Armistice Day has always been an enigma. It marks the day and time that the First World War ended in 1918. The war to end all wars, a phrase often used by US President Woodrow Wilson as he led efforts for a just peace, ended up being used sardonically by others as conflict ensued.
The war did end at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. 70 million soldiers had fought, with 9 million military and 13 million civilian deaths. The Spanish Flu, brought to the world by US troops, killed somewhere between 17 to 100 million civilians. The cost of war is always shared far beyond the direct combatants.
It was indeed a great hope that this tragedy would never happen again. The League of Nations was created to lead the peace. Unfortunately, the victors crushed the spirit of the vanquished, who in time rose up and found a voice in radicalism. Less than 20 years later Europe was mobilising again to go into an even more deadly war with even more civilian casualties. Just war lacks credibility if it is not followed by just peace.
In 2020 Armistice Day is a statement that in honouring the sacrifice of others and hoping against the odds, we are creating a just world. The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, is an iconic song written by a young Eric Bogle at the height of the Vietnam War in 1971.
Speaking of the futility of war and the sacrifice of the fallen, he predicts the demise of the Anzac spirit observance. In the 50 years since the song was written, our appetite for peace and hope in the future has re-emerged. Some years ago I stood among a group of people at Gallipoli who changed the original words of Bogle to reflect the hope of a new generation:
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
And year by year as the old disappear
Younger ones answer the call
May we respect the sacrifice of our war dead by continuing to answer the call to peace.
Director of Mission