War is war, hell is hell

Scott MIt’s two days now since the actual ANZAC day but today is the brand new Monday-ised holiday, perhaps a good time to reflect on our reflection. I want to take a second to talk about Scott McIntyre.

Scott McIntyre is an Australian sports reporter who has been hit by the public shaming bat for some comments he made on twitter about ANZAC commemoration this weekend.

I’m not here to defend this action, Scott McIntyre undeniably fucked up. Within 24 hours of him speaking his mind he’s been fired from his job at SBS and despite having not made a single tweet since the incident is still being inundated with angry comments from angry people all over the big angry world. A handful of people have stepped in to defend him but the conversation feels pretty one-sided; being called out pretty early on by Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, more or less ended the discussion before it could start. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for everything and choosing to express his controversial viewpoint on a day of memorial was definitely unwise. However the point he’s making, regardless of how you feel about it, should still be taken with consideration shouldn’t it? Some people agree with him, and he’s clearly passionate about the subject, should we really just be silencing him without giving it a second thought? There are countless responses to choose from but here’s a couple of quick examples of folks taking what appears to me as the sucker punch route, scoring easy points on a target that was likely already beaten by the time he hit “Tweet”:

Some other have been pointing out the apparent ungratefulness of his rant:

The irony of this last one is pretty hard to miss, these brave men supposedly died so he could express his point freely and yet here he is being lambasted for doing exactly that. Is it really “unpatriotic” to question the validity and virtuousness of your nation? If patriotism means automatically agreeing to every decision your government makes then surely patriotism is a foolish and lazy ideal. Amidst the rabble and vitriol of the broader public response though, one thing stood out to me: many of the replies calling for his resignation were using the terms like “great day” and “celebration”. Now I’m wondering, is that really what ANZAC Day is meant to represent?

As far back as I can remember ANZAC Day has always been a day of solemnity, a day to remember the tragic loss of Australia and New Zealand’s finest and bravest young men. Naturally I’m totally fine with saying those boys were heroes, many of them went in knowing they wouldn’t come out and it takes unfathomable bravery to do something like this. What I’m not really comfortable with is calling ANZAC Day a “celebration”. It’s the exact same type of feeling I got earlier this year when our Prime Minister shouted angrily at opposition leader Andrew Little to “Get some guts and join the right side!” when discussing the deployment of NZ troops into Iraq. It feels incongruous with our nation’s spirit, aren’t we supposed to be the guys who protest against war? We’re kiwis and we don’t stand for racism, or bullying; nuclear non-proliferation is part of our national identity.

To me at least, ANZAC Day was never about this jingoistic celebration of a supposed “victory”. It’s about grief, a national grief over a loss so heavy and so resonant that we still recognise it one hundred years later. Sure those boys were heroes, they were brave, but they were also conscripts. We aren’t really here to celebrate their courage, we’re here to mourn their loss. We’re grieving a loss of a world that might have been, where these kids didn’t die but instead came home, raised families, lived the lives they were meant to.

I never particularly enjoyed the TV show M*A*S*H growing up; they used to do reruns all the time and I’d always be disappointed when I turned on the telly to find it playing, it was boring to younger me and I never understood the jokes. I remember someone showing me a scene a number of years ago though and it managed to stick with me ever since:

Perhaps this is irreverent, perhaps it’s not the day for it and perhaps Scott McIntyre really di deserve to lose his job, but may we never forget that the true reality of war is never glorious, only tragic:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum Est” (~1917)

Lest we forget.

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One Comment

  1. I feel conflicted about McIntyre. Twitter is better suited for bon mots, brain farts, or snark than reasoned debate as how do you define Anzac day in 140 characters?

    I have heard this “colonial invasion of a country we didn’t have a quarrel with” argument elsewhere and, to me, it appears to be attempting to push modern concepts onto historical events. In 1914, we were a, to a greater or lesser extent, proud part of the British Empire. The Empire’s enemies were our enemies. Turkey was a member of the Central Powers and deemed, by military planners far removed from New Zealand and Australia, the weakest link. Hence the invasion and hence the loss of life.

    Do we celebrate this invasion, or do we honour and remember those that went and died there and on the Western Front?

    I don’t know what the source of McIntyre’s anger is, I do know I do not like his comments and find them simplistic and naive. I don’t think he should have lost his job over it.

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