Friday, 25 April 2014

An ethics for ANZAC Day

In developing an “Ethics for ANZAC Day”, my first point is this:

1.       We cannot justly take the ethical ambiguity of more recent armed conflicts and assume the same ambiguity applies to the Second World War.

Given the fact that veterans of the Second World War are the oldest group of war veterans in our community, and still one of the larger groups of veterans, we do need to look particularly at these veterans and the conflict in which they were engaged.  Even though ANZAC Day strictly is an observance of a battle in the First World War, no survivors remain of that meaningless bloodbath.  Many survivors of the Second World War remain within our community.

Ethically, we cannot really compare the Second World War with any of the conflicts that have taken place in our world since then.  Whether we speak of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Falklands War, either of the Gulf Wars, or any other recent conflict; there was a great level of ethical ambiguity to all these wars.  There was a high level of ethical fault on both sides of any of these conflicts.  Neither side in any of these conflicts can be said ethically to have been fighting a “just war”.

If we compare that with the Second World War, we see something completely different.  A victory by Nazi Germany and the other Axis powers in that conflict would have created a world order that would have been utterly intolerable.  If any war in the past century could ever have been accurately described in ethical terms as a “just war”, the Allied cause in the Second World War was it.

We cannot justly take the ethical ambiguity of more recent armed conflicts and assume the same ambiguity applies to the Second World War.

***

The second point I wish to make is:

2.       We cannot justly use our criticism of any current or recent armed conflict as a reason to demonise those whose own conscience allowed (or even called) them to participate in these conflicts.

One of the tragic lessons that many western nations learned after the Vietnam War was in the way that the veterans of that conflict bore the brunt of the public condemnation of that war.  The fact that it took almost three decades for Vietnam veterans to be officially recognised as part of the veterans’ community in Australia is a dramatic sign of this fact.

Since the Vietnam War, most of us have learned to separate our criticism of the policies that lead to disastrous wars from our attitude toward the individuals who, in good conscience, put themselves in harm’s way in war.

We cannot justly use our criticism of any current or recent armed conflict as a reason to demonise those whose own conscience allowed (or even called) them to participate in these conflicts.

***

The third point is:

3.       We cannot justly allow any government, any movement, or any individual to use national symbols in a partisan or exclusive way.

Again during the Vietnam War, this happened in the US when President Richard Nixon encouraged people to fly the national flag as a sign of their support for the government’s policy.  Thus, a symbol that was supposed to unite the whole nation was seized as a partisan symbol for some, but not all.

Here in Australia, similar things have been known to happen in recent decades, most notably during the Cronulla race riots.  Many of the thugs who descended on Cronulla Beach to beat up Australians of Middle Eastern heritage wore the flag as a cape as if seeking to mask their crimes with a veneer of nationalism.

National symbols – flags, national anthems, national holidays, and the like - need to belong to everyone in the nation.  When they are taken over by a single political, racial, ethnic, or religious group in opposition to others in the community, the whole community suffers.

We cannot justly allow any government, any movement, or any individual to use national symbols in a partisan or exclusive way.

***

My fourth and final point is:

4.       We cannot justly remain silent whenever any individual or movement, however powerful or influential, demeans any person or group of people on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, disability, sexuality, or any similar factor.  To remain silent would be to give Hitler an undeserved posthumous victory.

As we remember those who put themselves in harm’s way for us, and particularly those who served from 1939 to 1945, we need to also remember the movements and the ideologies they struggled against. 

The Nazi regime and the regimes that fought alongside it were brutal in their treatment of many people:  Jews, Gypsies, Poles, the disabled, homosexuals, and others.   

Whenever, in any of the nations that defeated the Nazis and the other Axis powers almost seventy years ago, whenever any politician, any media figure, any religious leader defames or persecutes any group of people on racial, religious or similar grounds, we betray the struggle against Nazism.

Whenever any person seeks to base their career on the strength of being a “professional bigot”, and manages a make a more-than-comfortable living out to doing so, we betray the struggle against Nazism.

Whenever you and I remain silent in the face of the defamation and persecution on racial, religious or any other grounds of anyone in our society, we insult the memory both of those who gave their lives and those who returned.

We cannot justly remain silent whenever any individual or movement, however powerful or influential, demeans any person or group of people on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, disability, sexuality, or any similar factor.  To remain silent would be to give Hitler an undeserved posthumous victory.

***

Today, Australians and New Zealanders honour those who served in past armed conflicts, both those who gave their lives and those who returned.  Today as a result, I believe that the churches and other faith communities in these countries have a responsibility to assist the broader community to develop an appropriate ethics for ANZAC Day.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.