Remembering the right stuff

It’s a bit of a strange day. How should we remember them? And who exactly is it we should be remembering? We’re supposed to remember the Australians who gave their lives for us, but that presupposes that all the Australians who have died in war died for something actually worth fighting for. So, to honour them properly, shouldn’t we appreciate the awfulness and ridiculousness of their tragic sacrifice—that they mostly died for stupid and avoidable and unacceptable reasons?

There was nothing particularly noble about manufacturing an excuse to get involved in a war against Germany, or by blindly following the British to invade the Ottomans. There was nothing of substance actually achieved in WWI, other that that it generated the conditions for WWII and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. It was a pointless war, and so many thousands were needlessly fed into the meatgrinder that was the western front. But still, their tragic loss must be remembered. Remembered for what it truly was.

Prior to 1914, war had been kind of a normal thing that nations do from time to time. The French cavalry rode into battle wearing Napoleonic armour. Ludendorff marched into Liège with his sword. These were armies with a mentality much like those of the early 1800s, but they had modern weapons of incredible destructive power never seen before, and they weren’t prepared for what would become ordinary modern warfare. Never before had humans had the means to kill each other so effectively, so it’s no surprise the the now familiar phrase “war is hell” was first used here. Let’s remember what war truly is: fucking horrible.

I’m also reminded of the scene in Austin Powers where a baddie is killed and then it cuts to a scene of his wife and kids being informed of his death. Obviously done as a joke, but it reminds us that our enemies are still human. Nazi soldiers had families too, their pain and grief was just as real, but we aren’t encouraged to remember our fallen enemies. Civilians die in war, but they don’t get their own special day to be remembered. We have destroyed nations, but do we remember their long and beautiful history? Or just relegate them to the forgotten realm inhabited by the losers of war?

So if you’re going to remember those who gave their lives, make sure you remember more than just the Australian soldiers. Our allies, our enemies, innocent civilians, and those lost during the fallout from the wars we have fought, are equally deserving of remembrance. The sheer horror of war, especially modern warfare with tanks and bombs and poison gas, should be remembered. The pain and grief of those who survive should be heard, to inform how we do the remembering. This day, the 100th time we have remembered, let’s make sure we remember the important things.

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