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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