This year Anzac Day promises to be a subdued celebration with marches in which people who have fought in wars and their relatives can take part. Few will be able to travel to Gallipoli to remember the invasion. The focus of the day will remain on the sorrow of war and not on the heroic achievements of soldiers or on imagined distinctive Australian qualities displayed at Gallipoli. The association of soldiers at Gallipoli with footballers playing their Anzac Day games will seem not only crass but ridiculous.
This year we shall remember with compassion people who died and whose lives were maimed by war with sorrow, and think of war with horror, not excitement. It has lain before our eyes all this month. Each day in the media we see the destruction in Ukraine of cities, of centuries-old centres of civilisation. We see the young soldiers on both sides brought into the conflict and sent back in body bags. We see the columns of refugees leaving Ukraine and read of those forced to stay in cities that are bombed around the clock, where the dead lie frozen in the ice with the living.
As we think back to Gallipoli, we think of the grief that spread from the battlefield to the Australian families and rural settlements who lost sons, brothers, fathers and the hopes of growing communities. We think, too, of the families to which soldiers returned, changed for the worse by their experience and sucking joy out of their families.
Anzac Day, too, encourages us to attend to the sorrow of later wars in which Australians have taken part – to the divisive Vietnam War, to Iraq and Afghanistan. We see beneath the honours of war the cost of constantly living in danger, where every farmer and grandmother might be an enemy fighter, and where Australian soldiers are seen as passing like straw in the wind. We see the hurt done to mind and spirit by war, and the cost to a rich humanity.
Anzac Day this year is a time to meditate on war, to honour those who have been required to serve in it, to be compassionate to those who have lost lovers and children, and to feel with those who have lost their humanity through their experience of war. It is a day to swear off all the dystopias that glorify mass destruction and to shout out compassion and other human responses.
Anzac is a day to pray for the dead and grow in compassion for the living dead left behind by war.