Anzac Day approaches. Now, Anzac Day is "our day of the year...", and it has acquired a stronger following as time has passed. But as rising generations take a growing interest in these matters, the original Anzacs, the First AIF, are reduced to one survivor; Jack Ross (109), who lives in a nursing home in Bendigo, Victoria. Within a handful of years there won't be a single surviving veteran of the First World War anywhere on Earth.
I've visited the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and seen the reconstructions, dioramas and antique weapons. I've also seen the great and tragic walls of names. But the human memory doesn't think in names engraved on stone. It works by visual and other senses that go beyond bare data. Nothing matches an image or a tangible form, such as sculpture, in making the subject vivid to the viewer. I had an idea once that would put a statue, in the personal likeness of each of the fallen in the grounds of the memorial. The AWM counts total Australian military deaths in war at 102,807 to date. That would be a shocking number of statues wouldn't it? Imagine them life-sized, put together in groups according to the conflict they served in and the units in which they were enrolled. They could be customised, given the sort of uniforms and basic equipment that they carried to battle, and each posed in a slightly different way. (Actually, it occurs to me in writing this that someone already had a very similar idea; the terracotta figures of 7,000 warriors, 670 horses and 130 chariots buried near Xi'an in China's Shaanxi Province.) Better still, those representing subjects for whom photographs were available, could be given the actual likenesses of those persons.
The AWM has a project underway which is collecting the photographs of as many of the "names" as they can. The statuary would be a consequential step. Now, here's the hard part: What's it going to cost and who's going to pay for it? Public subscription is the best way. Families could be invited to contribute over time to the erection of a statue of a relative by making payments as and when they could to a trust fund established for the purpose by the AWM. Those with no surviving kin could be listed on a website and people could choose from the list a name to dedicate their contributions to.
And where would these statues be placed? Perhaps the best place would be in the great sward of lawn in front of the Parliament House in Canberra. From this position the MPs could watch and be watched by the images of those who gave their lives in the wars our leaders sent them to. The sheer size of this installation would give pause to anyone inclined to send forth an expedition and remind them of their obligations to those who will be left behind by the dead. Here they would be in a place with constant, higher media exposure than the AWM itself, which is media-invisible apart from Anzac Day (25th April) and Remembrance Day (11th November).
A last thought: I first read of the famous monument to the 300 Spartans in a book which translated the inscription on the ancient memorial thus:
Go tell the Spartans, passerby:
We took their orders and we died.
That sounds like a reproach doesn't it? As in, "You bastards got us killed, are you happy now?"
I think I have a better translation for it:
Go tell the Spartans, passerby:
Obedient to orders, here we lie.
It is a statement of pride for duty done, not a reproach. And let us never give cause for reproach in the name of those who have died for us. Let us not allow them to become invisible in our land.