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Thoughts of love and sacrifice

Date
For what would you give your life?

For what would you give your life? Photo: Natalie Grono

Anzac Day. Think of war and soldiers and legacies. Think of suffering and redemption. Think of loved ones left behind, and hearts broken on battlefields every which way. And then think of sacrifice. Of paying the ultimate price. Think of giving your life for your country – for home and hearth and honour.

What would you be willing to die for? For whom, or for what cause, would you lay your body down? Would you give your life for the ones you love? Should you?

We live in a very lucky country, but it is easy to lose sight of the fact. There are improvements that can and should be made, there are inequalities that must be remedied and there are painful tears in the fabric of our history that still need mending.

But there is no terrifying war beyond our front doors. We aren’t asked to sell our children, or shoot our brothers, or watch as our mothers are raped and murdered because a higher power decreed it so. Here, there are roofs for heads and bread for baskets. We’re pulling fortune from the ground, and filling young minds with the riches of knowledge. Our environment is relatively healthy. Our politicians are relatively honest. Our society is relatively free.

And while some agitate for better ways, some protest; some vote and some volunteer, many complain and moan, many are ungrateful, and many care only for themselves. To be sure so much is as it has been, but it is also much easier to whinge when the living is easy. And we live easier now than they did then. We may feel worse off; we are surrounded by wealth.

We’re also surrounded by people. We live with an abundance of other bodies, all trying to live and work and play. We are all looking for some kind of love, all hoping for happiness, all desperate to connect. The connections we make are a source of pride, but the connections we miss are hurtful. They are also often and obvious, writ large through ‘social’ media.

Then, do we value those who are special more or less? Do we treasure the people we say we love as much as the millions we wished loved us? What would we be prepared to do to keep our close ones close, and for whose sake?

There is a lot that is healthy about a shift away from a values system that sent young men off to die. Part of the healthiness speaks to the same social changes that have allowed women into workforces, even the military should they choose. Changes that moved us away from top-down to bottom-up, from feudal hangovers to democratic partying; changes that put equality ahead of nobility, and interchanged chivalry with chauvinism.

We see not all these changes were for our betterment. Some say we’ve changed our social order for the worse. Some say young men are more maligned now than when they were going to war. Some say young women are still as embattled as ever. But how have these changes affected our relationships with each other? Are our bonds stronger in this time of freedom and comparative safety?

Some days, after long days of work or long arguments with children, even the smallest act of tender kindness can seem like a stretch. Expressions of intimacy once willingly engaged with become almost tedious chores – you tend to your lover with the same sense of obligation shown to your garden or email inbox. There are moments of intense, special feeling, but there are many moments of mildness. Comfort and numbness, beige and bored – what hope does red passion have?

So, going beyond grey, going back to black and white, could you, would you give yourself for another? Do you feel love that is bigger than life itself? And is it right to glorify this notion of ultimate sacrifice – is it a gift or a waste?

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kfeeney@fairfaxmedia.com.au

61 comments so far

  • A very thought provoking piece CK. I am from the anti-war sixties and as I grew up was quite content to see ANZAC Day becoming a non-event. The ever growing popularity of it has caused me some disquiet, fearful of the overt nationalism morphing into jingoism and 'us' versus 'them' mentalities. (Us and them being categories so easily manipulated by the spin doctors as in the Gulf War).

    However with the many voices; women, aboriginal, civilian, increasingly being given air time I am reconsidering that the Day does allow us a chance to ponder the 'meaning of life questions' such as those you raise above.

    I have few answers though; sometimes the greater challenge is to keep living with integrity, and that may then imply the giving up of life. I applaud your acknowledgement of the good things about our society here in Oz. My father, a veteran of WWII would often remind us as children of how lucky we were to live in a country where there would not be the midnight raid on your house and the 'disappearance' of family members. Perhaps I would give my life in defence of such a society but in this age of spin how do we ever know if the threat is being manipulated by major powers (political/economic) for other ends and that killing each other on the battlefield is not the sole solution but the one that sometimes serves vested interests.

    Keep up your lovely mix of entertainment and thought provokation.

    Commenter
    saf
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 8:26AM
    • Thank you for expressing what is in my heart. I'm the daughter of a soldier who fought in WWII, also, and he hated ANZAC Day...he thought that it glorified war. He also said that he didn't fight for the flag....he fought against fascism.

      It worries me very much, when people in the wider community defend soldiers who are caught up in scandals because they are "heros". I doubt that my father or my many relatives who died in WWI and WWII would have agreed with the "hero" label.

      Commenter
      Lynne
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 11:30AM
    • @ saf

      I am a returned soldier - an ANZAC as I spent a bit of time working with a Kiwi unit whole 'over there'.

