Anzac Day seems to be somewhat of a religious holiday in Australia, even moreso than Easter and Christmas, which have largely become a conduit for commercialism. Perhaps the appeal of Anzac Day to our largely secular nation is that it is somewhat of a religious observance for those that are repelled by institutional religion. I remember waking up in my Scouting days to go down to the local dawn service, long before the sun had dawned. Freezing in my Scout's uniform, straining to see in front of me and hearing the solemn words of old men seemed to be sacred stuff. Add the moments of silence, interrupted only be a lone trumpet playing "The Last Post", and you have a liturgy that engages most of the population more than your average church service.
Some fifteen years later as an avowed and unashamed pacifist, it is difficult to know what to make of Anzac Day. There are times that I feel that my pacifism will be received as a mark of ingratitude, a dismissive "thanks, but no thanks" to the fallen Australian soldiers who died on the fields of Gallipoli. And yet I must acknowledge that I did not ask these individuals to fight on my behalf, and would not wish anybody to fight on my behalf if we faced the same situation today. Surely, I would hope, there is a way of both denouncing war in all of its forms and respecting the convictions of the Anzacs?
Firstly, Anzac Day should not be regarded as a glorification of war. Even those who believe in the efficacy of war as a means of settling disputes generally regard such action as a necessary evil and as a last resort. Accordingly, those who use Anzac Day to promote their militaristic agendas should be roundly condemned for their rhetoric and we should make it clear that these people do not represent the Anzac spirit they profess to represent. Anzac Day is a celebration of those who responded to the perceived call that their country needed them, rather than a celebration of the bureaucrats who made the decision to send us off to war.
Secondly, the fact that the Anzacs chose to go to war to fight the enemy is not the reason we choose to venerate them. Rather, it is the fact that these individuals were willing to lay down their lives in the belief that this would bring freedom to their families back in Australia. As Jesus said "Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay his life down for his friends" (John 15:13). That is disagreeing with the belief that war can ever bring freedom will never change the fact that these soldiers were willing to die for others.
Thirdly, I believe that Anzac Day can serve as an effective and an appropriate vehicle to express the virtues of pacifism. Anzac Day reminds us not only of the sacrifices of those who went to war, but also of the evils of war. War, more than any other phenomenon has tragically cut short the lives of people in their prime, whether they be solidiers or civilians. Indeed, it is for this reason that a great number of those fought in the World Wars and saw the senseless distruction of war for themselves became pacifists. Perhaps it is their voices that need to be heard and their opinions that need to be respected on a day like today.
I'd like to think that the above considerations are able to give proper respect to the fallen Anzac soldiers, while nonetheless condemning the atrocity of war. While unlike the Anzacs, there is no cause that I could ever regard worthy of killing for, I'd like to think that there are some things that I would be prepared to die for. And simply because I will not kill, does not mean that I will not fight for what I believe in. It is simply that my battle is not with flesh and blood, but rather with powers and principalities, with structures of greed, power and intolerance. No amount of killing will ever excise these dark places of the human soul.
Lest we forget.