An Unusual ANZAC Day
There are only two weeks until our Annual national ANZAC DAY commemoration on April 25th. It is an event that unifies us all. Will it be different this year, our hearts and minds seared by new fear and anguish at the new way wars are fought? With the country on high alert, all public gatherings, some now consolidated, require heightened police presence.
Somehow, with recent acts of violence, our thoughts go to the soldiers who lost their lives during world wars fought for our freedom and democratic rights. Our recent terrorist experience has raised awareness about violence and how prepared are we for a modern ‘war on terrorism?’
Initially, it was heartening to read the outpouring of compassion and respect for everyone from all New Zealanders in a catchall phrase, “we are one.” But over recent weeks trawling through social media, I have been astounded at the deep-seated racism very close to the surface of our social fabric. I hope these so-called ‘concerned citizens’ will pause to consider the massive sacrifice New Zealand has undertaken to secure our freedoms and rights to live and practice our beliefs, opinions and religious associations.
WWII was the most prolonged and most critical land campaign ever fought by New Zealand forces. During 1941 to 1943 about 14,000 kiwis were killed, wounded or became prisoners of war. The war continued for a further two years until liberation staggered across a broken Europe towards the end of 1945.
Back in 1939, New Zealand’s population was a mere 1.7 million people. As we tend to do, Kiwi’s punch above their reputation for courage, bolstered by the heroic efforts of the Maori Battalion and all the ANZAC soldiers who put in a massive effort to win what was to become a World War. About 140,000 Kiwi’s served overseas in WWII. Those who gave their lives in the long five-year battle throughout Europe, the Pacific and North Africa amounted to 12,000 deaths. On a per capita basis, this was the highest loss of life by any single country in the commonwealth.
Apart from the heavy personal losses to friends and families back home in New Zealand, there was also the financial burden. New Zealand spent £574 million on the war, money our small country could ill afford. Taxes contributed 43% while 41% came from loans and 16% from America.
As a unified country, our sacrifice for a war in the northern hemisphere was significant. A sacrifice for democratic rights and freedom of RESPONSIBLE speech gives us pause to consider what this means. This is especially so when thinking about the ANZAC price our country paid to encourage positive, unified appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy today. New Zealand is a relative paradise where expression of opinion is everyone’s right. But remembering the other ‘Right’ about treating fellow Kiwi’s of all persuasions in a Right way, with respect and consideration is another way to reduce hate speech and dissent. Considerable verbiage is communicated in cyberspace that could easily explode in our backyard, fermenting extremist responses. Be compassionate, thinking Kiwis. Love one another and work towards unity, not racist segregation. Having lived in South Africa for 20 years, I know that never works! My hope on this national unifying ANZAC Day is that we all consider the way we express ourselves in the big wide, world. Make it positive.
Nicky Webber is the author of No Ordinary Man, a unique true story about an ANZAC soldier’s secret double-life.