They say that the Great War was a waste.
A waste of lives and limbs. A waste of blood. A waste of treasure for fallen empires, forgotten kingdoms and a trigger-happy Europe only too willing to engage in a colossal civil war.
The fingers are pointed at generals who straddled a period of conflict where old military strategies were mown down with new, industrial strength weaponry; blame is laid at the feet of politicians engaged in a game of Risk with the lives of their citizens.
And all of that may be true.
But, as we remember tomorrow the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli, the sad truth is that the real wastage of the sacrifices and pain and heartache of the Australians who fought in the Great War is only just becoming clear. That’s because it’s only happening now.
In 1914, the Anzacs could name their enemy. Today we have lost even the freedom to question our enemy’s ideology.
In 1914, the Anzacs were at war with an Islamic Caliphate. We are again today, but we daren’t call it that.
In 1914, the Anzacs had no qualms in taking decisive action at home against those who may have had an allegiance to a foreign power. Today, we are left watching our leaders do little more than plead for harmony with the enemies brazenly living amongst us.
A hundred years ago we were prepared to win a Great War. Today we are content to lose the peace. That is why the efforts of the Anzacs are now being wasted and in a way that they never were a century ago.
And there is no starker testimony of our failure to defend the Anzacs’ legacy than this: on the first Anzac Day, Australians battled an enemy on their home soil. Tomorrow, police will stand guard at Anzac Day commemorations in our suburbs.
Worse, no enemy has done this to us. We have done it to ourselves. We concocted a society too afraid to say what it believes in. And then we left the gate open and allowed the wolves in.
The Anzacs and their families might have questioned whether their sacrifices for king and country were really worth it as the guns fell silent in 1918. Perhaps not, some might say. But they would be consoled with the knowledge that their burdens had helped craft an Australian identity and a free nation. They would not be so happy knowing that their grandchildren are letting it slip away.
The Anzacs came from a society that we might consider foolhardy today. But they had courage. And the truth is that history has always been shaped by men of courage.
Because the Anzacs had courage, they did great things. And because they did great things, they are rightly remembered for their central influence on Australia. They shaped Australia. Gallipoli looms large in our psyche because it is the story of Australians with large hearts overseas and Australians with broken hearts toiling on through the pain back at home.
Unfortunately, when their deeds are marked by pomp and ceremony and commemorations and wreaths tomorrow, we will remember their courage while forgetting what it is to be courageous. We will remember their sacrifice for Australia, while forgetting the values of the nation they forged in fire.
We will thank those who fought for freedom, while forgetting our own duty to keep it alive.
And that is why these men of courage and daring deeds would not recognise the Australia today that is going to such great lengths to remember everything superficial and nothing important about what the Anzacs stood for.
Wealthy we might say we are; they’d see a nation fat, dumb and happy.
Secular we might say we are; they’d see a nation bereft of values, vision and morality.
Democratic we might say we are; they’d see a nation where you can’t speak your mind anymore.
Free we might say we are; they’d see a nation with an infinite array of choice when it comes to chicken so long as it is slaughtered in compliance with Sharia law.
Lucky we might say we are; they’d remind us that they improved on the hard work of the pioneers who worked their hands and the lands before them.
The Anzacs were courageous. But who can say the same of us?
Our society is not brave. We are too timid to criticise. We’d rather not offend our enemies.
Our society is not one of action, but inaction. Thirty jihadis have returned to Australia after fighting for the Islamic State and not one has been charged.
Our society has no clear vision, but is clouded by confusion. The end result of a Muslim calling for the Islamic State flag while holding our nation’s largest city hostage is an array of politicians backing the ‘religion of peace’.
And while we might be timid, inactive and confused, there are those living among us who are not. They are only too willing to risk it all, even their lives, to change the world. They already have. And they will continue to do so if we let them.
Australia is at the crossroads. Its future will be shaped by men of daring. History has always been thus. It was on April 25, 1915 and will be so on April 25, 2015.
The question just remains: who will be those men of daring?
That question has not yet been answered by us. But one thing is clear: if it is not us, it will be others. And if it is others, then we have surely wasted the sacrifices of those who fought for Australia, its freedoms and its values.
So tomorrow, let us remember the Anzacs properly. Not just for what they did for Australia a century ago, but for what their example can inspire us to do now. We have a country to protect, values to defend and a future to be won.