The Oxford Dictionary gives us two definitions of "commemorate":
- Recall and show respect for (someone or something).
- Mark or celebrate (an event or person) by doing or producing something.
Brendan Nelson, the director of the War Memorial, wants to expand the war memorial to include a section on Operation Sovreign Borders.
Operation Sovreign Borders is, in short, a military operation to keep asylumn seekers coming to Australia by boat. It is the result of federal policy which - again, in short - means collecting any asylumn seekers who come to Australia by boat and dumping them in concentration camps run by Australia in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. And, yes, they are concentration camps, which are defined by the oxford dictionary are:
- A place in which large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labour or to await mass execution.
Politician Richard Marles has spoken out in support of the extension and inclusion of Operation Sovreign Borders at the War Memorial. If you're wondering what Operation Sovreign Borders has to do with war, well, you're not alone. Even Marles' political colleagues don't agree with the plan.
My first response to reading about this was a simple but instinctive "Fuck you and the nationalism you rode in on."
But, you know what? I've changed my mind.
Build it. Make it big. Make it grand. Put it out for all to see. Please forever immortalise Australia's decision to wage war on the desperate, our betrayal of the ideals sung in our national anthem*, the decision to be cruel and selfish and hateful.
And then remind yourself that a war memorial is not a place of reverence, not a place to bask in jingoism and chest thumping national pride. Nor is a war memorial a Questacon** of history, a place for school children and tourists to take a walking history-lesson on all Australian military actions.
What it is, what it should be, is a place of regret. It is a reminder of humanity's darkest history, of how a few sent many to die, of the savagery inside us that we pretend we have expelled in the millennia long process of civilising the species. A war memorial is a reminder that we do not owe our war veterans and our dead esteem and celebration, we owe them an apology. We owe them an apology because we - we the broken-at-the-core mankind - chose to embrace the worst of our nature and put the suffering of that choice on them and dared to call it "necessary" when it was simply easy to give in and ask them to wear those consequences for us.
So build it. Take my tax money and build your commemoration of our national shame. But do it knowing that we were - we are - wrong, we are fundamentally and irrevocably wrong. Do it knowing this is not a tribute, but a scar, a blight on our history.
And if you can't do that, fuck you and the nationalism you rode in on.
*The lyrics are literally "For those who've come across the seas / We've boundless plains to share"
** Questacon is a museum of science and technology with lots of interactive exhibits. It's a lot of fun.