Thursday, April 24, 2008

Anzac Day

As I write this, thousands of New Zealanders and shortly thereafter thousands of Australians will be attending the dawn services in both countries to remember Anzac Day. Writing from London it seems distant, but it is a chance to recall those who gave their lives against the forces of tyranny that threatened both countries and Western civilisation itself.
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The tragic loss of life in World War 1, a brutal war of empires, left a huge scar across the communities of both countries. The cry "never again" did see the end of such great wars of empire. Few can celebrate the "victory" that saw rivers of blood of young men dying for the sake of next to nothing, and the many thousands shot dead as traitors for conscientious objection, or those damaged by the trauma of war. It was the end of an era, and few could ever glorify what was destruction on a grand scale.
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World War 2 was perhaps the great war between good and evil (and two versions of evil). The Nazi dominated Axis in Europe, which sought to transform Europe into totalitarian tyrannies of militarism, racism and genocide was a despicable threat to so many of the freedoms we all take for granted. The signs of that era are largely invisible in today's Europe, with free movement of people, goods and services across borders that were once battlefields, common citizenship between countries that were hostile enemies, and free, open civilised liberal democracies. The price paid to destroy Nazism and its toxic allies in Italy, Hungary, Croatia and elsewhere was high - but who now would imagine how Europe would be had it failed. Whereas Japanese imperialism in Asia also sought to make Asia and Australasia an extension of the rising sun. The brutalism of the Japanese occupation of east Asia from Korea, coastal China, Indochina, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and Burma was rolled back by thousands upon thousands of brave men. Again, as with Germany. Who today can look at Japan and see the signs of what an aggressive brutal coloniser it once was. It too engaged in genocidal acts, and was repudiated at high cost, and at Hiroshima and Nagosaki the suffix of the war showed what might happen next time. New Zealand was spared Japanese occupation, and today Japan is a close friend and trading partner.
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In Korea, Stalin and Mao gave the nod for the totalitarian dictatorship of the North to invade and swallow the impoverished south. Again, bravery saw that occupation rolled back, almost obliterated and then for 2 tragic years lives lost as the stalemate went back and forth. South Korea today exists because of those who fought in Korea to save it - and one need only look at the bleakness of North Korea to see what they were saved from.
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As many have said before, war is one of the most horrible actions that anyone can live through. It is second only to living under brutal tyranny. Anzac Day does not celebrate war, or the need for military action, but it is a time for quiet reflection, acknowledgement of those who lost everything to fight for free Western civilisation in our parts of the world. The old adage that "if it weren't for them, we'd all be speaking Japanese/German" is only partly wrong, it's more likely many of us would have been dead or not even born.
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It is worth remembering that had the so-called "peace movement" had its way, the Nazis would have been appeased until when? The Japanese would have allowed independence like that they granted to Manchuria, I mean Manchukuo. It is worth also noting that North Korea only attacked the South, after the US had withdrawn its post World War 2 troop presence.
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The price for peace is defence, it is deterrence and the willingness to respond to aggression. It is only when belligerence is clearly beyond imagination that this can be rolled back, and western Europe is today an example of countries that could hardly imagine waging war on each other, though they need not go far to find those who will (the Balkans).
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Alastair Cooke's "Letter from America" once stated that the country with the highest per capita loss of combatants on foreign soil was New Zealand - and it is no surprise why. I'd be interested to know if this is still the case, as the USA has lost quite a few over the last decade or so.
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Nevertheless, take time today to remember those who lost it all for your freedom. They did more for peace than anyone who protests for it ever have.

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