ANZAC Day needs more emphasis on peace, says retired minister

The Beatitudes' message runs against the ANZAC Day mood, says retired Uniting Church minister Dr Wes Campbell

April 24 2017Keeping memory alive - that is the legacy of the ANZAC spirit. It has become especially important as we continue to recall the centenary of the World War I that brought profound suffering and great slaughter to the countries of Europe and its allies on both sides.

As we have been ever aware during the commemoration of World War I the events on the Western Front so were grotesque as to be unimaginable. For example during the first days on the Somme, row upon row of soldiers were ordered out of the tranches into withering machine gun fire. Amongst the trenches and the mud and the blood of "no man's land" dead bodies piled up like walls that had to be crossed by the next wave of troops. And for every life that was lost in this way, families were damaged, hearts were broken, property was destroyed, animals were killed and resources were wasted.

The experience of the twentieth century has shown that the "war to end all wars" did not bring something to an end. It had the opposite effect. Wars have proliferated. Weapons have ever more power and reach, and the once outlawed collateral damage now seems to be a matter of course.

Sadly the effects of 1914-18 reach right into our time as daily reports of "terrorist" attacks signal the response of many to their suffering, which is coupled with their frustration at the denial of their hopes for justice; feelings that often have their source in events that are decades, or even centuries old.

At 11 am this ANZAC Day an ecumenical service will be held in St Paul's Cathedral at which attendees will lament the losses of war and pray for peace and an end to war. They will renew their pledge to be peacemakers and continue to resist the pervasive power of militarism in our nation and in the world.

This service is taking place because the planning group believes it is time to strive to graft a new narrative onto the vine of ANZAC. A narrative that recognises the truth of the past: the bravery, the suffering, the losses and the grief, but does not stop there. A narrative that seeks to build a new story that learns from the past, and genuinely commits to turning swords into ploughshares, exchanging death and destruction for life and well being, justice and peace for all God's people.

Seeking a new narrative for ANZAC Day is consistent with practising the Christian faith. To take one example from the resources of faith we have only to read the Beatitudes thoughtfully to realise that its message runs against the grain of the mood that prevails in the season of ANZAC. It is this narrative of memory and hope that we seek to make vibrant as we offer prayers on ANZAC Day.

Ironically, to worship in this way could be seen as act of resistance.

Yet from within the ANZAC narrative itself there are little publicised resources that tell of those who advocated against war as a solution to the problems facing the world. Brave women and men who resisted the conscription of soldiers to kill, and also gave their service to minister to the suffering and dying. In the age of global terrorism it may seem impossible to advocate for pacifism. But it is militarism, and the greed that fuels it, that has brought us to this point.

The time has come for us make a concerted effort to find a new approach. Seeking a new way of remembering does not mean forgoing our cenotaphs and stained glass windows. Rather it is to dig deeper into our traditions of faith and hope and memory, and bring forward resources that can empower us to live in new ways, as active citizens joined in movements to rid the world of war, looking for the day when "never again" will be a real possibility.

*The Reverend Dr Wes Campbell is a retired Uniting Church minister, theologian and artist who has been a peace activist since the Vietnam War. He is a member of the Ecumenical Anzac Service Group.