This past Sunday was ANZAC Day here in Oz, which, in short, seems to be the Down Under equivalent of Remembrance Day. Except that Australians also remember on Remembrance Day. I wonder if perhaps they simply have better memories than the rest of us.
So on Saturday night (we’ll call it ANZAC Day Eve), my-husband-the-Boy-Scout and I were sitting on the couch discussing whether or not to attend the dawn service to pay our respects. Keep in mind that the Scout has attended every dawn service, on every ANZAC Day, since he can remember (except for those when he was in a country that had never heard of the ANZACs). Naturally, the Scout was going. The discussion centered around whether or not I was coming with him.
My hesitation comes from a deep inner conflict between being a discourager of violent engagement and a supporter of respect when someone’s hardships have produced benefits for others. Will going to a ceremony that glorifies the military show people that I support war? Will staying home be a sign of disrespect to those who lived by a different set of societal rules and answered a call to duty that I likely will never hear, with a meaning that I can only begin to try and comprehend? I like this quote, which sums up the inappropriateness of judging those who come from a different life context than our own:
“I think it is a real mistake for commentators to judge the actions of people in the past solely according to today’s standards, using today’s political agendas. It is also a mistake to draw broad and loose analogies between two very different wars at very different times.”
I was amazed at the turn out on Anzac morning. It was 5:30am, dark, and on a hill where the chilly breeze cut through the numerous layers most were wearing. Yet, when the sun rose I was surrounded by thousands of people – some old, some young, some dressed in their Sunday Best, some teenagers who couldn’t be bothered to tame their mops, some children wearing Grandpa’s military medals, some mothers quietly tending their babies – all there for the simple act of showing respect. Never have I been to a Remembrance Day ceremony where there were so many people from all different walks of life who were there out of their own volition.
Interestingly, I have also never been to a Remembrance Day ceremony where there was so little glorification of war and the military. The ceremony was completely silent save for the bugle calling out to the morning sunrise, and the closing poem, the Ode of Remembrance. Pure contemplation.
It has taken me a couple of days to write this post because I needed to get my head around why I thought the type of respect was so different. Why does it seem that the Australians have cultivated an air of genuine respect around such an event, when my experiences with similar events in Canada have left me feeling like I’d just left an armed forces recruitment fair?
Finally, I’ve come to believe that the difference lies in the fact that ANZAC day began as a tribute to those lost in the abysmal massacre at Gallipoli. While Remembrance Day commemorates a win in the eyes of the Allies, ANZAC Day is a marker for a massive loss. The comparison for me comes down to the fact that Remembrance Day is celebratory while ANZAC Day seems much more humble.
So my ANZAC take home message is this:
Cultivating respect via righteousness will not convert people to your cause. True respect requires a strong dose of humility in order to show people that you are genuine in understanding the value that they have created.