I am on the train on Legacy Day, surrounded by a bunch of big-boned young men in army uniforms. They swarm over the vacant seats a jungle of tall ego’s with khaki spots to match. There is macho jostling and good-natured camaraderie between them. They share tales of large and small donations, of mocking looks and stupid questions. ‘No,’ they say, ‘we are not reservists.’ About this, they are unreserved.

I wrestle with the words in my book, reading and re-reading, distracted by the scent of boys not long turned into men. As they get off the train at Watsonia station they leave a shadow of sweaty feet, of military regimen, of opportunity and hope and conformity. They are a typical group – two or three loudly jousting, one or two quiet in their wake. I watch them walk along the platform, lanky and full of false confidence and I am struck with sadness.

These are the bodies we send to war.

These are the bodies we send to kill. Or be killed. Or survive if they are lucky.

They sign a contract and they turn their bodies over to the public good in return for a day’s pay, an opportunity to study, a chance to become a leader – or perhaps a hero. God knows what it is that compels them to willingly sign up to this evil arrangement. And here they are, collecting funds for families of soldiers long passed on. Seeking bequests, gifts, legacies.

And we are happy to let them do it. For our safety, for our political gains, one of these young men may come to an early end. With no wife, no sons or daughters, no mark upon the world save for his blood, his will become a shadow of a life not lived. It is a vastly sad, somewhat criminal, requirement of a civil society.

Not that long ago these men were grubby boys with band aids on their knees. Even less time ago they were clustered on the train, as they are now, wearing school uniforms instead of army uniforms. If one of them was my son I would be living in perpetual fear of having my child return to me either dead or immeasurably damaged, with his body or psyche dismantled or in disarray.

It is a tragedy that this a necessity of our need to feel and be protected and safe. It is a travesty of our underpinning motivation to preserve justice and peace within our world, because to lose or damage even just one of these fine, young men, men vivid with hope and promise, would be the greatest of all injustices.

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  1. Trackback: ANZAC Day: No ordinary day in an Australian suburb | The truth be told

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