Australia spends two days each year in remembrance of wars previous and lives lost. For some these are days for the celebration of victories and the glorification of war in the most jingoistic manner possible. For others they are days of true sadness: because they have been touched by the loss of of friends or relatives; or because they recognise that death and destruction are the only guaranteed outcomes of war.
Remembrance Day is an occasion to mark the reaching of an armistice between the belligerents in the Great War (later known as the First World War). It has been said that Australia as a nation was born at Gallipoli amongst the blood, sand and jetsam that washed up along the shore.
Australia entered the Great War youthful and a little naïve but the brutality of the war and the shocking loss of life rocked Australia even more than the great depression of the 1890s and brought these qualities to an abrupt end. Those soldiers who had gone overseas and survived returned with the horrors of the battlefields seared into their memories and, in many cases, not in one piece. They found themselves in a country that had been sharply divided along the issue of conscription and duty and that had been left quieter due to the loss of so many young Australians.
Around Australia the high casualty rate created labour problems during and after the war and this was especially pronounced in country areas. All in all, more than 215,000 Australian men between 18 and 44 years of age were captured, wounded, killed or went missing at a time when Australia’s population was still below 5 million. To put this into context: Melbourne has a population of around 5 million people today. Imagine if over the next four years 60,000 Melburnians between 18 and 44 years of age suddenly died and another 150,000 had severe workplace injuries that would leave a large number permanently disabled. You can imagine the devastation this would cause Melbourne and its people.
Since 1918, Australia has become involved in several wars and conflicts, some with volunteer corps, some with conscripts and most with loss of life. On November 11th, Occupy Melbourne will remember all those who have fallen (regardless of state). I think we would do well to recall the Ode of Remembrance and to read it and think about it as mourning war and the fallen, not as a celebration.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Resolution of the 16th General Assembly (Occupy Melbourne):
“Occupy Melbourne will hold one minute’s silence on November 11th for those who have died in all wars. They are a part of the 99%. We, the 99%, are against all wars and believe they are initiated by the 1%. We want the Australian Government to bring our troops home.”