Monumental Reminder

11 November 2013 Helen Razer

Monumental Reminder

Helen Razer, Ed#395, December 2012

Generally speaking, I fail to do as a compassionate citizen should on Remembrance Day, and last month was no exception. This is not due to a lack of compassion for those who have given their lives in battle. It’s down more to the fact that I am, by nature, a tardy riser and so at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, my neurotransmitters are so busy trying to remember where they put the coffee that this more significant remembrance is not observed in the morning.

By the going down of the sun, though, I mourn for the dead across the sea. By dusk, I always remember those who will not grow old.

Some avowed pacifists I know have a problem with Remembrance Day, Anzac Day and those bloody moments in which we learn that another Australian has died for no good reason in Kandahar. They say that such memorial is tantamount to the glorification of war. To which I, an impolite pacifist, say: absolute nonsense. There was no glory in my (late) meditation this past Remembrance Day. There was only a very close grief for those who will not be condemned by the years but who were, in many cases, condemned by greed, questionable strategy and stump-dumb hate.

For as long as I can remember remembering, remembrance of the war dead does not equal the support of war. Remembrance of the diffuse ugliness of Vietnam in particular is equal to the support of humanity. To remember the military personnel and the civilians who died and suffered so horribly for a reason no one has yet articulated to my satisfaction is essential. We are not honouring the stupid, fragile ideology that took Australians to southeast Asia. We are honouring the lives that were consumed by the beast of war.

I do understand, of course, that there are those who do not share the experience of intimate mourning on any of our national days. And that’s okay. Even engaging with the question of remembrance is a form of remembrance. I don’t really have a problem with radical pacifism. What I do have a problem with, however, is people who just don’t give a toss.

On the Sunday morning after Remembrance Day, a fit friend of mine called Dee was taking a spin by the sea. By our bay, there’s a cenotaph and she stopped from her cycle to remember those young men who had fallen so terribly in the Great War.

As she paused to remember – as one ought, so close to Remembrance Day – a gang of cyclists also stopped at the cenotaph. She told me they were middle-aged, born-to-rule and expensively accessorised chaps. They had no interest in the monument but for the work-out pit-stop it provided.

They threw their banana skins on the flowers. The tributes at the cenotaph were covered in spent carbs. Then they used the memorial as a bike rack and finally, in the shadow of the brave war dead, they boasted of ‘taking’ hills in the city’s southeast. On their effing Trek Madones and in the embrace of absolute arrogance, they boasted of their physical endurance beneath a structure built to remember young men who had lived and died like rats.

They went with songs to the battle; they were young, straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They had, to the best of my knowledge, no Lycra and, I’d hope, no inkling that nearly a century after their death that a crew of utter twats would forget so cruelly.

My friend cried; she couldn’t finish her course that morning. These men went the distance untroubled. This is what happens when we fail to remember. Lest we forget.


Helen Razer is a Big Issue columnist.