Time to embrace the greater duty

It’s time to move on.

This was the overwhelming – and unexpected – thought I had standing on Anzac Cove as 10,500 people stood still to mark 100 years since the start of the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli.

I’m not sure what it was about the ceremony that forced this unexpected thought in to my over-worked and exhausted mind.

I had, after all, stood at that Cove many times before, each time feeling deep sorrow for the thousands of young men who arrived at the beach; and the tens of thousands who – as dawn broke from behind the hills – fired to defend their homeland.

But this time, as I stood alongside my professional colleagues looking at those clinging on to blankets and sleeping bags in the freezing cold, there was only that one thought amid the emotion: it’s time to move on.

Perhaps it was the realisation that this was, in many ways, the end of a journey: one that had been years in the making, now reaching its climatic end.

Or perhaps it was something even deeper, something that goes to the heart of what it means to be Australian.

Every Anzac Day, we’re exposed to the rhetoric that being Australian is about embracing the Anzac spirit and the values it’s left us with: mateship, sacrifice, looking after and if necessary, suffering for, one another – the very spirit we’re all too familiar with. Remember Ash Wednesday? Black Saturday? Even this past week’s storms in New South Wales? All featured that wonderful and overpowering human trait that we cannot erase, no matter how hard we try.

Yet had the Anzac invasion not occurred, can we honestly claim these values would not have made itself in to our DNA? Are we so obsessed with attaching these values to a ‘good’ story that we’ve become trapped in the Anzac rhetoric we created?

Preparations for the dawn service at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli.

Preparations for the dawn service at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli.

There’s no question we should remember our soldiers and everyone who has died serving their country: they’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice.

But as we refuse to learn the lessons of Gallipoli, and continue to send our troops into wars with little foresight and no real exit strategy, what’s our legacy we’re leaving behind?

Or perhaps put more simply: what now for the Anzac message?

Fairfax journalist Tony Wright, who I had the pleasure of standing alongside at Gallipoli, wrote this week:

Here then is a great and awful simplicity that does not need the mawkish commercialisation that increasingly confounds those who want to keep Anzac Day within limits: wars, whether you are on the winning or losing side, leave widows and parents struggling with disbelief, mates stricken at leaving their comrades behind and songs and poems infected with sadness.

War is war, and its effects are universal. And we just keep signing up for more.

As the bugle hit its chilling final note in the Last Post at Anzac Cove, I looked around at the varying expressions on people’s faces.

Most had their eyes closed, perhaps overwhelmed with emotion, while others stared blankly out to the open sea.

For a few seconds, the silence united the diverse individuals.

As eyes re-opened and stares turned into thought-filled expressions, I couldn’t help but think: what now?

Where to from here for our country, which, for the last 100 years, built its national identity on this disastrous campaign?

Where do we now take the narrative, as soon enough, we’ll be preparing for the 101st anniversary? And what about the time we reach the 120th?

Dawn service attendees camp out at Anzac Cove.

Dawn service attendees camp out at Anzac Cove.

Perhaps Anzac Day deserved this peak. Perhaps now, we can focus on learning the lessons that so many have, for so long, insisted we learn.

Next month marks 50 years since we sent out first battalion of young soldiers to Vietnam. How will we commemorate those young men who we knowingly sent to their deaths?

And what about the next generation of youth we sent to Afghanistan 12 years ago?

Perhaps now, in the 101st year of the dawning of the Anzac legend, our focus can now rightfully turn to them.

Before then, in August, we’ll again gather in Gallipoli to mark 100 years since the Battle of Lone Pine. In December, we’ll again gather to mark the day the guns fell silent. And in January, we’ll remember the final Allied soldier leaving Gallipoli, ending months of unnecessary bloodshed.

At that point, perhaps, we’ll be done.

The hard hills and tough terrain above the sea at Gallipoli will remain forever. And let us always honour the fallen.

But let us also embrace the greater duty of striving for peace.

Only then will a day like today have a truly deserved significance.

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