Sometimes unavoidable experiences bring us face to face with vulnerability and reality. As 18 year-olds, we arrived at Puckapunyal in 1953 to begin national service training. All of us were allocated the same rank and wore the same uniform. We woke early, drilled, obeyed orders, marched and fired rifles at the range. Our dads and brothers had been there before us preparing for WWI and WWII.
One day we marched out to a field in full battle gear. We were, ordered to fix bayonets, charge and impale a straw man. There was no mistaking this straw man made to look like our so-called ‘enemy’; In reality this straw man would be a young soldier just like us, someone with a home and a family. Why would we want to kill him and he us? Surely he wanted to live as we did. How would the horror of killing another human being rest easily on our consciences?
In his remarkable work, Exit Wounds, Major General John Cantwell gave a raw account of his life as a soldier. A young private from Queensland, he earned his promotion through the ranks and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was next-in-line to be chief of the army, but one day he came home and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. He was haunted by recurring nightmares, seeing Iraqi soldiers buried alive, carnage caused by a car bomb in a market place, and faces of dead soldiers he personally knew, and ordered, into battle. He left the army, suffering from what was labelled PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a term for the damage caused by war on men and women from many Australian families.
On Anzac Day we remember all who served and are serving. The ultimate sacrifice of those who gave their lives for us, at so great a price.
But the resolve to do something about it should be every day.
In Zechariah 2: 1-8, the prophet had a vision of a new way of doing things. His city had been destroyed by an enemy. The defences needed to be strengthened and the encircling walls rebuilt. A surveyor was dispatched to measure and plan for a better defence. An angel, someone of common-sense and experience, called out to the surveyor that the new city would be so crowded that it would be too large to have walls. God promised to be with them and protect the vicinity. There would be no need for walls.
The strong message of Anzac Day is to build out, to dismantle the walls which divide us, and build a spirit of community from within. Death, destruction and division are never the price of lasting peace. And the PTSD of innocent men, women and children should be prevented, lest it grow like a cancer.
Jesus recommended a quality of life founded on justice, mercy, forgiveness, and loving kindness for all, even our enemies.
As Australians we are so keen on rebuilding our walls, to keep people outside, that we lose sight of our responsibility to fellow human beings who are less fortunate.
Who knows what the effect of some loving kindness will have on those whom we believe threaten the walls we keep on building?
On Anzac Day we remembered all who served and serve our nation. We owe them more. We must never stop searching for solutions founded on the qualities that Jesus taught.
Bill Pugh, former Reserves Chaplain
Image by Tourism Victoria via Flickr