Daddy-O column: Will my daughter face the horrors of war?

21st April 2017 11:38 AM
Anzac Day march. Rosewood. 9.06am. Not only parents of sons need worry about the threat of another war as women can also now choose to take up arms. Rob Williams

AS A boy I remember imagining war from the sidelines, like an invisible spectator. The helicopters would fly overhead and rain destruction on those below - okay, so my visions of 1915 were not exactly historically accurate.

Nevertheless, I watched it in my mind's eye the way you watch Saving Private Ryan. Shocked but safe. As a teenager, I wondered how I would manage on the front lines of some foreign conflict.

Would I be a conscientious objector if there was a draft? Would I take up arms if, as in the Second World War, the theatre of war came to us?

Since then I've thought about now-departed Pop who fought the Japanese in Papua New Guinea, part of a force who kept the enemy from taking a major airfield in the Battle of Milne Bay.
 

Australian troops advance past the bogged Japanese light tanks at Milne Bay in 1942
Australian troops advance past the bogged Japanese light tanks at Milne Bay in 1942 Australian War Memorial

The idea of this ordinary man, beloved by an ever-sprawling brood, having to kill or maim other men. How do you reconcile that with the greying man who doted on his grandkids and adored his jungle garden?

Now, to this new dad, Anzac Day brings new fears. The threat of war is no longer a worry just for those raising sons.

In 2017, there are more than 10,000 women in the Australian Defence Force. If ever Australians were again drafted into war, women and girls would not necessarily be kept from harm's way.

If an enemy again threatens our global neighbourhood in decades to come, would my daughter vow to fight? Would she be forced to take up arms?

Australians have known peace for so long that I worry we have little idea of what war truly looks like.

We also may be at risk of forgetting that the heroes of the Anzac tradition - the ones we have lionised for a century - were ordinary Australians not so different from my Pop.

These were Australians pulled from the land and from the cities to face the horrors of war. When Australia joined World War One, 8.3% of the population signed up - about 416,000 out of five million.

If that proportion of Australians ever took up arms again it would be a force of about two million going to war. And if it went the same way as The Great War, 288,000 wouldn't come home and about 750,000 would be wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

Through that lens, this year I'll contemplate why those Australians died. They died fighting for a cause they believed was right, and they died to protect a homeland they thought was under threat.

I'll also cherish my daughter and hope that our fallen teach us to find every possible avenue before we again think about sacrificing our own.

Follow Owen Jacques on Facebook and Twitter.