It is important that we heed the annual call to remember those who have paid the extreme sacrifice for us. Their lives were cut short so that our lives may be lived. And in their deaths our culture was defined. What people will die for describes what they are living for.
There was no doubt in the minds of earlier generations what that culture was. They went to war for God and King and Empire, for their family, their nation, the British way of life, or more recently for democracy. But what people die for is not necessarily what follows.
It appears that those who die in a war their nation loses—will have died for a lost cause. Their hopes and aspirations are lost as surely as their lives. And yet history has a strange way of being written by winners and controlled by losers. For often the martyr wins and the oppressors lose.
Those who die in a war their nation wins—appear to have preserved or advanced their cause. Yet their hopes and aspirations are now left in the hands of their children. These are children who will be raised without their guiding hand. The next generation may not understand the idea for which their parent paid such a great price. They are raised in a different world with different problems and pleasures. The 1920s did not return us to the Edwardian world any more than the 1950s returned us to the aftermath of the great depression.
The Australia of today would be unimaginable to the original Anzacs, not just in the material wealth but also in our culture. Gone is the idea of being British, or fighting for the Empire. Gone is the agreement of a white Australia. Gone is the sense of one culture describing all citizens. Gone are the agreements over the nature of public morality.
Not all the changes in our society are bad, nor is the nostalgia for a bygone day helpful or particularly productive. But as we remember those who died for us (and as we ask young men and women to go to war and risk dying for us now) we need to ponder what did they die for? Was it nationalistic chauvinism or heroic foolishness or did they join for lack of other employment opportunities or out of a deeply felt idealism?
It is all the more important to ask the question when men are conscripted into battle. For then we as a community are demanding that they risk their lives for our good. And what is that good for which we feel the right to demand people die? Did we get “the good” we wanted when the war came to an end?
Many people are confused by the complexities of World War I and all are horrified by its appalling carnage. So they conclude that war is futile, meaningless and immoral. It always involves the poor and the young paying the price for the rich and powerful to settle their expansionist hubris. When Belsen and Auschwitz were finally opened—the righteousness of going to war was confirmed to all but the extremists. Though when Stalin took over Eastern Europe—we again are forced to ask the question “Is that what people laid down their life for?”
It is important that we annually return to the memory of those who gave their life for us. We should thank God for their sacrifice and their great love. We must pray for the men and women whom we are asking to risk their lives on our behalf today. But we must also ponder afresh what those who died wanted to protect us from and what kind of life they wanted us to live.
Christians do this regularly—daily—for we follow the Christ who laid down his life for us. But there are big differences with his sacrifice. For we are the enemies who put him to death and yet for whom he died. And we know exactly why he died—for our sins. And the outcome of his death is not determined by those he left behind for he rose from the dead in victory. And his reign now is implemented by his Spirit that he pours out generously on his people. So we know how he wants us to live and are empowered by him to live that way.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:10.