Australian TV has done episode after episode of ANZAC television, from miniseries to documentaries and everything in between. Up until moving to Australia, all I knew about Gallipoli was that it was a Mel Gibson film. I am far better familiar with it now. The suffering, the heroism, the sacrifice – you can’t help but be awed by the brave Diggers who volunteered for service in a land far away.
In particular, one interview has stuck with me. It’s a veteran whose name I do not recall and he says, “Don’t call me a hero. Never that.” He is emotional about it, but in true stoic fashion masks it with a wry tone. His expression could be a grimace or a smile. He’s the man being honored with this day and all he asks is to be remembered as himself.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of remembrance in the lead up to this day. In America, we celebrate veterans with parades and football games, barbecues and camping. Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day – they’re holidays, excuses to have a day off work. I’ve never felt as though they were solemn occasions, times for consideration, veneration and meditation.
That is changing. I’m at the age where military service is possible. Like many of the Diggers who went to Gallipoli and the American veterans who have served in war, I’m the right age. I know nothing about war. I’ve never had an earnest, full-contact fight with anyone. I’ve never shot a gun. And 100 years ago, young men like me fought and died far away from home.
ANZAC Day a holiday? Definitely not. It’s a warning to everyone. “Someday that could be you.”
We naturally idolize heroes. They are monoliths, always brave, always good, always admirable. They are always perfect in our memories. But that soldier, that man who said to never call him a hero… I think he had it right. Making someone a hero also strips them of their humanity, keeps them at arms length, makes them an “other.” To be a hero is to be made separate from the rest of humanity. Halfway between god and man, a hero has nothing in common with any of us.
On this ANZAC Day, the 100th anniversary of the battle at Gallipoli, I want to take it in a different way. It strikes fear in my heart that someone could some day commemorate me as a soldier in a battle. My wife could be a widow, my children never see me again, my mother given nothing but a flag. Or I could come back and spend the rest of my life broken in ways I cannot now fathom, begging people not to call me a hero, to treat me like a person, to let me be broken. For me, ANZAC Day is a warning well taken, a lesson well learned.