as a propaganda tool?

The political elite will always act according to its degree of subservience to the economic elite - which is seldom directly affected by war but inevitably profits hugely from it - and according to its relationship to the military elite, which has an obvious interest in perpetuating the conditions in which war is a persistent, imminent threat.

The mourning of war dead is often hijacked by reactionary forces which cynically use people's grief and anger to foment nationalism.  Nationalism can seem to be a genuine love of country but is easily flipped into a hatred of the 'other' - into the jingoism and xenophobia which lay the foundations for yet more wars.  

Around 1 in 10 New Zealanders served overseas in WW1. New Zealand lost 18,000 young men - 1.6% of the total population.  The numbers explain the ubiquity of WW1 war memorials, present in even the tiniest of New Zealand towns.  

A significant number of men who served in the NZEF were born in England, Scotland, Wales and Australia - illustrating the fact that this was the British Empire's war.  

Competing imperial powers were fighting to protect the interests of ruling elites which threw their young men into that nightmarish conflict as casually as they would have shot pheasants or deer.  

At least most of those young New Zealanders who went off to fight for King and Country had the vote. Many of those they fought alongside and against did not even have the right to vote for the governments that stole all or a large part of their lives.

The use of terms like the 'glorious dead', 'sacrifice' and the heavy military symbology of Anzac Day risks turning any commemoration into a glorification of war.   If it is not to glorify and thereby justify war, why is it a military parade?  Why are people who wear the white poppies of peace and conscientious objection, treated as traitors? 

A day to mourn the WW1 dead initially took place in churches and town halls in New Zealand but was taken over by the RSA in the 1920s, supported by the military and politicians, and the services increasingly took place at war memorials with full military trappings. 

The military parades, the laying of wreaths at war memorials, the 'honouring' of the 'glorious' dead, the copying of the dawn service from the Aussies -  all were heavy with military symbology and intended to promote nationalism and to divert people's attention away from the truth - and from revolutionary ideas.

WW2 revived an interest in these militarised rituals. They waned again until the country lurched rightward in the late 1980s - and have steadily increased in popularity ever since.  

Thousands of young Kiwis troop off to Gallipoli as a sort of OE rite of passage and attend dawn parade services without the slightest clue as to why WW1 was fought - or any war for that matter.  

They dutifully express a ritualised and largely meaningless 'sorrow' for the men who died 'protecting our freedoms' despite the fact that WW1 was nothing to do with their 'freedoms'.   It was purely and simply a battle of empires to have the freedom to ride roughshod over the lives and concerns of ordinary people.

The fight against Nazism and Japanese militarism in WW2 was a battle of ideologies as well as competing imperial interests - but there were no clear lines between good and bad in that war either.  

And that was the war that set the pattern for all subsequent wars.  Service personnel,  increasingly buffered by technology, now fight in ways that aim to maximise civilian casualties.  

The shock and awe doctrine was born with the German bombing of cities in the early years of WW2. It grew into a monster when the Allies used carpet bombing with incendiaries against largely civilian targets in Germany and Japan - and it reached its peak horror with the use of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  

Its architects were almost granted their insane wish to direct the atomic bomb against the USSR when Japan surrendered, but fortunately they were over-ruled by people who had seen into the abyss and were terrified of it.

Proponents of the doctrine re-emerged and stomped across South-East Asia, unleashing massive conventional bombardments and spraying millions of litres of toxic agents.  They thundered across the Middle East - the US-led attack on Iraq involved 42 days of the greatest ever airborne bombardment in the history of warfare; and, most recently,  the Demented Ones used the largest ever single bomb in the history of warfare in Afghanistan - allegedly to kill a few insurgents but in truth to terrorise civilians, there and across the world.

On Anzac Day the mourners never talk about the estimated 6 - 7 million civilian casualties of WW1, or the 50-55 million in WW2 - people killed directly and who died as a result of disease and privation caused by the war.  Nor do they refer to the millions of civilian deaths in the myriad wars since, or the millions who will die if we do not mend our leaders'  cruel and murderous ways.

Nor do they speak much of the billions of non-humans that have died as a result of war - except to paint some sentimentalised gloss over the ones they profess to care about. 

The dead are dead. What matters is why and how they died and what value we, the living, place on that, what lessons we learn and apply. 

To me, the best way to honour the war dead is to dispense with the military and religious rituals and symbology and turn the commemorations into a secular expression of mourning for ALL victims of war with the emphasis on ensuring PEACE-  now and in the future. 

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