“The greatest Ottoman victory of the First World War,” began on the 25th April 1915. Over the course of the eight-month campaign, over one hundred thousand lives were lost. Through this battle, the tiny new nations of Australia and New Zealand, who were disproportionately represented, were stunned into self-awareness, with the pride of our youth sacrificed on the altar of British military arrogance and foolishness.
That day – Anzac Day – was officially commemorated the following year; this year marks the one hundredth anniversary. It has become, at least here in Australia, our Holy Day, having so much more significance in our national psyche than Christmas, Easter or any other religious or non-religious festival. It was our national crucifixion without the resurrection.
Combine this with the desperate defence of our own shores during the war in the Pacific against Japan which began less than thirty years later and we found ourselves very rapidly with an entrenched understanding of who we are based on tenacity, rigour, perseverance and the ability – at least in WW2 – to fight and win.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, that in this century, we have endorsed successive governments’ cruel and inhumane treatment of those who have been attempting to seek asylum in our country. We have seen them as invaders; perhaps those in power have tapped into that which is so much a part of who we are and distorted it, so that we have come to believe that these desperate people, fleeing for their lives, are actually our enemy – illegals. In fact, Facebook posts from some of those private contractors who have been entrusted with the “care” of those imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru have at times called their charges just that – the enemy.
Or am I drawing a long bow?
Ever since I was a kid, Anzac Day was where we showed our respect and gratitude to those who gave their lives so that we all might share in the freedom in which we now stand.
What a tragedy that those who are fleeing injustice and persecution – in many cases at significant risk for them and their families – are treated as the enemy when they arrive at our shores.
It is a sad, terrible irony that at the same time we commemorate the fight for freedom, we imprison those who are fleeing regimes very much like those that our forbears fought. Have we really become that selfish?
I have no desire to hijack Anzac Day to have an opportunity to jump on my own soapbox. I too, honour those who have fought on our behalf. My own father was such a soldier in New Guinea.
But freedom is given to us not so that we might be selfish, arrogant and hateful, but rather that we might show mercy, compassion and grace to those who are not blessed as we are. In the words of William Shakespeare: Mercy “blesses him that gives and him that takes. It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.”
This Anzac Day, let us remember the values for which our forbears fought and be gracious with our freedom, so that we may give thanks with a clear conscience.
For those of you who live in Sydney, there is a rally for refugees at Belmore Park at 1.00 p.m. tomorrow, Sunday 19th April. For those who are able, let’s show some of that mercy, grace and compassion.