Saturday, April 25, 2009

Let us now praise famous men

I walked to the war memorial to-day, and surveyed the concentric rows of wreaths laid there this morning; so many flowers, soon to wilt, fade and decay - cut down in their prime, as were so very many lives in war.

Some prayers: a De profundis for the dead, that they may rest in peace; a Pater noster for the advancement of the Kingdom, that a time may come for all swords to rest; and, yes, the royal anthem, God save the Queen, as a prayer for our temporal authorities and against those who would harm us...

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.

Since the Maori Wars in New Zealand, when some Australians crossed the Tasman to fight for the Empire, and the colonial contingents we sent to help defeat the fanatics of the Mahdi in the Sudan, the infamous Boxer Rebellion in China, and the Boers in South Africa, my countrymen have joined in battle.  Above all, our nation was blooded at Gallipoli (as every child learns in primary school), then in the killing fields of the Western Front, during the Great War - as our Prime Minister rebuked President Wilson's highflown rhetoric at Versailles, "I speak for 60,000 dead": a majority of all Australian war dead date from World War I.  

I have always thought, by the way, that the peace treaty with Germany was too gentle, and did not so much provoke as permit, first a breathing-space, and then a resumption of wrathful tendencies: the German army's orderly retreat from the battlefield gave rise to the vile "stab in the back" legend which allowed militarism to rise again, never having been slain, whereas an occupation and thorough reordering of society after invasion (as done in 1945) could have crushed it once and for all; similarly, Hindenburg, Ludendorff and the Kaiser should indeed as war criminals, whippers-up of malignant evils, and enemies of the public good, the people, and the peace of the world been hanged.  (A funny thing, how nearly all merchants of death, dictatorial rulers and their ilk live on, while the masses they drove to the slaughter perish.)  Similarly, the Rhineland ought have been annexed by France for all time, as a true wergild unable to be avoided as the monetary reparations were, they proving in the event to have been an illusory and harmful measure, and Belgium dissuaded from the illusion of neutrality which later betrayed her again.  And who is to say that a Germany thus punished would not have been spared its later and more dreadful devastation at the end of the Second World War?

I was glad to see in The Weekend Australian that Prime Minister Rudd, heeding the advice that whoso desires peace should prepare for war, is planning a large-scale long-term buildup of our armed forces in the face of current and anticipated geopolitical threats; and about time, too - the defence forces in Australia have historically been far too underprepared and poorly equipped, as is the case even nowadays, when we can hardly sustain our present overseas commitments, and the submarine fleet hasn't enough sailors to put to sea!  Between the Wars, Australia slumbered too long; while in hindsight it is now evident that Japan's aggression was unsustainable against the might of the United States, back in 1942, with the fall of all imperial outposts in South-East Asia to the Japanese prior to the American counterattack, Australia faced the awful prospect of invasion - the cabinet was warned by our military that a defensive perimeter could only be strung between Melbourne and Sydney, abandoning the vast majority of the continent.  Only geographic isolation and the intervention of the U.S. saved us, and not we ourselves.  As it was, so many of our troops fought, first in North Africa, then in Papua New Guinea (our territory at the time) and elsewhere, with many enduring defeat, captivity, maltreatment and death as after the fall of Singapore.

Since World War II, there have been combats in Korea, in Malaya, in Borneo, in Vietnam, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan (where our troops continue in harm's way), to say nothing of peacekeeping missions in hotspots around the world, as in East Timor and still to-day in the Solomon Islands.  Since Vietnam, over 100,000 Australian troops have served overseas.

It is good not to forget, too, that ANZAC Day commemorates our New Zealand brethren alongside of whom we fought and died.

We will remember them.
Lest we forget.

Furthermore, why should we not pray for fallen enemies, and mourn their loss, and their widows and families and devastated lands?  How many German and Japanese conscripts died horribly for their masters' dreams of conquest? and how many Turks fell at Gallipoli defending their shores?

I am no militarist, but there is a time when wars must be fought lest our freedoms and liberties perish undefended (nothing to me seems more inane than foolish talk of war being in essence unjust - surely to fight against Hitler was absolutely justified!); yet of course the horrors of war, and those innumerable maimed, killed, bereaved, outraged, must not be forgotten, lest conflicts be multiplied without most necessary reason: certainly if possible all diplomatic solutions and preventative measures should be seriously tried before force be used; and it must never be forgotten that it is incumbent upon ourselves and our allies never to act immorally, lest the justice of our cause to be vitiated (I hold the disgraceful way cruel ill-usage, even torture, that very mark of bestial inhuman savagery, has been slyly legitimised in certain quarters in the U.S.A. to be wholly disgusting and deserving of condign punishment).  To avoid open conflict through craven capitulation, as I fear is happening in Pakistan at the moment as the Taliban openly take over more and more areas while the Pakistani army hangs back, is to abandon the clear duty of defending the defenceless against aggression and oppression.

While the idea of being a soldier holds no attraction for me, so I would not join up in peacetime, if war came, yes, I would enlist if my country needed me: one must do one's duty - and I guess that is why (there being no conscription in World War I) so many Diggers gave their all, not out of bloodlust but because a serious and harsh test fell upon them.  As is often said, courage, mateship and self-sacrifice are the virtues they displayed: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."  (St John xv, 13.)

1 comment:

matthias said...

Joshua you should read Vera Brittain' TESTAMENT OF YOUTH AND TESTAMENT OF EXPERIENCE to look at how the french sowed the seeds of German anger at them on the Rhineland occupation by allowing a famine to occur and by not doing anything other than take their war repatriation.I heard a missionary once say that you could tell aformer French colony from a british one,because the brits left an infrastructure. It seems that the froggies learnt nothing ,because they added to the woes of Rwanda prior to the genocide.
I agree re that to have peace one must prepare for war,and therefore hope that Rudd is not neutered by his left wing or the toxic greens in his quest to give strength to Australia's defence capabilities