Photo by Nina Bayatti/The Gazelle

ANZAC Day: a powerful reminder of war

Photo by Nina Bayatti/The Gazelle Six NYUAD students gathered before the Abu Dhabi marina with fellow Australian and New Zealand compatriots. It is ...

Apr 27, 2013

Photo by Nina Bayatti/The Gazelle
Six NYUAD students gathered before the Abu Dhabi marina with fellow Australian and New Zealand compatriots. It is Thursday, April 25 and it is Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day — the day of remembrance for Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in war. It is still dark when I pin on a red poppy, the flower that grew over the battlefields where our soldiers died in World War I.
I knew that my friends at home in Melbourne would be lining up on the sloping lawns of the Shrine of Remembrance eight hours later. Everybody edges towards the two great fire torches on each side of the Shrine, trying to warm their hands in the winter dawn. It is always cold and misty on the morning of ANZAC Day in Australia. Similarly, a fog hangs over the marina in Abu Dhabi at 4 a.m.
It is difficult to detach sentimentality from ANZAC Day. But that is exactly the problem that many have identified with this occasion.
The danger of this ceremony is the glorification of war. On the front page of the national newspaper, The Australian, the headline warned, "Drop sentimental myths of Anzac Day, Tasmanian Governor Peter Underwood says." Many are calling for a more realistic understanding of war to reflect in our ANZAC Day remembrances.
Specifically, Underwood retold the account of Australian soldiers pissing their pants on an overcrowded helicopter, as a reminder of the ugly reality of war.
For Australians and New Zealanders today, WWI is not an experienced reality, but somebody else's memory. Or more sentimentally, it is a nation's memory. In the nostalgia of passed time, the impulse is to imagine brave and self-sacrificing soldiers. While we cannot protest against the families who want to remember the best of their loved ones, should we idealize dead soldiers? If we idealize dead soldiers, are we idealizing war?
However, war casualty is not a thing of the past. ANZAC Day has become a remembrance day for all Australians and New Zealanders who died in wars since WWI. Today, as we continue to receive news of Australian and New Zealand casualties in Afghanistan, the brutal reality of war finds its way into our remembrances. ANZAC Day is often the most solemn day of the year for our nations, and we do not celebrate on ANZAC Day — rather, we mourn on ANZAC Day. As we gather to remember those that died, war is not glorified but deeply regretted.
It is a terrible image of war that ANZAC Day evokes. At the ceremony, we stand silently to hear the “Last Post,” the bugle call of Commonwealth military funerals and ceremonies. Every year, I wonder at how this wonky-sounding instrument, and the “Last Post's” sprightly, rather oddball melody, makes me want to cry. ANZAC Day serves as a reminder of the brutality of war, and I think that millions of deaths capture the brutality of war equally well as, if not more than, the soldiers pissing in their pants.
The impulse to remember the best of passed soldiers is a natural one. When the concern is the glorification of war, it does not matter if we imagine our soldiers quivering behind the trenches or surging over it them. It does not matter if we imagine soldiers stoic or desperate with fear; they were all different people and most of us did not know them. Whoever they are, and whatever they were like, we are sorry that they died in war.
Even with the brutalities of war, some bravery and camaraderie still exist, and that is something we can honor on ANZAC Day. On Thursday, the Australian and New Zealand ambassadors sat with Mr. Yunus Emre Bayrak, the First Secretary to the Republic of Turkey. Bayrak read Ataturk's Poem, which mourns losses on both sides of WWI: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.” It is a well-known WWI anecdote that during the armistice as both sides buried their dead, the ANZAC and Turkish soldiers sat together and even shared cigarettes. And now, the Australian ambassador sitting with the Turkey's First Secretary suggests what we have learned from the miseries of Gallipoli.
On ANZAC Day, we remember the good and the bad. When a nation looks back on its past and remembers the people that died in war, anti-sentimentality is going to be difficult. Even the story of soldiers pissing their pants is imbedded with sentiment. Why was the story passed down through time, why is it remembered and why does Governor Underwood use it to evoke the brutality of war? The soldier who sits on the edge of the helicopter, so afraid of falling into the bloody mess beneath that he pisses his pants, deserves our remembrance too. We remember the suffering and the indignities of war and mourn those that had to bear those sufferings and indignities; whether with grace or with peeing. As long as these miseries are remembered, war shows its ugly face and ANZAC Day sentiment is not misguided. Every year when we stand to hear the bugle's “Last Post,” these miseries are remembered. Lest we forget.
Joey Bui is a contributing writer. Email her at
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