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Thursday 18 June, 2015
As a contemporary veteran, whenever I read about the conditions endured by my predecessors during the Great War, I am reminded of just how remote, how unidentifiable those living conditions are to us today.
While I am familiar with deep blisters, I cannot imagine suffering from ‘trench foot’ after spending weeks on end standing in fetid water. While I remember the percussion that reaches every corner of your body when there’s indirect fire nearby, I cannot imagine living with shell-shock on a daily basis.
Such experiences are incomparable. Service has changed, and it continues to change. Societies and militaries modernise, and the situations and the adversaries we face continue to evolve at an unpredictable, often extraordinary pace.
This invites the question: is certain service “more deserving” of recognition? Is service directly related to the hardships experienced by serving personnel?
Beneath the surface of some military commemorations is the notion that service in a particular theatre, or performed in a particular role, is somehow more worthy than other forms of service. This creates something of a hierarchy, which can be problematic. Are such comparisons useful? Are they even possible?
I firmly believe that such differentiation is, at best, arbitrary and unproductive. At worst, it is divisive and destructive. Criticism of an individual’s service has no place in the context of reflection and commemoration.
A reality of service today, for example, is that there is no longer a true “front line”. The stressors encountered by serving personnel can be numerous and deeply-felt, regardless of where they are based or the role they perform.
Similarly, the definition of warfare has changed. Contemporary servicemen and women are committed to identifying and implementing solutions; they do not, necessarily, ‘go to war’ in order to serve. They are there to serve those who need and rely on their unique skills and training.
The Anzac Centenary gives us the opportunity to review the lexicon and ideology of service. “Sacrifice” may no longer be the same as 100 years ago.
The contemporary “veteran” takes many forms, and may not be what people expect.
As we move forward into the next century of service, may we remember the past yet also recognise contemporary veterans and the reality of their service, today.