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An antarctic blast brought in some wintry weather yesterday.  It seemed singularly appropriate as a meteorological comment on Anzac Day, when Australians all over the world commemorate the brave Australian “diggers” who fought and died in other peoples’ wars over the years.  I wrote about Anzac Day two years ago and I’m happy to say that what I said then still reads well. You can check it out by doing a search for Anzac Day.

Anzac is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.  April 25 was the day the troops landed in Gallipoli (in Turkey) in Churchill’s ill-considered plan to take Istanbul and break through to the Black Sea.  The Aussies and Kiwis met a hail of machine gun bullets from the Turkish army dug into the hills overlooking the beaches.  The landing quickly deteriorated into trench warfare, ending  in a stalemate that lasted eight months.  Over ten thousand soldiers from the southern hemisphere were killed during the campaign.

It seems a strange choice as the national day commemorating Australian soldiers, but I suppose the first day of a disaster is as good as any.  There seems to be a tendency among Australians to idealize warfare, to see it as some form of extreme sport for which they are very well equipped.  Like Americans, they appear to believe that they must measure up, to prove their bravery in battle.

In Melbourne, forty thousand people gathered for a dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance.  Other Australians commemorated the day in Gallipoli and at the Australian War Memorial on the hill above Villers-Bretonneux in France.  46,000 Aussies died on the Western Front.  For a country with such a small population, the decimation caused by the First World War reverberated through every single community.

Every evening at dinner I pick up a silver napkin ring that once belonged to my wife’s grandfather.  It is inscribed “My Dear Boy 1914.”  He was seventeen when he went off to war.  His mother told him before his departure to the Western Front that she would rather he came back in a pine box than dishonored or disfigured.  When he got a leg full of shrapnel, the young man refused amputation, knowing that it could cost him his life.  Fortunately, he survived the bullets and bombs and managed to keep the leg.

In a recent interview, Amos Oz, the Israeli writer and peace activist, suggested that his politics have been shaped by his imagination, a novelist’s primary tool.  It has allowed him into the heads of Palestinians, many of whom are living in conditions not dissimilar to those Oz knew as a young man before the United Nations voted to establish Israel. Oz grew up with the sensibility of a Zionist terrorist; his first words in English were “British, go home.”  But now his point-of-view has shifted completely and he is considered a traitor by mainstream Israelis for suggesting that real peace can only come with the creation of a Palestinian state.

Maybe that is what war comes down to, in the end:  a willingness to be blind, a failure to look at the shades beyond black and white, between us and them, between good and evil.  A failure of imagination.  Let us honour brave soldiers and honor the fallen, but imagine the world John Lennon sang about, a place where peace grows and spreads like poppies on the fields of Flanders.

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