King's College ANZAC Day Address 2017
Sunday, 1 May 2017
The 2017 ANZAC Day address was given by Old Collegian Graeme MacCormick (St John's, 1950-54). Graeme was Head Prefect of the College in 1954 and a former President of the KCOCA . He is a former legal practitioner, Human Rights Commissioner and Family Court Judge. Graeme’s father served in both World Wars.
I count it vital that we continue to remember them all. And not only those who lost their lives but those who served alongside them, many returning deeply affected by the experience, some traumatised for life. Nor should we forget those who served at home: the women who took on traditionally male roles in factories, on farms and in transport, the mothers who brought up young children on their own, the Home Guard. We need to remember also the devastation of families at home as they learnt of the loss of a beloved husband, son, brother or fiance.
Many of us still have some personal connection or other to these wars. My own primary connection is through my father, who served in both World Wars. At the outbreak of the First World War he had just completed his medical degree. He served first at Gallipoli. After being invalided home at the end of that campaign he returned to serve at the Somme and at Passchendaele. Twice earlier mentioned in dispatches he was awarded the D.S.O. at Passchendaele with the citation: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in charge of the wounded during an action. He remained at duty for 48 hours without rest, visiting the advanced posts, searching shell holes and bringing in many wounded. When one of his bearer- posts was heavily shelled, with great coolness he got all the wounded away, staying behind himself until the last had left. He set a splendid example of courage and untiring energy.
In the Second World War, by then a senior surgeon, he was officer in charge of the N.Z. Army Medical Corps in the Middle East from 1940 to 1943, responsible for the establishment of first-aid posts, army hospitals and overall hygiene.
Dad, like many others, never talked about either war.
The sort of selfless bravery in battle which Dad exhibited was not, of course, uncommon. Wars often bring out the best in people. But we must be wary of in any sense glorifying war. It is simply horrendous. The Gallipoli exhibition still on at Te Papa is graphic. In trenches on rugged hillsides for eight months. Weather going from unbearably hot to freezing cold and wet - mud everywhere. Water having to be carried from a single source. Meals predominately tinned bully-beef. Outside shared latrines. Dysentery rife. All the time subject to shell and mortar fire from the ridges above. Chances of survival even less when ordered to attack. Mates killed or wounded. The wounded to be evacuated, often under fire. The dead to be buried in shallow graves when possible, otherwise left to decompose. Gallipoli embodied the utter brutality and inhumanity of war. So did the Somme, so did Passchendaele.
So on Anzac Day we remember those who experienced this hell on earth.
Even from war, however, incidental benefits can emerge. In my case it was coming to King’s. Our mother died in 1942 when Dad was still serving in the Middle East. We ended up at King's Prep as boarders. I was aged 5 at the time and quickly learnt to make my own bed, to Nurse Fryer-Raisher's exacting standards, knot a tie, tie my shoelaces, clean my shoes and affix an Eton Collar with studs. And you didn't talk after lights out. Corporal punishment was still in vogue. But Kings School started me on a faith journey. We wouldn't in the ordinary course have come on to the College but elder brother John won an entrance scholarship and when I did likewise a couple of years later my faith exploration continued here, as it does today in seeking best ways forward, remembering and learning from the past.
As a result of that faith I personally choose to also remember the New Zealand Christian pacifists who were despised and rejected for their Christian beliefs, interned and treated shamefully for their stand against war and all they perceived it to represent. Theirs was a different sort of courage, but courage it assuredly was.
This chapel is a War Memorial chapel and I honour that. But it is also a Christian chapel. The windows that surround us all reference the life and teaching of just one man; and Jesus taught and lived non-violent responses. So how do we reconcile this apparent conflict?
I believe it is through common ground: through service to the limits of one's abilities. Let us not forget that Jesus also died in service to others: that we might have a more fulfilled life.
