Australia New Zealand Army Corps.

“No one wins. It’s a war of man.” – Neil Young.

I didn’t go to the ANZAC day dawn service this year. I usually do but last years service really got me thinking as to why I do.

The service was long and laborious to be honest. All of the diggers, bar two, I believe, were dead and I couldn’t help but shake the feeling we were all just trying to feel better about ourselves.

Better about ‘our war.’

I don’t mean sound disrespectful.

My grandfather fought in the war.

He was positioned in Borneo during World War II (in Sarawak, specifically) for the 2-17th batallion.

He returned to Australia, as most soldiers did, with a belly full of shattered narrative he never cared to share.

To re-cap, as I’m sure you’re well aware, throughout much of World War IIBritish MalayaNorth Borneo and Sarawak were under Japanese occupation.

The Japanese Empire commenced the Pacific War with the invasion of Kota Bahru in Kelantan on 8 December 1941 at 00:25[1], about 90 minutes before the Attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii at 07:48 on 7 December Hawaii time, or 01:48 on 8 December Malayan time. They then invaded the island of Borneo in mid December 1941, landing on the west coast near Miri in Sarawak;[2] The invasion was completed by 23 January 1942 when they landed at Balikpapan in Dutch Borneo on the east coast.[3]

During the occupation an estimated 100,000 people were killed.

I left my apartment today to go to a writing workshop with a friend. As we parted company I decided to walk through the city to learn something about my culture. Something about the ANZACS.

What I found was appaling.

The streets were strewn with drunken buffoons. Folk my own age, sporting their ancestors medals, falling over themselves, shouting out all number of obscenities. Fights were breaking out, police lined the streets and an alarming number of people seemed really fucking high on crack.

Which got me to thinking what we’re actually supposed to be celebrating…

My sister, an avid ANZAC supporter, sent me a text early this morning following the dawn service she inevitably always attends. It read as follows:

They shall not grow old

as we who are left

grow old.

Age shall not weary them,

nor the years condemn:

At the going down of the sun,

and in the morning.

We will remember them.

Lest we forget. x.

But we have forgotten, I thought as I read her message. We’ve forgotten because we’re still doing it. History repeats itself. And if anything those medals, so unscrupulously harvested, should somehow be respected and archived somewhere safe, away from the lewd, drunken two-up and the vomit, and the expletives. And the junkies.

I understand that my sentiments may cause offense to those who feel that their ancestors died for a cause. I struggle to share this view point, however.

I’ve never really understood why we go to war or why we fight. Or what we think we’re ever going to gain in the quest.

I studied Modern History for the HSC and even way back when– that is, when I had fewer opinions and fewer life lessons under my belt– war confused me.

I’d often ask my Modern History teacher why anyone ever went to war, to which her response was always; Alex, we had to defend ourselves, our country, our land.

But against what? Invasion? Foreign influence? Bombs?

I always thought this was a bit rich, you know, coming from one white man to another… One “Australian” to another.

Historically, I’d argue, we’ve been raping and pillaging for centuries. All of us. So why are the deaths of our own kind any more important than the deaths of ‘the other.’

She, my Modern History teacher would often look at me and smile like I was a bright kid with a belly full of bold ideas, which used to really piss me off. I didn’t want her flattery. I wanted her to prove me wrong. I wanted to her to present this whole paradigm in a way I could understand, get my head around, make sense of. Which she never could, of course.

So naturally from these series of experiences I have arrived at a simple conclusion.

No one wins. It’s a war of man.

That’s not my idea of course, that’s Neil’s, and good on Neil for writing a song about it.

I’ve only ever made a film about war. Well, actually, it wasn’t my film, I was cast as an actor once in a war about film. I mean, a film about war. And like most actors in most films I had very little idea of what the film was actually about until it had been edited and screened.

The film was not about World War II, it was about the Vietnam War and was told from the perspective of a series of men that would frequent a bar in the deep belly of Americas South.

I was the bar tender.

I spent some three months with a vocal coach trying to nail a Southern accent. No easy feat. I then spent some months after the shoot thinking long and hard about war and all its wrath.

It’s not a particularly original thought, I know, to highlight the fact that war fucks people up.

Most of the actors on this shoot, whom were playing war vets, we’re pretty messed up by the end of the project.

And that was just a film.

And we were all just actors.

Ideally, I’d insert a clip of that film here but it’s hiding in a box somewhere, in a showreel somewhere, almost lost but not quite. It’s online but listed in kanji and I can’t read, though I’ll find it, eventually… , etc.

In the interim, let me say this:

I think our attitudes towards war have changed.

I don’t think we were afraid back then, I think we were naive. Young men lying about their age, seduced by the lure of international travel, and so on.

We don’t serve so much anymore for a passport. I think we fight now because we’re afraid. And mainly because we’re afraid not to.

Afraid of Puff The Magic Osama. Afraid of running out of oil. Afraid of other cultures. Other ideas.

I had a sexual tryst with a soldier once who had been “serving” in Iraq and was visiting Australia briefly while on sabbatical. We met at a bar and his friend introduced himself as a journalist, and he, as a soldier.

Pretty well much from the get-go I asked them what their thoughts were on war, if they felt they’d been making any progress over there, what they’d seen. How well they slept. If they still dreamed.

They talked openly and honestly about their experiences. Which got me to thinking about my grandfather and why he never spoke of the war. Why an entire generation of men sat in bars, silently sipping their beers, never again, to speak of their experiences.

Only of their hatred for the Japanese.

Now I know this was just one soldier and just one journalist, in just one bar, but to be entirely honest I really felt like their mouths were saying one thing and their eyes, saying another entirely. And don’t even get me started on the sex. Sheesh.

My point is we’ve gotten it really, really fucking wrong in the past.

Really wrong.

And perhaps rather then remembering the past we should be looking towards a future that not only involves but neccesitates independent thought– rather than mindless robot behavior– booze fuelled and automated. I can’t bare it. I still don’t know why we go to war. Still. Let alone why we celebrate it.

Escaping the city streets today I ducked in to my local bottle shop to purchase a bottle of red wine on my way home and asked the guy that served me when he last went outside.

He said he’d actually just asked if he could not have a lunch break today and go home a half hour early instead. “It’s vile out there,” he remarked. “Really fucking ugly.”

I suppose what has pissed me off so much about all of these encounters; my Modern History teacher in high school, the war in Iraq, World War II and the shit I saw on the streets today is how we come to celebrate it.

It’s not to be celebrated.

It’s not to be glorified, particularly by punks like this:

On days like today.

In places like Australia.

In the year 2010.

Lest we forget. x.

“Get ready for the future, it is murder.” – L.Cohen.

“No one wins. It’s a war of man.” – Neil Young.

3 Responses to “Australia New Zealand Army Corps.”
  1. Greg says:

    I think you will find Dad served in the 2/17th Batallion.
    I dont think of ANZAC day as a celebration but rather as day of respect & thanks.

  2. Thanks Greg. Aunty Anne said the same thing yesterday when we did the Bondi to Bronte walk… Blame it on Kev. That’s what he said ; )

  3. Nick says:

    My pop was one of the original Light Horsemen. “True Blue ANZAC”. Shortly after surviving the 26th of April he was arrested whilst on duty in a brothel in Cairo.

    This is one of the only things I know about him. True story. Got the documentation somewhere

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