Opinion

Anzac Day calls us to do much more than just remember

We owe those who gave their lives much more than remembrance, reflects former Reserves Chaplain.

By Bill Pugh

April 27 2016In the wake of Anzac Day, the Revd Bill Pugh, a former Reserves Chaplain, reflects on the terrible cost of war, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and argues that we owe those who gave their lives much more than remembrance.

Sometimes unavoidable experience brings us face to face with vulnerability and reality. As 18 year olds we arrived at Puckapunyal in 1953 to begin National Service training. Our dads and brothers had been there before us in WW1 and WW2. Same rank and uniform, learning to be soldiers. Up early, drill, obeying orders, marching and firing rifles at the range.

One day we marched out to a field in full battle gear, ordered to fix bayonets, charge and impale a straw man. And if we failed to do this with sufficient aggression, “Do it again!” was the order. There was no mistaking this straw man looked like our so- called enemy to the north of us, a young soldier like us - someone with a home, a sweetheart and family. Why would we want to kill him and he us? He wanted to live as we did. And how would the horror of killing another human being rest easily on our consciences?

In his remarkable work, Exit Wounds, Major General John Cantwell gives a raw account of his life as a soldier. A young private from Queensland, earning his promotion through the ranks and serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; and next in line to be Chief of the Army. But he came home and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Haunted by recurring nightmares, seeing Iraqi soldiers buried alive, the carnage caused by a car bomb in a market place, and seeing the faces of dead soldiers he personally knew, and ordered into battle by him, who he sent home to grieving families. He left the Army, suffering from what is labelled PTSD, a slick term for the damage caused by war on men and women from many Australian families, over a life time as part of the terrible price of war.

On Anzac Day we remember all who served and are serving, and the ultimate sacrifice of those who gave their lives for us. But the resolve to do something about it should be every day.

The prophet of old had the vision of a new way of doing things. His city had been destroyed by an enemy. The defences must be strengthened and the encircling walls rebuilt. So a surveyor was dispatched to measure and plan for a better defence. A messenger, called an angel, someone of common-sense and experience calls out to the surveyor that the new city will be so crowded that it will be too large to have walls. God has promised to be with them and protect the vicinity. There will be no need for walls.

The strong message of Anzac Day is to build out, to dismantle the walls which divide us, and build a spirit of community from within. The old ways of settling disputes never have, and never will work. Death, destruction and division are never the price of lasting peace. And the PTSD of innocent men, women and children, will continue and grow like a cancer.

Jesus recommended a quality of life founded on justice, mercy and forgiveness, and loving kindness for all, even for our enemies.

As Australians we are so keen on rebuilding our walls, to keep people outside, that we lose sight of our responsibility to fellow human beings who are less fortunate, and their suffering. We have much to share.

Who knows what the effect of a little bit of loving kindness will have on those whom we believe threaten the walls we keep on building?

On Anzac Day we remember all who have served and serve our nation. But we owe them more. We must do something about it.