Someone asked me last night if I had any relatives in the war(s). To my knowledge I do not. I guess I may have some distant relatives who served, but we were always a relatively disparate family. I did not know most of my relatives past first status. After I was about 9 or 10, I rarely had any contact with most of my uncles, aunts and cousins. My only regular contact with extended family was my mother's brother (half-brother I think), his wife and their two children.
So apart from the usual fascination young boys have for war and blowing things up, and a philosophical interest in the concept, I have not had much to do with war, or even things military.
Some years back I discovered a deep connection with the American War Between the States (the Civil War that was mostly anything but civil). Until then, most of what I had seen or heard about war came from movies, TV, and Commando comics. Which, one has to agree, do nothing to portray the reality of war. It was not until I began to study the Civil War that I started to get an idea of just what war was really like. The horror. The death and destruction. The terror. The potential for
heroism. The commitment required by those men. And the sheer meaninglessness of it all.
Perhaps there are many of my age who are in a similar situation... of that generation that has never experienced global conflict. Korea and Vietnam were devastating affairs, but hardly global. The wars in the Gulf and Middle East have barely touched most New Zealanders. Our children think "war" is something carried out in space, even in a whole other galaxy or dimension.
War sucks. Philosophically I just don't get it. I cannot understand how anybody can imagine war accomplishes anything at all, let alone something positive. But I understand politics. I understand ignorance. And I understand greed. These are the things wars are made of. Show me a war that wasn't born of any or all of these things and it won't be a war.
Without being flippant, I don't understand why two sides just don't flip a coin and abide by the result. Instead of arguing over a piece of land, sending hundreds or thousands of young men to their deaths, costing economies trillions of dollars and retarding human progress by decades, why not just flip a coin? You want that land for an oil pipeline? Flip a coin. You don't like what religion we follow? Flip a coin.
Flip a coin and get on with it.
Of course, human civilisation is not that mature.
Therefore, we find ourselves constantly hearing about some conflict somewhere. Some regime has decided it doesn't like another regime so they send in the troops to try and make the other just like them. And every nation to some degree needs to be prepared for the possibility that one day some rival regime will decide to try and change them!
So as much is it seems to be defeat already, a lot of money energy and effort must be given to maintaining that status, so in principle I agree that national defense must be one of the top priorities for any government. So, too, must we do our fair share in the global conflicts that arise. There's nothing wrong with being proud of who we are and fighting those who would try and change us. The theatre of conflict is now truly global, and as such we must play our part; partly to support our allies, and partly to protect ourselves. I think our SAS should be exactly where they are, doing exactly what they're doing. I think we should have spies protecting our interests in the global information network. I think we should be more careful about who we let into our country, and what political sway they may have in the near or distant future. And I think we should honour those young men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect us, our country, and our way of life.
And so too must we remember and honour those who have served to do these things throughout the history of our country. Successive generations have utterly taken for granted the freedoms under which they now so flippantly operate, as if it were their right to do so. It often seems little regard is given to those whose lives were laid down to secure those freedoms.
It can become a cliche. I think perhaps it has. But we should beware lest it become such a cliche that we lose all respect for where we have been; where we have come from. At some point, somewhere in history, if those soldiers had not gathered on those foreign battlefields and stood their ground, our lives would certainly be very different today. It's not hard to imagine what might have happened had Hitler defeated the Allies. It's not hard to imagine what might have happened had Stalin decided to push on. And (*braces for criticism/scorn*) it's not hard to imagine what might have happened (or might still) if, instead of financially, China decided to take over the world militarily.
But that's another level of debate. On this day it serves us well to genuinely remember and honour those that have laid down their lives that we may have the freedoms we have today. And those who offered their lives but were lucky (and/or skilled) enough to come home.
Lest we forget.