Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Paul Keating remembers war 'devoid of any virtue' at National Remembrance Day service

AUSTRALIANS were fed to World War I as "cannon fodder" and their sacrifices were never needed to legitimise a young nation, former prime minister Paul Keating says.

Mr Keating gave the commemorative address at the National Remembrance Day service at Canberra' Australian War Memorial yesterday - 20 years since his words marked the internment of the Unknown Soldier at the Memorial's Hall of Memory.

Marking the day - and the 95th anniversary of the armistice - the former prime minister described the Great War as "devoid of any virtue" as a nation paused to remember its loss.

Describing young troops as "cannon fodder", Mr Keating said modern weaponry, mass conscription and "indefatigable valour" meant the scale of conflict was limited only by the number of young men countries could order over its trenches.

"And into this deadly crevice they fed their heroic, young, obedient populations," he said.

Australia visited the killing fields out of loyalty but fought for the nation it had already created. It "was never in need of any redemption at Gallipoli", Mr Keating said.

"There was nothing missing in our young nation or our idea of it that required the martial baptism of a European cataclysm to legitimise us."

But the Anzac legend did reinforce notions of independence, mateship, ingenuity and resilience.

Mr Keating said he was heartened so many young Australians found a sense of identity and purpose from the Anzac legend and were now "too wise to the world to be cannon fodder of the kind their young forebears became - young innocents who had little or no choice".

Dozens of wreaths were laid as hundreds sat through driving rain to pay their respects at the nation's capital.

During the ceremony, Ben Roberts-Smith VC read the newest names added to the Memorial's wall of the fallen - Corporal Scott James Smith and Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird MG, who were both killed in Afghanistan.

Later, at a ceremony of the Last Post, the war hero read Mr Keating's famous eulogy delivered two decades ago on a day an etching of part of the speech was unveiled on the Unknown Soldier's tomb.

It reads: "He is one of them, and he is all of us."

An earlier plan to scrub the words "Known unto God" from the tomb to make room for the new words was abandoned after complaints.

theaustralian.com.au 11 Nov 2013

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