KEEPING memory alive, that is the legacy of the Anzac spirit. It has become especially important as we continue to recall the centenary events of World War I, a war that brought profound suffering and great slaughter to the countries of Europe and their allies on both sides.
As we have been ever aware during the commemoration of World War I, the events on the Western Front were so grotesque as to be unimaginable. For example during the first days on the Somme, row upon row of soldiers were ordered out of the trenches into withering machine gun fire. Amongst the trenches and the mud and the blood of ‘no man’s land’ dead bodies piled up like walls that had to be climbed over by the next wave of troops.
The experience of the 20th century has shown that the ‘war to end all wars’ did no such thing. It had the opposite effect. Wars have proliferated. Weapons have ever more power and reach, and the once outlawed “collateral damage”, meaning attacks on civilians, now seems to be a matter of course.
Sadly the effects of 1914-18 reach right into our time as daily reports of ‘terrorist’ attacks signal the response of many to their suffering, which is coupled with their frustration at the denial of their hopes for justice; feelings that often have their source in events that are decades, or even centuries old.
At 11am this Anzac Day an ecumenical service will be held in St Paul’s Cathedral at which attendees will lament the losses of war and pray for peace and an end to war. They will renew their pledge to be peacemakers and continue to resist the pervasive power of militarism in our nation and in the world.
This service is taking place because the planning group believes it is time to graft a new narrative onto the vine of Anzac. A narrative that recognises the truth of the past – the bravery, the suffering, the losses and the grief – but does not stop there. A narrative that seeks to build a new story that learns from the past, and genuinely commits to turning swords into ploughshares, exchanging death and destruction for life and wellbeing, justice and peace for all God’s people.
Seeking a new narrative for Anzac Day is consistent with practising the Christian faith. To take one example from the resources of faith, we have only to read the Beatitudes thoughtfully to realise that its message runs against the grain of the mood that prevails in the season of Anzac. It is this narrative of memory and hope that we seek to make vibrant as we offer prayers on Anzac Day.
To worship in this way could be seen as an act of resistance. Yet from within the Anzac narrative itself there are little-publicised stories that tell of those who advocated against war as the solution to the problems facing the world. Brave women and men who resisted the conscription of soldiers but who also gave their service to minister to the suffering and dying.
In the age of global terrorism, it may seem impossible to advocate for pacifism. But it is militarism, and the greed that fuels it, that has brought us to this point.
The time has come for us to make a concerted effort to find a new approach. Seeking a new way of remembering does not mean forgoing our cenotaphs and stained glass windows. Rather it is to dig deeper into our traditions of faith and hope and memory that can empower us to live in new ways, as active citizens joined in movements to rid the world of war, looking for the day when ‘never again’ will be a real possibility.
Wes Campbell, for the Ecumenical Anzac Service Group