April 25 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the day on which Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the beaches of Gallipoli during the First World War.
Unfortunately, over the last few weeks there's been much negative publicity about the "exploitation of Anzac Day" by big business, politicians and the media. And also the so-called "national obsession with Anzac Day", which critics feel has turned the day into a "celebration" or "circus" that costs Australian taxpayers more than $325 million.
Commentators have pointed out how businessmen and politicians seem to be "milking it for profit and ratings" (i.e. the poorly-devised ad campaign by Woolworths, the 24-page magazine and Anzac "coin" from News Corp, "special" wrap-around editions of newspapers etc). Others write about the cringeworthy way that pockets of Australians "get shit-faced [drunk], wear the Australian flag like a cape, stalk the streets yelling obscenities at foreign looking people, then gamble away money in pubs and clubs on the only day of the year when unregulated gambling is made legal".
An esteemed friend and colleague of my generation is currently travelling in Turkey and wrote of his dismay at seeing young Aussies arriving there "sporting yellow polo shirts with ANZAC 2015 on them, as though they're off to support their team at a footy grand final". Indeed, ABC RN's stalwart Breakfast presenter, Fran Kelly, also currently in Turkey, mentioned this morning that the preparations for Anzac Day commemorations look more like the set up for a massive rock concert than a sombre gathering. Phillip Adams on RN's Late Night Live, also points out that "despite the Gallipoli Gallop [as he calls it], it wasn't the first [or only] battle that Australia has ever fought".
All of this, coupled with a full-day visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra recently, has made me reflect more deeply than usual about war in general, and what Anzac Day means to me, personally. Wars may perhaps be regarded as being 'honourable and noble', but conflict and war has caused vast losses and trauma across the globe throughout generations—and continues to do so to this day. Estimates on the number of people killed in war throughout history range between 150 million to a billion. But who really knows.
On Anzac Day, I am reminded of all wars and the senseless slaughter of fellow human beings, and the tragedy and sorrow that follows. I remember the WWII battle scars on my Hungarian father's body—a bullet wound in his shoulder and shrapnel wounds across his belly. The fact that he survived, and the things he must have witnessed. I remember a story my mother, a former nursing sister in Hungary, told me. She was on a train on her way to the hospital, when she was captured, detained and interrogated by German soldiers, before being allowed to go on her way. My parents, and their parents before them, were among the lucky ones to have survived war.
Although not Anzacs, my Peter's grandfather, George, lost his three brothers—John, Thomas and William—two of whom died in battle on the Western Front on the very same day, 26 April 1915. The third brother died from his injuries in a military hospital in London. Also killed in battle on 26 April 1915, that same day, were Peter's great grand uncle, and a cousin, both named Thomas. Five additional members of Peter's family (that we know of), including George Buckley (pictured below) died during the Great War. So much loss in just one family!
On Anzac Day, I will bake biscuits for Peter, who in the early 1980s served as an RAAF Peacekeeper in the Sinai Desert. Together we will watch the marches, and pause to give thanks to all of the men, women and children around the world touched by conflict. We will remember them.
2015 also marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2 in the Pacific. We will remember them.
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