Editorial Anzac Day – Sentimentalising War

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 53, Pentecost 2010

There has been a disturbing trend in recent years to turn Anzac Day into a ‘holy day of obligation’. It is a day of remembrance. And it should remain so. But the corporate media have joined forces with the armed services to leave no stone unturned in their quest to imprint the psychology of war onto the nation’s soul. Indeed, many commentators speak of the day as being a day which defines our national identity.

War is a dirty, violent and destructive business. What is happening now around Anzac Day is that more and more young people in particular are being conned into what appears to be an underlying assumption that war is OK, that war is where real adulthood is gained, that war is inevitable sometimes, that war is somehow ‘glorious’. The propaganda is insidious but pervasive. Too many seem unaware that this is a giant confidence trick perpetuated by politicians, the military and the corporations who make money from war. Of course war produces heroism and comradeship. But in essence it is a deadly virus in the soul of humanity.

Last century was the bloodiest on record for war and mass murder. Beside the millions of victims of the First and Second World Wars, there were slaughterhouse side shows – 1 million Armenians killed in 1915, 6 million Jews and 5 million Poles, gypsies, gays and others killed by the Nazis, 250,000 Japanese in four days, 3 million Ibos in Nigeria, 3 million Bengalis in Pakistan, 3 million Cambodians by the Pol Pot regime, 800,000 in 100 days in Rwanda, and millions more in Vietnam, Laos, Kosovo, the Balkans, Sudan and the Congo. Mostly it was genocide. Most were not soldiers. They were noncombatants, innocent women and children caught up in the evil that is war.

War should be obnoxious to any civilized person. But it is not. This is partly because it is sentimentalized and packaged to not be. And we don’t know the victims. Yet each of the 60 million civilian victims who died last century was someone’s brother, sister, aunt, mother, father or friend. Tell them it is ‘glorious’!

The recent visit by John Key to Afghanistan illustrates this. Accompanied by the two main television channels and other friendly journalists, the trip was a propaganda coup for the PM and the military. Its timing, immediately after Anzac Day, was impeccable.

With war being presented now in the sanitized armchair comfort of our living rooms and often waged by high-tech weapons like pilotless drones, it is easy to sentimentalise its deadly effects. This is where Anzac commemorations can give a twisted message.

For Christians, there can be little excuse for such sentimentality. The nonviolent Jesus, who blessed peacemakers and told us ‘to love our enemies, not hate them’, left clear teachings about violence and war. His last words to his followers before his arrest were, ‘put away the sword.’ His last action as a free man: to heal the ear of the wounded servant of the high priest.

If only the Church and the world had taken that command seriously. It’s not too late – we still can.

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