Anzac Day is here again. It is a day that always affects me emotionally. Just to hear the Last Post is enough to start the tears welling.
This year I have been thinking about the courage it took to live during the time of war and I can see two kinds of courage that stand out.
The first kind of courage is that of the young men going off to war. Imagine the fear they must have felt, not knowing what pain and injury they might face, nor whether they would ever come home again. Imagine the courage it took for their families to keep going day by day, waiting for news of their sons and brothers. This is the stuff of the Anzac legend that we remember and respect today.
The second kind of courage that I have been thinking about is that of the men who resisted the call to war. They objected to war for many reasons from political to religious and they chose to live by their beliefs. It takes a lot of courage to fly in the face of popular opinion and to stick with your beliefs. Regardless of whether you agree with their stance you would have to commend their courage.
These are the men who were called cowards, and were given white feathers. It wasn’t fear that held them back because many suffered torture and imprisonment as they refused to fight. These people knew the consequences but refused anyway.
Not every objector was able to avoid war. Some were sent to fight anyway and, during WW1, some were given the horrible punishment of being tied to a stake in the open in the middle of the fighting. ( https://www.converge.org.nz/pma/jm240406.htm ) Can you imagine holding onto your principles in the face of this degree of punishment?
Being a conscientious objector was slightly more acceptable to society by the time of the Vietnam War, when public opinion about war was quite divided. Objectors were still jailed for their beliefs, though there seems to be no lasting social consequences. It might be a good idea, though, to avoid the local RSL.
So where do conscientious objectors fit in on Anzac Day? Mention Anzacs and ‘conchies’ in the same sentence and it still provokes a heatedly divided response. Objectors suffered as the rest of the population did with the loss of friends or family members. In addition they lost their lifestyles, jobs and reputations. They had to watch their families dealing with the social consequences of their objections. They admire the Anzac spirit of mateship and courage as we do, despite not being part of it. It is hard to say that Anzac Day applies to all Australians except the objectors.
Perhaps it is time we acknowledged and respected both kinds of courage. Each form of courage highlights the strength of the other. Regardless which side of the fence you sit, there are no winners when it comes to war.
Anzac Day – Lest We Forget.
This was first published over at The Tall Poppy