On ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day, a day of remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders, it is fitting to remind ourselves about remembering.
One of the papers of De Chuan’s (published under his birth name, Phillip D’Alton) I remember best is “Prayers to Broken Stones: War and Death in Australia.” In “Prayers to Broken Stones,” De Chuan examines the role of the war memorials that dot the Australian landscape. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, often listing the names of the dead in Australia’s military engagement. Memorials like this are part of Australian culture, and each and every ANZAC day they draw crowds of veterans, families, and citizens who stand and pay their respects to those who died in the service of the armed forces.De Chuan was focussed, however, on what we forget in using the stones as a reminder. The stones, De Chuan writes, help us remember the dead, without remembering the dying, the injured, and the maimed. Memorials rarely seek to remind us of the crime of war; memorials do not tell of the pain of those who carry on. A memorial, he wrote, “sanitizes” war, leaving something that is less burdensome to remember.
The forgetting that most pained my teacher was that of the wounded. The official records hold that 27,073 Australians died during World War Two. Yet another 22,264 soldiers were held and eventually found their way out (through escape, release, or repatriation) of Prisoner of War camps (the majority of these in the Pacific Theatre, with all that entails). Another 23,477 service personnel were wounded in action.Yet that only covers those physically injured in combat. A further 1,165 died, and 33,396 were injured in operation areas, but out of combat. 2,051 died, and 121,800 were injured outside of operational areas.
This, in a time before Posttraumatic Stress Disorder was recognised.
This was De Chuan’s message—the stones tell us a small fraction of the horrors of war. Today, they won’t tell you of the million veterans in the United States who have sought medical care since 2002: 146 veterans for every one killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn combined. The stones can’t tell you, moreover, of those who suffer in silence.
So today—every day—remember the dead, but care for the living. Honour both. Do so by supporting the veterans, giving them the space to speak on their terms, and giving them assistance when they need it. Demand of your government that it only use the armed forces in times of dire need, or for the assistance of those who require and request it. And always, question the policies of an administration that undermine the stability of your region, and your world. Don’t create veterans from wars that could have been avoided.
Remember the dead; care for the living.
If you are in Australia, a veteran, and need assistance, please call the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service on 1800 011 046. I’m not yet familiar with the best places to call for those of you in the States, but from my reading this is a good set of places with which to start.