The Anglican Church, to which this College is linked, still manages to hold under its umbrella both those who believe there can be a just war and those who refuse to countenance the use of any form of violence. The beliefs of the latter stem from the gospels. While Jesus may well have used hyperbole to make his teaching more memorable I am indebted to the Rev. Dr. Jonathon Hartfield (in turn indebted to Walter Wink) for a contextual exposition of a passage in Matthew's Gospel ( Ch 5, vv.38 to 47), which is at the heart of the debate. In these verses Jesus tells two stories which have become part of everyday language. Turn the other cheek and go the second mile. Roman soldiers whose equipment weighed about 40 kilos or 85lbs, could demand any citizen to carry their pack. But because of the level of resentment to this requirement there was a strict law that a load should only be carried one mile by each person. If a soldier demanded more and was caught he could be severely punished. So Jesus says carry the load the mile and then when the soldier knows you have to put it down, say you want to carry it another mile. The soldier thinks, “If I accept, it may be a trick and I will be reported.” He may also think “This dog is suggesting I am too weak to carry my pack further”. In any event he's been put in a quandary. So going the extra mile is not about being industrious and kind, it is about challenging the oppression of an occupying military power.
Similarly, turning the other cheek is not being passive or wimpish as is often implied. It is a situation with a master and servant, man and wife, or mistress and maid. It is a situation where a person in a position of social superiority is exerting that authority. Notice Jesus says having been hit on the right cheek, turn the other. He is specific about which side. It was a right-handed society. So the landowner strikes his labourer to humiliate him for some perceived misdemeanour. To hit a right cheek with the right hand, comfortably and with some aplomb, one has to hit with the back of the hand. This denoted contempt. But Jesus says offer the left cheek for another blow. Why? With a right hand the left cheek can only be hit easily with the palm, the open hand. An open hand slap can be much more hurtful but in that culture that was reserved for quarrels between social equals. Does the landowner refuse the proffered cheek or does he hit out, as he would like, but admit the labourer is his social equal?
Jesus was in effect saying, look beyond violence for other ways to challenge domination and injustice.
Some fifty years ago Martin Luther King observed: "Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says 'Love your enemies' he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing wars - must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." King also said: "I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love. I'm talking about a strong demanding love." Clearly Christ-like love.
Yet if we ask how else could Hitler have been confronted in 1939, there was then probably no alternative. If I had been of military service age in 1939 I would undoubtedly have gone to war. But maybe the better question is what could have been done differently to avert that second war? Much too much was left unresolved by the First World War. World leaders did a much better job after the Second World War.
In the end I am not sure if it matters greatly if we believe in the concept of a just war or are a complete pacifist. Beliefs, creeds, matter less than deeds, although they are inevitably linked to some degree. As I grow older I am less sure of many things. But my faith, a slightly different concept from beliefs, remains strong. That faith embodies a call to follow the ways of Jesus as best we perceive them to be and as best we can.
Jesus has been described in many ways to reflect his life and teaching - prophet, priest, king, shepherd, Son of Man, Son of God. I recently heard him described anew as a "peaceful anarchist"; and it is that description of his life and work that I would like to leave with you this morning. He challenged the authorities, condemned the injustices of his day, denounced hypocrisy wherever he perceived it, together with the hidebound rules that stood in the way of a compassionate response. His life and teaching were infused with a deep caring concern for all, but particularly for the poor, the outcast and the marginalised.
The poor and the marginalised are still very much with us. We still have a huge and increasingly divisive gap, in my view an obscene gap, between the excessively rich and powerful and the impoverished and powerless, world-wide.
Anzac Day, I suggest, is not only a day to honour and remember all those who served in war and all affected by war, but to re-dedicate our own lives to community service, Christ-like service, in peacetime.
In some ways it can be even harder to serve in peacetime. There is not the same immediacy or sense of national unity and purpose. To say this is not to derogate in any way from the courage of those who fought and died for their country and for the freedom which we have subsequently enjoyed. We have, however, a simple duty: not only to remember, but to recommit. Simple remembrance is not enough without some form of re-dedication.
The challenges for the younger generation are immense: over-population with over-use of the earth's resources, climate change, and ethnically and religiously motivated strife. But even for those of us of the older generation a word of support and encouragement, or a smile and friendly greeting to a stranger, goes into the mix. I pray that we may all continue to serve to the limits of our ability, ever mindful of our Christian heritage and indeed the service traditions of this College, both in war and in peace.
Virtus Pollet. May goodness indeed prevail.