THOUGHTS ON ANZAC DAY
On 25 April we celebrated ANZAC Day, the annual commemoration of Australia’s and New Zealand’s participation in the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War. The campaign failed in its objectives and our troops withdrew having suffered terrible losses over several bitter months of struggle. There can’t be many countries whose patriotic focal point is a military loss, yet that is true of us: hundreds of thousands, including a large number of young people, flock to dawn memorial services all over the country (in every year but this). There is no event in the calendar that moves so many people so very deeply.
We lost that battle, but ultimately the War was won, as everybody knows. But at what cost! Sixty thousand Australians died in the Great War at a time when our entire population was only about six million. There is not a town, not a tiny village, that does not have a War Memorial listing the names of those who went and those who never returned.
Imagine the impact on society if you can. In 1917 the average daily death toll was about 55. Throughout that war it was government policy to advise a dead soldier’s next of kin personally, rather than by telegram: priests and ministers were asked to take the news to those who had lost their dearest. In my own family a widow with two sons in the Army saw the Presbyterian parson coming up the path one day and went out to meet him: ‘which one of my boys is it?’ she asked. ‘I’m so sorry Mrs Campbell, but it’s both.’
We are in the midst of another crisis. In terms of numbers killed it pales into insignificance in comparison with the horrifying losses of two world wars and subsequent conflicts such as Korea and Vietnam, but it’s very real for those who are affected and for those who are afraid. There is a great deal of fear abroad, a lot of frightened people, and it would be arrogant and heartless to make light of their feelings. Equally regrettable, though, is the distress of the unemployed, those who have lost their jobs at least for a while, and possibly for all time if a profound recession eventuates. They too are fearful, not so much for disease as for financial disaster.
When the tumult and the shouting dies some urban regions of the world will undoubtedly show a grim spike in the number of deaths at this time, while others will report no significant change. The politicians will shelter behind the claim that if they hadn’t done something it would have been much worse. Even if true, has the price been too high?
Speaking of politicians, at least two state premiers in Australia have made statements to the effect that Covid19 has been the worst catastrophe their states have every experienced. Are they so very ignorant of history, or are they hyping up the present crisis in order to vaunt their own role in getting us through? Either way, it diminishes their claim to sound judgement.
One could wish that the media had shown more responsibility. Many people lack the information to process statistics, so it is sheer irresponsibility to report, for example, that the number of dead in the US now exceeds the death toll in Spain, without pointing out that the US has six times the population. We are rarely given comparative figures, either: in tiny Tasmania, in the course of an ordinary year, 12 people die every day on average. The Covid19 deaths must be viewed against that backdrop. The media have contributed greatly to the distress of the community by withholding context.
Perhaps I am dabbling in pop psychology, but I suspect that there is something else going on here. Is it possible that in the collective mind of a community that has lived through decades of comparative peace there is a kind of a longing to share some of the risks that their forefathers faced, and to be worthy of their great example? Expressions like ‘we can get through this together’ (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard that, particularly from young people) seem to be evocations of that ANZAC spirit.
CAPTAIN COOK’S LANDING AT BOTANY BAY
Some of us are celebrating this year the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s landing at Botany Bay, now an inner suburb of Sydney, and his taking possession of ‘New South Wales’ in the name of Great Britain. I say some of us because this commemoration is a most sensitive one, highly unpopular among those whose primary sympathy lies with the aboriginals: for such people Cook’s landing initiated an invasion and nothing more.
It is not easy to see a solution to what is a world-wide impasse: European expansion is reviled by many, whether indigenous Australians or ‘First Nations’ people of Canada and the United States.
Those of us who have a sense of history recognize that the migration of peoples, with attendant greed and brutality, has played a constant role in human affairs and we can see examples everywhere, from the dispossession of Etruscans in Italy and Celts in southern Britain, to the spread of Islam in North Africa and Spain, to the driving out of the South African Bushmen by the Zulus. Hobbes was right: ‘nasty, brutish and short’ well describes the lives of millions from the remote past to the present day.
But Cook’s arrival, apart from his and his crew’s extraordinary daring, brought with it, or at least laid the foundations of, Christianity, the rule of law, western experimental science and technical expertise, and a sense of the worth of women (among many other things that continue to make life more bearable). Detractors will point to ways in which Europeans failed to live up to those ideals, of course they will, but no other religion had proclaimed anything like the doctrine that in Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. That sets the highest possible standard, and a standard is no less worthy if people fall short of it.
A thought on Cook himself. As a cartographer he was outstanding. His charts are still in use in some places because nothing better has been made, and they are the common inheritance of all people, male or female, black or white. It is difficult to appreciate the audacity of that voyage, too: to my mind it was a far greater achievement than going to the moon. We’ve always been able to see the moon, but the Southern Ocean must have been as mysterious as outer space.
On a lighter note, here’s a joke doing the rounds:
Q. What is the most useless gift you could have given anyone at Christmas?
A. A 2020 Year Planner.
With every good wish,
My thanks to the Hon Greg Donnelly for referring me to No More Lies: Exposing the Roots of Gender Ideology by Douglas Farrow. Excellent scholarly piece with several references to Christopher Dawson.
What have To Kill a Mockingbird and Cardinal Pell in common? Read this insightful article by Johanna O’Farrell. Johanna was a student of mine at Campion. I am proud of her.
FOR YOUR DIARY
We have decided that we must postpone this conference to the equivalent time (25 – 26 June) in 2021. We’ll be a year older, and perhaps wiser: it should be worth waiting for!
The theme will be secondary education, with a particular focus on the development of the spiritual and religious dimension of human nature. See the Dawson Centre websitefor further details.