      The term Anzac Day was first undertaken in New Zealand on April 5 1916.

      It was not until Australian troops returned home in 1919 was an effort made to establish a special day for commemoration.

      In 1921 the Australian State Premiers' Conference decided that an Anzac Day would be observed on 25 April each year. During the 1920s, Anzac Day became established as a National Day of Commemoration for the 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders who died during WW1. The first year in which all the Australian states observed some form of public holiday together on Anzac Day was 1927.

      While officially it is a day of commemoration for all Australians to reflect on the tragedy that war is, to those who served and returned it comprises two aspects.

      1/. It is first and foremost a time to reflect on those who fell.

      2/. It is a time to reflect on mateship - what it means to rely on mates when the shit hits the fan - what it means to not have to be competitive amongst the group - what it means to work collectively - what it means to laugh, cry and suffer as a group. I could go on.

      Regards

      Commenter
      Dalliance
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 1:11PM
  • What would I die for? Freedom. The defence of our country (although not for some ineffective intervention in another country who does not want us there). For true love, to save a best mate, or my yet to be children. For adventure, for the sheer thrill of pushing yourself to the limits.

    Australia has changed, and the world too is in general a softer, kindler place, but many of us still have most of the spirit that makes us so proud of our diggers almost 100 years on from gallipoli, and 70 years from kokoda.

    I just wish we had the same quality of leadership they had. Who wouldnt want to swap gillard and abbott for curtin and menzies.

    Commenter
    The Aviator
    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 8:46AM
    • MENZIES! Yes the leadership qualities of Pig Iron Bob are just what we need. This is a bloke who lavished praise on Hitler and the Nazi Party during the 1930's and broke waterside strikes black banning the sale of steel to a militarised Japan.

      Commenter
      TheRedRat
      Location
      Innercity Rat
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 9:32PM
  • There are so much questions I would love to answer that it would take more than a few 300 words limit.

    First of all, love that article!

    In a nutshell, yes, we live in a privileged country relatively to other ones.

    I keep my mouth shut and I'll be civic until my freedom is taken away through the guileful manipulative influence. As long as I deem what is "normal", I'm "Nornal".

    In a shorter answer, i basically appreciate what society offers us. I don't ask much. Is it right to glory/glorify the notion of sacrificing ourselves to someone else? I don't know. I'd prefer to speak my life experience before this question.

    Commenter
    Not_A_Normal_Man
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 9:34AM
    • My husband has just gone off to the march in his shiny new Afghanistan medals. Those in the Defence Force are in it to serve their country. That's worth remembering, and celebrating. Even if you wouldn't make that sacrifice, at least spend some time thinking about how you can serve your community, rather than what's in it for you. That's how we become a stronger society.

      Commenter
      AKC
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 10:10AM
      • Respect is not glorifying the fallen. I have lost a father & uncle to war & without them fighting who knows what Australia would be like. Thats the problem with people these days that if its not about them who cares. As for Australia yes it is a great country but its slowly decaying. Its all good if you are cashed up but if you are not its a very expensive place to live so how is that lucky???

        Commenter
        Raj
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        April 25, 2012, 10:11AM
        • Back in '86 I went to Gallipoli in a van (from Canakkule) with a couple of Turkish blokes who couldn't speak English. It was cold, grey, silent and very moving for all of us. Now shallow trenches and a layer of rusty metal not far beneath the surface. Many graves of very young men, from both sides. An appalling waste, in a remote place, far removed from 2012. Lest we forget.
          I realised then that I am made of other stuff. There's no way (I reckon), in this day and age, that many would put themselves in those blokes' boots, in such harm's way, so gratuitously. Go 'over the top'. Bugger off. Fight for 'the man' in this post-political world of corporate hegemony, spin and greed? Not a bloody chance.
          Fight against him, maybe.

          Commenter
          harry
          Location
          shed
          Date and time
          April 25, 2012, 10:54AM
          • I think nowadays we're not so much prepared to believe in the spin that our 'leaders' offer, which I think is also your implication. My father in law suffered very badly, and was near death several times* as POW for more than four years in Japan after the fall of Singapore. (*Literally smuggled out by mates of the 'near death - ignore' section of the sick tent. )

            Interestingly, it's not the Japanese (the ones responsible for his situation anyway) he blamed, it was Chamberlain, Churchill and, to a lesser degree, Menzies.

            He said that they stole four years of his life, and that if he had his time over (and with what he then knew) he would be a conscientious objector.

            That did conflict a bit with his views on whether war should be waged in recent decades, which just goes to show hindsight (and the knowledge that real alternatives to war sometimes existed) is brilliant.

            Commenter
            bornagirl
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            April 25, 2012, 1:44PM

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