Remembrance Day 2014

Reflections on commemorating, not celebrating, Remembrance Day

At 11am today many of us will stop for the traditional one minute’s observance commemorating when the guns fell silent on the Western Front at the end of WWI.

In this year of numerous anniversaries, including a century since the outbreak of the Great War, ‘the war to end all wars’, what is the significance of Remembrance Day? After all, ninety-five years have passed since that first Armistice Day and there have been countless conflicts since although, thankfully, none which has extracted such an awful toll.

After WWII, the two minutes’ silence of Armistice Day, which had been marked since 1919, was changed by both the British and Australian governments to Remembrance Day to more accurately reflect the sacrifices made in all wars. The day gained even greater significance for Australians when, in 1993, on the 75th anniversary of the armistice, the remains of an unknown Australian soldier were exhumed from a military cemetery in France and entombed in the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Memory. 

In 2014, the need to remember all those who have selflessly made huge sacrifices for their fellow human beings, their countries and their children is as great as in 1919. As the RSL and the current leadership of the Australia Defence Force are at pains to emphasise, this is a commemoration, not a celebration of conflicts. Unfortunately, these two words are not always clearly differentiated, but their meanings are poles apart. In commemorating our ‘fallen’, we acknowledge the huge sacrifice, cost and personal courage of those involved and those left behind on the home front. The legacy of an entire lost generation of young men and all the potential they represented. And then the subsequent human costs in all the following wars including, for Australia, most recently Iraq and Afghanistan. A total of 102,000 Australian war dead are commemorated at the Australian War Memorial.

Celebration, or glorification, of war is totally different. It doesn’t recognise the need to learn from the lessons of previous conflicts and to exhaust every possible alternative such as diplomacy, before resorting to force. It ignores the awful cost to the social fabric of nations and communities and the inevitable ‘collateral damage’ not to mention the massive financial cost in a world of scarce resources.

So, we encourage every Australian, no matter where they are and what they’re doing to buy a poppy, wear it with pride and, at 11am today to remember, albeit briefly, just how great a debt we owe to those men and women who put their country and fellow human beings ahead of their own safety and interests. In an increasingly superficial and self-centred society, we can only benefit from reflecting on the example they set and the legacy they have left us. 

We forget the lessons of history at our personal and national peril, destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. In our comfortable suburban existence, we unconsciously assume ‘it could never happen to us, again’, but it’s salutary to note the warning from former President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. Feted at this week’s 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, he cautioned the West concerning the very real danger of a new Cold War. And that’s coming from the man who ‘liberated’ the USSR introducing perestroika and glasnost. Furthermore, today we learned that 200 Australian Special Forces troops are returning to Iraq.


What do you think? Will you be observing a minute’s silence at 11am today? Do you agree that we should continue to observe Remembrance Day or do you think that, for Australia, ANZAC Day is the more appropriate date for honouring all those who served and suffered in our armed services? 


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    11th Nov 2014

    Pity you didn't think to send this before 11AM.
    Pass the Ductape
    11th Nov 2014
    The real question should be..... Did we learn anything? According to current world events, it doesn't look like we have. Yes we remembered them - and the waste!
    11th Nov 2014
    The problem with ANZAC Day is that it is ANZAC Day and inextricably linked with one battle - Gallipoli. Its also uniquely Australian. All else is an 'also ran' on that day. We mourn the loss of each remaining original ANZAC (rightly so) and lament that they are nearly gone. Remembrance Day is much more inclusive. It allows for the acknowledgement of ALL who have fought and/or died in any conflict - yes including the 'enemy' who were no less courageous/brave/young/patriotic on their side for their country.

    Yes it would be fantastic if lessons were learned from past conflict but sadly some seem to learn more slowly than others. Until the world learns, we will continue to add to the numbers of those remembered each 11 November for many years to come.
    Tom Tank
    11th Nov 2014
    Anzac Day is a day that is more than one battle or one nation. Anzac day is observed obviously in New Zealand but also in Canada as the Newfoundland Regiment fought alongside the Anzacs at Gallipoli and were in fact the last unit to leave that area.
    Unfortunately that regiment was wiped out in 10 minutes at the Battle of the Somme and although Newfoundland only became part of Canada in 1949 Anzac day is observed across Canada albeit not on the same scale as here.
    Anzac Day has such importance because of its significance to Australia and while Remembrance Day has its place here Anzac Day is pre-eminent.
    Anzac Day ceremonies do acknowledge ALL who have fought and died irrespective of where and how.
    A major difference between Remembrance Day and Anzac Day is that the latter is all about the ordinary serviceman/woman and rank plays no part in it.
    One should never forget that war is a failure of diplomacy and the ones who carry the cost are the ordinary people. There haven't been too many wars in modern times caused by people who themselves survived the cauldron of death and horror.
    11th Nov 2014
    Tom you put this ANZAC remembrance so well. The ANZAC day is a clear reminder that no matter how far away the world wars were , the Kiwis Ozzies and Canadians banded together. Sadly though the wars are getting closer now, with homegrown terrorists getting too much publicity all for the wrong reasons. None of those types would care a damn about our ANZACS.
    Polly Esther
    11th Nov 2014
    11. 11. 11.
    "Lest we forget"
    11th Nov 2014
    How interesting to note that not all comments are political.
    11th Nov 2014
    We have not learnt anything because as long as we focus on celebrating those that gave their lives in war we perpetuate war. What we focus on increases. We need to shift our focus to peace, 95 years ago it was courageous politicians that finally decided to end it, they need to be celebrated, the fact that we achieved peace after all the madness!

    On the subject of Gallipoli, Australia is the only country I know that celebrates a defeat, fighting not even our own war but someone else's! I don't get it..... every other nation has their heroes, winning independence or achieving some breakthrough. Can anyone explain?
    Tom Tank
    12th Nov 2014
    I an afraid you have it all wrong Franky. Remembrance Day and Anzac Day are not celebrations but days to remember those who went, in some cases against their will, to serve their country.
    New Zealand, and to a much lesser extent, Canada also remember Anzac Day.
    Far from celebrating politicians for ending a war, which was not in fact the case, we should be trying to ensure they never take us into another one but we seem to be a bit late there.
    War is really a failure of diplomacy and politicians should shoulder the blame for that.
    12th Nov 2014
    Franky ,you should get out more if you believe Australia is the only country that celebrates "defeat". We Irish lost about 4000 at Galipoli and lots more all around Europe for no great benefit but we commemorate all of them as best we can.

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