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John MacDonald: Is ANZAC Day a time for protest?

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Apr 2024, 1:26pm
Wellington's bucket fountain has been targeted by anti-war protesters on Anzac Day. Photo / NZ Herald
Wellington's bucket fountain has been targeted by anti-war protesters on Anzac Day. Photo / NZ Herald

John MacDonald: Is ANZAC Day a time for protest?

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Apr 2024, 1:26pm

There is one thing I’ve never heard one of the old soldiers you always see or hear on the news on Anzac Day saying. There are less of them now, of course, as time passes, but, over the years, I have never heard one of them say they had a great time and that going to war was the time of their life. I’ve never heard it. And I bet you haven’t, either. 

And that’s why you’re not going to hear me ripping into those involved in the anti-war protests around the country yesterday. On Anzac Day. 

For two reasons: I reckon in their heart of hearts, anyone who has been to war would agree that it’s a futile waste of time, energy, and lives. 

The other reason is that of all days of the year, ANZAC Day is the perfect day to point out the futility of war. And, while the protest action yesterday was largely about what’s going on right now in the Middle East, war is war - whenever it happens. 

Now I’m not saying that it’s a day to be disrespectful of those who served and those who are serving in our military today. I’m not saying that at all, because the first World War is part of our family’s history. 

My grandfather went to Gallipoli. And survived, obviously - because I wouldn’t be here otherwise. He was decorated for his efforts and our wider family; we are very proud of that. 

But, like pretty much every other returned soldier, he never spoke about it. Lord knows what personal trauma he was dealing with. But that’s how it was in those days, wasn’t it? No counselling or anything like that. 

But if he had spoken about it, I’m sure he would have told us kids that war is a dead-end street. And it would be pretty hard to think otherwise if you’d been through it, I reckon. 

Apparently, he put his age up to get himself into the army for the first World War and put it down to get back in for the second. But they might have seen through that, and he ended up in the Home Guard on the Otago Peninsula. 

By that time, he was well on his way to having 11 kids and we’ve always joked that he would have been perfectly happy being down at Taiaroa Heads, if it meant just getting out of the house. 

I’m telling you this, so you know that I’m not coming at this from a position of ignorance or disrespect. I have huge respect. Not just for my grandfather and other family members who served in other wars, but I’ve got huge respect for anyone who serves.   

But that doesn’t mean that I have to be a war-freak. It doesn’t mean that, just because war has been an important part of our family history, that I have to be a flag waiver for war, full stop. 

And I’m not. Which is why I’m not upset about what happened yesterday. Which largely involved red dye of some sort being poured into public water fountains around the country. 

The bucket fountain in Wellington was red. The fountain at Mission Bay, in Auckland, was red. Victoria Park, in Christchurch. Nelson and Hamilton were other places where protesters chucked whatever it was, they used into fountains. 

Protesters also turned-up at the National Anzac Service in Wellington. But you probably know that that was called-off because of high winds. Which is saying something for Wellington. But I gather it was about the safety of the veterans, as much as anything. 

Signs went up at the fountains, as well. A couple of examples: “Do not normalise Anzac violence”. “Honour the fallen by swearing ‘never again’”. “No glory in war”. 

The same sorts of things we hear veterans say every ANZAC Day. 

And I think one of the people involved said it perfectly when they said that ANZAC Day is “a time for reflecting on what is meant by ‘lest we forget;”. Which made me think.  

So too did Peter Fitzsimons in an article he wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday. He said that, on ANZAC Day, we get a lot of emotions: reverence, respect, and remembrance. But he said there’s one missing - which is rage. 

Rage that so many soldiers were needlessly slaughtered on what he described as “inane battle plans that never had any chance of succeeding”. 

Rage at the complete lack of remorse from those who sent them to their deaths. Rage at the refusal to learn from previous catastrophes to prevent the next one. 

He was talking on behalf of Australian soldiers there, of course. But the same can be said on behalf of the New Zealand soldiers who went through exactly the same thing. 

And I reckon any soldier - past and present - would agree with Peter Fitzsimons and those involved in yesterday’s protest action, that war is something to be avoided at all cost. 

And I reckon any soldier —past and present— would agree that ANZAC Day is the perfect day to get that message across. 

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