Monday, November 11, 2013

There's silent and then there's dumb

Into the mouth of hell (2013) Kodakotype by Pants


It's the end of Armistice Day and I've just observed 72 hours of silence. 

It's not that I'm especially passionate about honouring the long-ago fallen with a gesture of near meaninglessness - the plain truth is that I'm on my tod. Seat of Pants is empty apart from unpatriotic little ole me. The Question Why and Barney each received personal invitations from M. Hollande of France to attend a commemoration of La Bataille de la Somme. Neither of them have kept up their high-school French as I have and they got it into their heads that they were being challenged to demonstrate their considerable skills at wine selection and pouring - a sort of Battle of the Bands but for sommeliers. I waved them off happily. I can pour my own wine if I have to.

I may be po-faced when it comes to metaphysical sabre-rattling, but I do love it when people don't speak. Could they not extend the minute's silence to 24 hours and make it compulsory? I could maybe locate some patriotism for an idea like that. A wish too far I fear, but at least our war veterans' organisation the RSL is making a valiant effort to ensure that our annual sixty seconds free of some stranger squawking inanities in our unwilling ears remains sacrosanct. Last year, it introduced the 'Minute to Remember' app to prompt us not to forget what we are supposed to remember for reasons that are no longer entirely clear to us. Let's revisit the linked piece from The Australian newspaper.
The Minute to Remember app will send out an SMS reminder just before 11am on Sunday to remind subscribers to observe the traditional minute's silence.
The app has been created for Defencecare, an RSL NSW charity that helps current and ex-service personnel and their families with a range of issues.
Defencecare CEO Robyn Collins says the number of war veterans is diminishing but the importance of Remembrance Day and the minute's silence "continues to be a truly essential cultural element of being Australian".
"This digital solution is an exciting way to stay relevant, respectful and help the Defencecare community," she said.
Defencecare CEO Robyn Collins says the number of war veterans is diminishing but the importance of Remembrance Day and the minute's silence "continues to be a truly essential cultural element of being Australian".
"This digital solution is an exciting way to stay relevant, respectful and help the Defencecare community," she said.
Well, okay, so we learn it's 'traditional' but we're not told why. Playing devil's advocate here, I'm thinking that if we're new to this whole 'minute-to-remember' thing, then we will struggle to explain to our companions why our lips are suddenly frozen between the dim and the sum during our Sunday brunch in Chinatown.

'The app has been created for Defencecare, an RSL NSW charity that helps current and ex-service personnel and their families with a range of issues.'

'Defencecare CEO Robyn Collins says the number of war veterans is diminishing but the importance of Remembrance Day and the minute's silence "continues to be a truly essential cultural element of being Australian".'

Well, how's about that for a comforting clarification? 'A truly essential cultural element of being Australian' - you mean like a mandated love of grilled sawdust wrapped in pigs' gut and a hatred of anyone who looks and sounds a bit foreign? And that helping with 'a range of issues' thing - doesn't that sound deeply worthwhile? I'd definitely consider shutting my gob for at least sixty seconds for that. If only we could get shutting the fuck up to catch on culturally.

"This digital solution is an exciting way to stay relevant, respectful and help the Defencecare community," she [the aforementioned CEO] said.'

This reminds me of how my own late and loved father - a WW2 veteran - grew sideburns and wore paisley and used the words 'groovy' and 'gas' inappropriately in the 1960s. It was proof - if any were needed - that generational differentiation by culture is a very healthy thing. A robust generation stays in its lane. It defers to neither its predecessors nor its progeny.

In my time, Alan Seymour's anti-war play, The One Day of the Year was taught in schools. Now it's rejected by young people as un-Australian. Our fathers fought in the Second World War and our brothers were conscripted, (or refused to be), for the American war in Vietnam. But ours is the sandwich generation. These days Ma Pants is comfortably retired on a War Widow pension and gets quite misty when flags fly at half mast. The children of peers troop off to Gallipoli, barely conscious of the fact that they are in Turkey, quite possibly the most fascinating country on the planet. They weep for the (literally) unknown soldier of a hundred years ago but show little compassion for the victims of wars taking place right now.

I lived abroad for the entire reign of former Prime Minister Paul Keating. I'm beginning to feel like I might have missed an important moment in Australian history. Maybe it was like the Whitlam years when, for an instant, one could sense the possibility of a unifying idea that wasn't about sausages and sport. So long ago, so far away. Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, ex-king Keating, now ancient but unbowed, had this to say in a speech delivered at the Australian War Memorial,

'I am greatly heartened that so many young Australians find a sense of identity and purpose from the Anzac legend and from those Australian men and women who have fought in wars over the last hundred years. But the true commemoration of their lives, service and sacrifice is to understand that the essence of their motivation was their belief in all we had created here and our responsibility in continuing to improve it.

Homage to these people has to be homage to them and about them and not to some idealised or jingoistic reduction of what their lives really meant.'

Ouch. Let's hope he didn't see the DefenceCare app for this year. Expectations have been lowered,

'This Remembrance Day we ask Australians everywhere to turn off their phones and take a minute to remember all those who have died, suffered or risked their lives protecting Australia's freedom.'

Now we can show our respect for the fallen by switching our phones to 'silent' for the designated minute. Yes, we can even outsource the 'truly essential cultural elements of being Australian', in sixty-second increments, to our electronic devices. God I'm proud to be an Aussie!

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall flight-mode them...