Screening: ABC, 8:30 Wednesday 13th June, 2001
As a watery dawn light broke over the Turkish coast on 25 April 2000, twenty thousand Australians, most of them younger than twenty-five, mouthed the words ‘Lest we forget’. There had not been this many Australians on Gallipoli since the day of that fateful landing 85 years earlier.
Episode Eight of Australians at War “Faith enough for all of us”, examines the strong resurgence of interest in the Anzac tradition and its values amongst today’s Australians. It provocatively raises the recurring question that confronts us all every Anzac Day – what have we done with the peace that has been won for us?
Australia’s century of involvement in wars, always other people’s wars, has been at the cost of 102,000 lives. The concept of sacrifice is an inspiring one and as a grateful population we have acknowledged this sacrifice in many different ways. Episode 8 looks at the small town memorials, the massive city mausoleums and tracks the return to Australia of the remains of an unknown soldier from the battlefields of the Western Front to a final resting place in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Almost two million Australians have had direct involvement in war. For the rest of us, the families and loved ones at home, the war experience has had to be recorded, interpreted and passed on to us by others. Australian war artists are amongst the world’s best and Episode 8 examines their role in influencing the way war has been represented to the Australian public. From the First World War drawings of Will Dyson through the work of the great painters of the Second World War like Ivor Hele, Donald Friend, Stella Bowen, Sali Herman, Nora Heysen to the recent peace keeping paintings of George Gittoes and the East Timor workof Wendy Sharpe.
Over the century our attitude to involvement in war has changed surprisingly little. We still readily respond to a friend’s call for help, we still seek to rectify perceived injustices and we willingly offer humanitarian assistance. But the nature of warfare itself has changed drastically. No longer do troops die in horrific numbers in meaningless exchanges of fire. Of our 102,000 dead, 100,000 were killed before 1950. These days we no longer take up arms as “rifle wielding electors” to go overseas and fight in conflicts of which we have little understanding. We now have professional and highly trained Defence Force personnel who do the fighting for us.
Since the early fifties Australians have been involved in around fifty peacekeeping missions around the world, mostly at the request of the United Nations. These operations range from one or two lonely observers of a ceasefire along a shaky border in the Middle East, to the major military operation mounted in East Timor in 1999.
Australia now has a significant international profile and reputation as a successful “peacekeeping” contributor. Not only is this something we do well, it seems an entirely appropriate future direction for our fighting sons and daughters of Anzac.
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