Today (or tomorrow, depending on when you read this) is Anzac Day. I’m neither Australian nor a New Zealander, but I stand with friends from those countries on this day. Among many reasons for that, I think it’s important to take some time to reflect on the real costs of war. And there are tremendous costs that have nothing to do with money.
One of those costs is the lives and potential contributions of so many, many young people. Behind each tick mark in a tally of those killed is someone who could have been… who knows what? We’ll never know now. Along with that are the other personal costs (children left without parents, parents left without children, partners left alone, and families and groups of friends now incomplete).
Even for those who physically survive war, there’s an awful price to pay. All it takes is a quick look at crime fiction to remind ourselves of that. For example, Chris Womersley’s Bereft is, among other things, a stark look at the cost of World War I. When Quinn Walker returns to the small town of Flint, New South Wales just after the Great War, he brings with him the scars left by the war. And he finds that those left behind have suffered deeply, too.
Steve Sailah’s A Fatal Tide also offers a glimpse of what World War I was really like. It was dirty, bloody, and devastating on so many levels. In one plot thread of this mystery, Thomas Clare learns the stark and truly ugly difference between ‘home front’ concepts of war and the brutal reality of it.
Anne Perry’s historical World War I series also shows that difference between what many people had imagined would happen (a few short battles, relatively casualty-free as these things go) and what did happen (a long, drawn-out, incredibly costly and extremely bloody war). And although Shayne Parkinson’s Daisy’s War isn’t, strictly speaking, a crime novel, it too depicts the fear as the Great War came closer, and the potential costs of that war.
Geoffrey McGeachin’s Charlie Berlin novels give a vivid picture of what it was like for those who came back from World War II. Many veterans were able to heal physically, but were left with deep and permanent psychological scars. Books such as these show that a war isn’t something you stop doing and then leave behind as if nothing had happened. Even when they do get on with life, those involved in war are changed and marked by that experience; they can’t help it.
There are of course many other novels that focus on war and its aftermath. The point of this post isn’t to list them all. Each one of them, though, reminds us of the consequences of getting into a war: many thousands of young people who will never have a chance to be what they might have been, and many thousands more who have to go on without them. And that’s to say nothing of the economic costs of war (also covered in many, many novels).
So today I’m taking some time to remember those many proud Australians and New Zealanders who never came home. I am grateful for their sacrifices and those of their families, as they have helped to protect me. I also mourn their loss. I hope someday we will learn from this loss to think very carefully about the true, human cost of war.
Ps. The ‘photo is of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Each of those names represents s a life lost. Let us not forget them…