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Remembrance Day: Did They Die in a Good Cause?

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

We attended the Remembrance ceremony in Busselton yesterday, 11 November 2023. We were in Busselton for lunch and remembered the need to observe one minute’s silence at 11am. The Busselton ceremony was easy to find, in the park just over the Vasse River bridge.

Speeches at Remembrance ceremonies carry a similar message: that we owe our freedom and way of life to those who died in military service. I have long questioned that proposition.  

The MC asked the crowd to come out from the shade of the trees and gather around the dais. I overcame my discomfort at wearing shorts but kept my my surf cap in my hands. During the RSL leader’s speech, I took in familiar sights. On the opposite corner is the Commercial Hotel where Dad drowned his sorrows after his demotion in 1965, until the guy on the next stool secured him a professorship in America. Opposite is St Mary’s Church, where nominally we worshipped and where nine years ago our son was married. The antique goods shop on another corner was once the office of Clem Bignell, the larger-than-life real estate agent of the 50’s and 60’s and a mate of Dad. Next door is the site of the milk bar where Dad, after Mum left him, took us on Friday evenings after the four-hour trip from Perth for the weekend stay. The Jones Family Cinema building is bigger now and part of a chain. The Tropical Motel still operates after at least seventy years, and from the outside is unchanged except that the “Colour TV” sign is missing. In the park's centre, there once stood a decommissioned train engine; we played on it and inside it usually emerging with a head injury from some protruding bolt. At the foot of the park I caught tadpoles from little lakes that popped up after rain.

In the early 1960’s, this was our way of life; it was our freedom. Since the ceremony yesterday I have come to believe the fallen did die for our way of life and freedom.

The benefit to Australia from its involvement in foreign wars is not immediately obvious. The First World War is perhaps hardest to justify: Australia joined Britain and others in fighting back an invading nation led by a self-absorbed Kaiser. About 60,000 Australians died. Some say the war was all about the vanity of old men. Would it have made any difference to Australia if it had not joined the war? If Germany won it was hardly likely to invade Australia.

On the other hand, Australia benefitted from a stable world order and without resistance that order would have been shattered . The invader, and the world, needed to know that invasion would be fought. Britain standing alone might have lost the war. In any case, win or lose, it was important for the world to know the defender was supported.

Germany waged war two decades later, so what did the earlier war achieve? Arguably WWI created the conditions for WWII? Did the shame of defeat in the first war produce the nationalistic fervour that spawned Hitler?

They are fair questions but consider what would have happened if Germany in 1914 was unresisted. If Hitler had come to power, and he probably would, he would have led an irresistible force comprising Germany and its vassal states. He might have won.

It is easier to justify Australia’s involvement in some wars than others. Involvement in the Second World War is easiest. Loss would have seen Australia ruled by Japan. The Vietnam War can perhaps be justified upon the domino principle, similarly the Korean War. The Iraqi war, not so much, but the world order argument applies.

The fallen gave their lives in a good cause. The family members who speak for them are usually nephews and nieces and their descendants. The fallen are forever uncles and aunts.


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