A War, a Grandfather, and a Great Uncle

Once again, ANZAC Day is here, a day on which we recall those who in far too many cases died fighting someone else’s battle.

My grandfather, James Melville, fought during WWI in Egypt, Gallipoli, and France. He always struck me as a proud, meticulous man. After the war he worked in several jobs, including on trains in outback Australia. As a child I loved his Scottish accent. I wish I had known him better, talked with him more, not seen him as so “other”. I’ve been a pall bearer for two people: my Grandfather and my Mother, who died 16 years apart.

My Great Uncle, Frank Jagger, served in the German army in that same war. I recall a family member years ago remarking that he and my Grandfather may have been fighting in the same area of France during the war. I don’t know if this was actually the case or mere speculation, but it probably happened to some. Uncle Frank stayed with us for a short while in the late 70s. He was a real character. After he returned to Germany, I used to help translate his increasingly German letters to my family. He too is gone now.

The saying goes: “Lest We Forget”. Indeed. But please, Let’s Not Glorify. War is a terrible thing, something I hope my kids never have to experience. As Skyhooks put it so well in the 70s: “Horror movie right there on my TV, shockin’ me right out of my brain.”

Those who romanticise war must not have seen enough death. If you watch a movie like Saving Private Ryan and don’t feel viscerally offended, then the world we’ve constructed has succeeded in numbing you. Anyone who has seen dead people and terrible injury up close and personal (I was a nurse before I was a programmer) understands that War cannot be a clean thing any more than car accidents or cancer. The best way to honour the War Dead is to Just Stop It. Just Get Along. Life’s too short to do otherwise, and as a species we take ourselves way too seriously. We need to get over ourselves and just get on with Living and Learning. There’s no salvation, no Higher Purpose. It’s just Us. Carpe Diem.

Another saying goes: “No Fate But What we Make” (Terminator 2). The only thing we are not free to choose is our freedom to choose (Sartre).

Yeah, we’re stuck with one other and we had better make the best of it. As Carl Sagan said “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.” Providing the answer “War” to any question just doesn’t qualify.

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