Among the living lay the dead. As we dug ourselves in, we found them in layers stacked on top of one another. One company after another had been shoved into the drum-fire and steadily annihilated.
Ernst Junger, German officer
I came across the quote and photo above on Flickr. Each is a graphic, horrific reminder of what war does.
It’s easy on a day like Anzac Day to focus on what is good about war: the sacrifice and bravery of our troops, and those of our enemy; the defeat of aggressors; the defence of our freedom; our ability to band together in the most desperate of circumstances.
It is hard to focus on what is bad about war: the death and wounding of human beings, whether they be soldiers or noncombatant, ally or enemy; the destruction of property and essential infrastructure, that leaves a legacy of poverty and hardship long after the war ends; unexploded ordinance that lies in the ground like a coiled snake waiting for a child playing in a field to step on it; the unleashing of our darkest selves, as hatred, fear and bitterness drive us to actions that are monstrous.
It it is precisely the terrible things about war that we need to focus upon on a day like Anzac Day. I want to acknowledge the sacrifice and bravery of our soldiers, but I refuse to eulogise them, to pretend that honour is found on our side and dishonour on our enemy’s. I want to remember how utterly perverse it is that we train people to kill their fellow human beings and then send them out to do it. There may be occasions on which it is a necessary evil (though I have strong doubts about this) and soldiers may adhere to their code of conduct (for which they should be commended for it shows character under the most trying of circumstances), but killing people is not an honourable thing, nor can it ever be. It is a terrible thing we ask of our young men and young women.
On Anzac Day I also want to remind myself to be critical of those leaders who send us to war. Soldiers don’t have the option of deciding for themselves whether the command to go to war is a good or a bad one. To preserve ourselves from the potential for a military dictatorship it is essential that the military leadership always defers to the civil leadership. So as a noncombatant I want to make clear to our civil leaders that history tells me I shouldn’t trust them when it comes to going to war, that if they want to take us into war they need to make the case and make it very clearly, they need to produce the evidence that war is the only option left, lay it out on the table for us all to see, open it up for critique and analysis.
On Anzac Day I want to remember that war is an evil, one of the worst to afflict humankind, and one I hope we will do almost anything to avoid.