ANZAC Day 2022 – Weep for we have forgotten our promises to the dead

ANZAC Day has always been a deeply sacred day for us as a nation.

The haste and glee of how we fed the mincer of war with our most dazzling children and harvest of life has always called to us from the grave and demanded we never do that to the next generation.

That is the obligation of every citizen in a democracy.

I have no interests in singing the glory of war, each conflict is a collapse of reason and failure of diplomacy, we should only ever raise our arm to protect ourselves or protect others.

The lessons of this violence are to prevent such angers spilling over and staining our children with their dark treacle.

So as we stand in commemoration of the lives lost, our promise to the next generation looks weaker than ever before.

Covid has touched us as a people in a way that only the unique experience of global war can. It has frightened us and unleashed that fear alongside a torrent of misinformation and subjective emotional rage.

We have forgotten our obligations to the dead.

The speed with which so many of our citizens have believed madness online and threatened  violence because of that madness is an affront to the democracy the dead fought for.

The speed with which middle class Wellingtonians cried out for the military to beat up protestors on Parliaments lawns is an affront to the democracy the dead fought for.

The speed with which we moved to give lethal military aid to the Ukrainians is an affront to the democracy the dead fought for.

The eruption of domestic violence and crime against one another is an affront to the democracy the dead fought for.

We have forgotten our promises to the dead, to de-escalate, to fight for peace, to do all we can to prevent violence from erupting in the first place.

The speed with which we have turned upon one another, the rush to demand violence against our enemies, the rage that now explodes against one another on a day to day basis.

We have forgotten the lessons of the glorious dead, we have forgotten our promises to them, we have become the rough beasts of Bethlehem.

Is this what our glorious dead died for?

As the drumbeat for war slowly echoes across the Pacific, we need collective courage for Peace first and self defence second like never before.


The Gunner’s Lament

A Maori gunner lay dying
In a paddyfield north of Saigon,
And he said to his pakeha cobber,
“I reckon I’ve had it, man!

‘And if I could fly like a bird
To my old granny’s whare
A truck and a winch would never drag
Me back to the Army.

‘A coat and a cap and a well-paid job
Looked better than shovelling metal,
And they told me that Te Rauparaha
Would have fought in the Vietnam battle.

‘On my last leave the town swung round
Like a bucket full of eels.
The girls liked the uniform
And I liked the girls.

‘Like a bullock to the abattoirs
In the name of liberty
They flew me with a hangover
Across the Tasman Sea,

‘And what I found in Vietnam
Was mud and blood and fire,
With the Yanks and the Reds taking turns
At murdering the poor.

‘And I saw the reason for it
In a Viet Cong’s blazing eyes –
We fought for the crops of kumara
And they are fighting for the rice.

‘So go tell my sweetheart
To get another boy
Who’ll cuddle her and marry her
And laugh when the bugles blow,

‘And tell my youngest brother
He can have my shotgun
To fire at the ducks on the big lagoon,
But not to aim it at a man,

‘And tell my granny to wear black
And carry a willow leaf,
Because the kid she kept from the cold
Has eaten a dead man’s loaf.

‘And go and tell Keith Holyoake
Sitting in Wellington,
However long he scrubs his hands
He’ll never get them clean.’

James K Baxter


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