ANZAC DAY Washington DC 2024

In these long, dark shadows of the morning, we sometimes wonder when we will ever see the dawn.

Just like in the midst of the darkness, we sometimes fear whether we will ever see the light.

So too with those who rowed quietly ashore in the pre-dawn light at Gallipoli (British, French, Indians, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders) only to be met with a hail of lead from its Turkish defenders.

Many a young man, be they named Johnny or Mehmet, did not live to see the dawn that day.

Yet still their spirit lives on and dwells quietly among us on this the 109th ANZAC Day.

For us, their names are among the 102,000 names etched in stone along the walls of our national war memorial for those who gave their lives for Australia.

They are among the 2.5 million Australians who have proudly worn our country’s uniform and have been willing to sacrifice their all for their country.

We are proud that these Australians have fought shoulder to shoulder with our American allies for more than 100 years in fields as far flung as the Western Front, in the skies over occupied Europe, in the jungles of New Guinea, in the Battles of the Coral Sea, Savo Island and Leyte Gulf, in the defence of Korea, and in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

And we are grateful for those Americans who died in the defence of Australia.

In most of these great contests, we have prevailed.

In some we have not.

And in the transparency and tumult of our democracies, we have had the humility to recognise both success and failure.

But today, as we gather here at this memorial, we each know in our hearts we are standing on the shoulders of giants, men and women whose courage was put to the test, and they were not found wanting when the day of trial came to meet them.

Courage is no small thing.

It is a word that rolls too easily off our lips.

Courage is a large thing indeed.

Courage is among the greatest of human virtues.

Courage is not a feeling.

Courage is a decision.

It is a decision to place your life in harm’s way, to risk the loss of loved ones, of family and of the communities who nurtured you, and all for a higher purpose.

On this sacred memorial day, we are called once again to reflect on what it is that continues to animate this higher purpose of which we speak.

And to do so in an age that has become so jaded in its cynicism about the very existence of something that we can confidently still call a higher purpose, let alone a moral absolute.

For those of us who are gathered here as allies of the United States, freedom is indeed a moral absolute.

Freedom, too, is a word that rolls too easily off our lips.

When the world was very dark indeed, in 1941, it was FDR who spoke of the Four Freedoms, both to inspire this country then languishing in its isolation, and beyond these shores, to inspire the peoples of a suffering world. FDR spoke of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

For those who now think that freedom means so little in our post-modern world, I ask them to reflect for a moment on those who wake in darkness this morning without ever knowing freedom, or even worse who have had freedom taken from them.

The absence of freedom and the fear it engenders is a very real thing indeed. Ask those who have felt it.

The presence of freedom and the hope and opportunity to which it gives rise is also a very real thing indeed. Ask those who have just gained it.

Freedom enables us to choose the type of life, the type of community, the type of country in which we live, and the qualities that might shape our countries for the many, and not just the few.

Freedom therefore is a value for all.

Freedom is a value worth defending,

Freedom is a value worth fighting for.  

Yet freedom today is under assault in almost every continent around the world.

When the young people of Iran wake this morning, they know what the absence of freedom means.

When young soldiers make their way to the front this morning in Eastern Ukraine, they know what the absence of freedom would mean if they failed to defend it, and yes, to pay the price.

The people of North Korea in the truly bleak house in which they live and work this day have never known the dignity, the exhilaration and the opportunity that freedom affords.

And there are those who have voted freely for governments of their choice in recent times, but whom others threaten, simply because they do not share their particular ideology.

For dictatorships, freedom is the universal value that threatens most.

For the democracies, for all our failings, freedom is the value that enables us most, that ennobles us most, because it is grounded in the intrinsic dignity of each member of our common human family.

Around our world today, there is a sense that darkness in all its forms is on the advance.

But as the first light of dawn breaks across this ANZAC Day morning, let us remember afresh that when the night seems to be at its darkest, the spark of human freedom can never be extinguished.

And that applies to all civilisations, all cultures, all people, everywhere, as we are reminded in the Universal Declaration embraced by all states after the last global conflict.

The same in Iran. The same in Russia. The same in China. The same everywhere.

Ultimately, whatever might be done to the Alexei Navalny’s of our human family, however dark the days may seem, the yearning for human freedom is ultimately irrepressible.

Which is why the great American poet Emma Lazarus reminds us afresh this morning of the world’s “huddled masses yearning to be free”, those who continue to flock to the democratic world from dictatorships whose only policy on human freedom is to deny it.

Friends, the price of freedom remains eternal vigilance.

And this vigilance demands courage on all our parts, not least our men and women in uniform as freedom’s guardians.

Lest we forget.

25 April 2024