Hearts broken… For what?

This Sunday is Remembrance Day, marking 100 years since the Armistice that ended World War 1.

Now, no-one living remembers it, let alone the soldiers who fought in it, yet its effects linger.

It has political cachet; Australia’s has marked the Centenary by outspending every other nation that fought in WW1, including Great Britain which lost 700,000 soldiers (Australia lost 61,000).

Our politicians are keen to cloak themselves with the stereotypical Anzac values of mateship and sacrifice.

They often remind us that our soldiers died to keep our nation free.

That point of view is at best contentious, especially regarding the Gallipoli campaign. (Many soldiers who landed at Anzac Cove had never heard of the Ottoman Empire.)

Our soldiers fought because Australia was part of the British Empire, and saw the defence of Britain as integral to its future.

That world has passed, and we need to bury it.

Other aspects of Anzac are more compelling. However, it takes careful detective work to find them. They are well hidden beneath the surfeit of material that surrounds Anzac.

What I find absorbing, and it’s both captivating and disturbing, is the way that families dealt with the loss of loved ones, especially their struggle to find meaning in their loss.

In the picture above, you can see an arresting epitaph placed by a grieving family on their son’s gravestone:

The willingness of the Rae family to articulate their despair in this way was unusual.

I admire it; it has a ring of raw truth, more than other epitaphs I have seen, ‘Greater love has no man than this that he lay done his life for his friends.’

I wonder if other grieving families felt similarly, but were not so bold as to display it in public.

There was pressure, in which many churches were complicit, to acquiesce to more imperial notions which asserted the importance of defending God, King, country and freedom.

In times of loss, imperial concepts appear to provide meaning while numbing or displacing grief.

However, a more audacious path, like that the Rae family took, requires the grief to be acknowledged, and sharp questions raised and grappled with.

No one remembers WW1, and yet questions linger about the terrible carnage, the loss of life, and especially the oft-hidden stories of families who struggled to make sense of it.

Their courageous witness, often handed on from generation to generation, is one aspect of Anzac that is worth commemorating.

A healthy and life-affirming stance requires us to be suspicious of the way those in power deploy myths to justify war.

On the night of 25th April 1915, when the Anzacs had failed to reach their goals and were exposed to Turkish counterattack, representations were made to the expedition commander, General Sir Ian Hamilton, to evacuate.

He refused. He sent a message back to the soldiers, ‘You will just have to dig, dig, dig.’

We too should dig, dig, dig exposing the underbelly of contemporary myths used to justify war and see if there is anything of value hidden beneath or if there is anyone suffering whom we need to get alongside.