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Chris Ford: Anzac Day - lest we forget those who do not fit the ideal

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Anzac Day 2015 has been and gone. The centennial Anzac Day has been full of the usual bonhomie about us lest not forgetting the sacrifice of our soldiers abroad over the last century. Of course, they should be remembered, it goes without saying. I am the grandson and great-nephew of numerous World War 2 veterans in my own family. However, what about those who do not fit the ideal person to commemorate?

Here, I wish to pay tribute not only to our soldiers, sailors, air personnel and others who served (particularly in both world wars) but also the dissenters, the executed soldiers, the conscientious objectors, the pacifists, the animals who served on the front line, the war rape survivors, the young men (barely boys) who went to the front (lying about their age) and who then died.

I also salute, as a disabled person, the disabled veterans who came back both physically and mentally impaired from war and whom, in the words of one commentator in a documentary I watched at the weekend, did not fit the societal ideal of the returned serviceman or servicewoman - rugged, fit and healthy - as if any fully were at the end of both conflicts and others since.

Barely a murmur was raised at the weekend about conscientious objectors such as Ormond Burton, Archibald Baxter and others who suffered hugely for their dissent. Similarly, while several horse trail parades were held throughout the country to salute the war horses and donkeys of, in particular, World War I, did anyone spare a thought for the animals killed and maimed in wartime? Not really from the coverage I could see (with the only exception being the excellent movie War Horse screened by TVNZ).

Was any thought afforded to the protesters of many generations, the most recent being against the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, who attempted to show the public - against much initial hostility - the real cost of war? No.

And did we pause to think about the irony that while we rightly condemn ISIS and other armed groups for their recruitment of child and teenage soldiers in the current day, that many just spent the last weekend praising  the 'gallantry' of many young ANZAC boys who went to war (particularly in World War One) through lying about their age and after having been similarly brainwashed through propaganda about the glory of sacrifice? No, this thought probably didn't occur to many people.

I believe that a great deal of thought should be given to the legions of executed soldiers from all sides in wars past whose families have had to deal with the ignominy and disgrace of having their loved ones wrongly  labelled as 'traitors' as well. I feel especially for those soldiers who were shot for desertion or for defying half-baked orders and whose families are still seeking justice nearly a century on in some cases.

As well as this, one of the most significant groups of civilians to usually suffer in wartime are women and children, especially those who experience rape and sexual assault. This has been a recurrent theme in war where soldiers from all sides in a conflict sometimes utilise rape as a systematic weapon of war. This is an horrific abuse of power whenever and wherever it occurs and hence, there is a need to memorialise the suffering of those civilians who experience this and to bring to justice the perpetrators of such crimes as well.

And last, but not lest, the civilians of all sides who died and were maimed by war should be commemorated. I include within this the innocents who died through being caught in the line of fire and those who were massacred under cover of war who ranged from the Armenians genocided by the Turks in World War II, through to the Jews, Gypsies, GLBTI, disabled people, prisoners of war, religious and other ethnic minorities who were killed during the Holocaust by the Nazis and through to the present day killing of civilians by the Americans, Russians, Taliban and ISIS (among others) in conflicts of the present. Therefore, we should not be selective about the innocent dead we commemorate and mourn.

I am pleased, though, that the new Pukeahu War Memorial Park in Wellington has memorials to conscientious objectors, among others, who have not been honoured in the past. Nonetheless, I do hope that we see beyond the heroic returned (mainly male, non-disabled) soldier in all future Anzac and war remembrances and embrace all those who suffered and died in war - and those who continue to suffer and die in current conflicts.

After all, I believe we have a duty to remember ALL people who died and are dying in conflicts, not just those who fight them.








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