‘Sacrifice’ is a word we don’t hear much any more. It used to be part of our culture. We made sacrifices to get our children to a good school, our old parents to a better nursing home. We sacrificed a university career to stay home and look after Mum. If women we sacrificed our own education so our brother — Mark Latham, for instance — could go to university.
And we sacrificed our lives for our country. We still hear this awful phrase at soldiers’ funerals, on Remembrance Day and, yes, on Anzac Day. But more and more it feels like the Big Lie it is, and always was.
Sacrifice means, literally, cutting the throat of one’s beloved son, as Abraham thought to do, to propitiate an angry God. This happened now and then. The story of Jepthah’s daughter, the most fearsome — and indeed the most anti-Semitic — in the Bible, harrows the listener still, as does the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter to ensure good wind and weather on the way to Troy. It always has the shimmer of dead adult children to it.
And we are told we sacrificed our adult children at Gallipoli, that others would live well, and thank us for it.
But this is not what happened. Five thousand of those children died in vain. Two thousand lost limbs there. Twenty thousand had bad dreams for fify years. No-one lived better because of it. The widows and girlfriends were shattered, the mothers never got over it. Grandchildren, great grandchildren were never born. Great poems were never written, great symphonies not performed.
And no inch of ground was gained. No colony was added to the Empire, no fistful of diamonds, no barrel of oil, no jar of raisins, no bag of myrrh was looted from its rich desert earth. And we left our dead behind. ‘They are our sons now,’ Attaturk, our great foe, said smugly. How dread a sentence that must have sounded, like a tolling bell to their mothers and fathers, who, as we know, made the sacrifice of them, willingly.
What nonsense we are talking; still talking.
No, what happened was some farm boys and country town boys, some of them with horses, were tempted by adventure and overseas travel, and goaded by the white feathers of their women, into a slaughterous debacle with no good end and had to shoot their horses before they came home, and take part in a lot of marching, saluting and bugling hypocrisy each year on this day of days. And public fools, like the Prime Minister, speaking of their sacrifice.
It was an idiotic expedition, this War of the Three Cousins we had no business in, and lost our best and brightest in, more young men than died in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and Waterloo put together, from which no inch of gound was gained, no jar of raisins, no bag of myrrh.
We can talk of it still, but never, never, never talk of ‘sacrifice’.
Or perhaps you disagree.