Sunday, August 31, 2014

'Secular sainthood'

The entire subject matter of my blog leaves little doubt about my intense interest in things military, and things 'gaming. This doesn't however mean that I am pro war in ANY way, shape or form. I am grateful to those who suffered in war because their sacrifices most probably mean that I have not had to endure the same agonies and privations.

So you might think that I would be happy to see the ever increasing numbers of people attending our own ANZAC services in New Zealand (I think the same is happening in Australia too), especially the growing numbers of young people who turn out for the spine tingling dawn services. Oddly perhaps, I feel a little unease.

Yesterday I received an unexpected gift - a ticket to a session of the current 'WORDChCh" writers and readers festival in Christchurch. The theme was 'Remembering the First World War', and in the workshop one of the historian writers used a phrase that resonated : 'secular saints'. The writer/historian was referring  to the idea that people are beginning to 'revere' those who served in the twentieth century's wars in an almost saint like manner.

Here is the source of my unease. We now have almost (it may be literally??) NO service men left alive who served in either of the twentieth century's world wars, and the  number of New Zealanders who have served in places such as Afghanistan,  Timor,  and other New Zealand commitments is very small. So we are losing any collective memory of the true horror of war.

I worry that the growth of a 'secular saint' like view of servicemen may lead to a genuine glorification of war founded on a lack of direct knowledge within our  society of what war really means. I fear therefore that the consequence of this will be the rebirth of a willingness to 'go to war', a rebirth of the sort of jingoism that the world saw in 1914. I think that there is good to remind ourselves of the phrase 'Lest we forget'.


7 comments:

  1. "The writer/historian was referring to the idea that people are beginning to 'revere' those who served in the twentieth century's wars in an almost saint like manner."

    This seems to be the norm in the US, where reverence to those in the military has reached religious levels.

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  2. Rachel
    We were in the US last month, and repeatedly heard 'airport announcements' lounge about facilities available in the airport complexes free of charge for servicemen and women.

    Thanks for the comment.

    R

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  3. You're not the only one Robin. I've been thinking the same way about it all. There seems to be a streak of jingoism starting to filter into ANZAC. So it seems to be a case of, 'war is bloody and wasteful - but we'd be proud to do it again for our country'. Or maybe I'm just overly sensitive to it.

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  4. Interesting post Robin. Hero worship has often inspired rash actions.

    However I'm not so sure about the general willingness/jingoism to head off to war today. 1914's mass response to the call up was from ignorance, 1939's from stoic necessity, I find it hard to believe that there would be a general enthusiasm for a mass call up of citizen soldiers today under the long shadow of nuclear weapons...

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  5. Nick

    Thanks for your post. I hope you are right and I am wrong.. :-)
    R

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  6. Tend to agree with Nick on this one. Also we have media like 'Saving Private Ryan" which offer a rather more objective view of the horrors of war (and the mutiliation of the human body) than the books my grandfather had around the time of WWI. His books glorified it not only as duty to Country, King and God, but also a lot of fun like a boy scout adventure.

    Still my partner who is German has expressed similar concerns to you about some of the fervour that can accompany ANZAC ceremonies these days. The rather strange celebration of the heroism of people who were afterall invading another country, (and also lost), as NZ did in Turkey... can come across as a bit naive and uncomfortable at times.

    More to the point though, I think a return to war on the scale it has occurred previously is unlikely, given declines in war and violence that has steadily occurred across history. Steven Pinker, "Better Angels of Our Nature" is essential reading. Or good to listen to while painting if you want the briefer version... ;) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5X2-i_poNU

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  7. Thanks Mark.. I am reassured to some degree by your thoughts, but don't mind admitting that I am still a touch uneasy.

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