You can hardly scan more than a few degrees around this time of the year before your eyes will rest on a poppy. Every Anzac Day schools froth at the mouth in their enthusiasm, and its getting worse. Ive seen a primary school which transformed itself into a kind of cross between a mausoleum and an All Blacks style rugby prematch hype.There seems to be little or no debate in the classroom as to the morality, the efficacy, the rationality of war. As predicted by a serviceman himself (I don't like the language-service? didn't he have a gun, and invade another country?), the last of the Gallipoli soldiers has died and that makes room for the 'glorifiers' who revel in this sentimental re-enactment of a terrible mistake-namely going to war.Most of them said what a waste, a stupid waste of human life.There is nothing to glorify they said.
Its fast becoming an act of treason to speak out against Anzac day, or the reverse, to promote the ideals of peace, mutual benefit and conflict resolution. I cower when I raise the question in the public space. I'm probably not far from being tied the tree to which Archibald Baxter was tied for daring not to bear arms against another. And that was in the snow. If you havent read We Shall not Cease by him, then do so and understand what the glorious, courageous soldiers did torturing a man for his pacifism.
Anzac Day has almost become our National day. Waitangi Day celebrations pale in comparison to Anzac Day. The birth of a nation they are saying. If that's how we want to make ourselves a nation, then I'm opting out of the nation. Again, notice the language: Glorious dead, heroes, courageous, served. They died for us-huh? Its one thing to defend invaders, another altogether to agress another nation in the name of defence. Even then the argument is still up for grabs whether you need to use force.
Im keen on deifying the 200 odd known conscientious objectors-the real heroes who thought through their values around war and chose to not raise their hands against another. We could look at their lives and what their arguments were.We might look at their courage, We might try to emulate the values of mutual respect and integrity and disobeying at the appropriate time. Wouldn't that be something great to go on the corridors and staff rooms of our schools, public libraries and community spaces?
We need to invigorate our world with other solutions to conflict. As a friend put it, we are too busy training our youth to be cannon fodder;albeit glorious cannon fodder, to invest in other solutions-and we see solutions such as dialogue as weak and ineffective.
There are solutions to be found which acknowledge different positions; we need skilled negotiators who can mediate. And yes, sometimes solutions are incredibly hard to find, almost impossible. We still do not need to use force as a way to get what we want. The legacy of war will continue if we do.
Nationalism is dangerous. It has harmed nations which indulge and promote it. You are not your nation. Your 'nation' doesnt even exist, except in the belief that somehow you are great and awesome because you are a ................New Zealander (substitute your own country). You are already great and awesome. Perhaps if we really believed that, we wouldn't need all this flag waving, posturing, chest beating and sentimentalising a group of hapless young men who, believing they were acting as proud and upright citizens of the free world, walked into a hail of lead.
The white poppy could become a symbol of this new way, whilst sensitively remembering those who were murdered.