“War is what happens…

…when language fails.”
― Margaret Atwood

There’s something about the astonishing horror of war that brings out the most human of stories. Spanning all thematic arcs from tragedy to triumph these narratives explore grand notions of destiny, glory and patriotism alongside intimate theatres of love, personal sacrifice and extreme resilience.

Examining wars real and imaginary, ancient and present, from classics to modern Booker-prize winners there’s something in this list for everyone.

1915: A Novel of Gallipoli (1979)1984-by-opallynn-d4lnuoh
Roger McDonald

1984 (1949)
George Orwell

A Farewell to Arms (1929)
Ernest Hemingway

All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)
Erich Maria Remarque

Atonement (2001)
Ian McEwan

Birdsong (1993)Birdsong-Sebastian-Faulks
Sebastian Faulks

Catch-22 (1961)
Joseph Heller

Cold Mountain (1997)
Charles Frazier

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
Ernest Hemingway

Gone With the Wind (1936)
Margaret Mitchell

Matterhorn (2009)9780802145314_p0_v1_s260x420
Karl Marlantes

Regeneration (1991)
Pat Barker

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
Kurt Vonnegut

The Book Thief (2005)
Markus Zusak

The Iliad (800 BC)
Homer

The Kite Runner (2002)ou-cover
Khaled Hosseini

The March (2005)
E. L. Doctorow

The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013)
Richard Flanagan

The Things They Carried (1990)
Tim O’Brien

The Quiet American (1955)
Graham Greene

Tomorrow, When the War Began (1993)17905709
John Marsden

War & Peace (1869)
Leo Tolstoy

War Horse (1982)
Michael Morpurgo

Elise Janes

ANZAC Day after 100 years

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon

Tomorrow morning many of us will wake in the dark to early alarms and make the devoted trek to a Dawn Service at one of countless events held in parks and amphitheaters around the country.

We will stand in the chilly pre-dawn air bearing poppies and wreathes. We will sing the Anthem and recite the Ode. We will listen to the Last Post and maintain a minute’s silence with a shiver on our skin.

1024px-Anzac-square-night-brisbane-may2012 - Karen Nielsen

The Eternal Flame in Anzac Square, Brisbane. Photo: Karen Nielsen.

Australians are devoted to the ANZAC legend. It is a source of national pride, a symbol of our gratitude and a demonstration of our deep enduring respect for the men and women who won us our lucky freedom.

Far from a celebration of victory, like other wartime anniversaries such as Remembrance Day, ANZAC Day pays tribute to the beginning of a long and bloody campaign waged on the Turkish Peninsula that ultimately failed in its objective. It’s not a celebration, it is a commemoration: a moment to consider what it really means to be an Australian.

Anzac Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is the day on which we remember Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. The spirit of Anzac, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity.

Australian War Memorial

This ANZAC tradition is not one we take lightly. Almost every Australian town, no matter how bijou, will have an ANZAC Park with a memorial dedicated to the men who lost their lives on that day, or who fought in some war at some point in the history of our small but wiry nation. It represents for us not only the integrity of Australian mate-ship but more importantly what we, a small and relatively insignificant nation, are capable of when we band together and put our shoulder to the wheel.

Like most Australians I am fiercely proud of our ANZAC history. Even though I’m several generations removed from the First World War I am immensely moved by the ceremony and what it represents.

My grandfather was a naval engineer in the Second World War. ANZAC Day attendance was an annual requirement in my formative years, a meaningful day for our family, blurred in my child’s eyes by the mystery of time and the greatness of the past. As I grew to understand the true scope of the event it only became more significant and more incredible to me. It’s something that was part of the fabric of my life and the life of my family.

And yet on this, the 100th anniversary of ANZAC Day, I am led to ponder the nature of the cultural tributes we pay to our wartime history. Most Australians will have seen the movie Gallipoli at some point in their lives, a beautifully understated and shockingly realistic depiction of the journey young men faced when they left their hometown for the battlefront. Yet the most recent retelling of the event, a well-produced mini-series that aired on Channel Nine, struggled to compete in ratings with inane reality TV shows.

Gallipoli

What’s wrong with us? Some commentators believe that the more removed we become from the experiences of war, the less new generations care for remembrances such as ANZAC Day. I disagree, having taught in many schools where students are intensely aware of the significance of the occasion. And yet if society is somehow losing perspective on ANZAC Day, isn’t that our fault? As Australians it’s our responsibility to keep our remarkable heritage alive in the social and cultural consciousness of our own nation.

Unlike many nations around the world, our military history is actually something to be proud of. We have never initiated a conflict with another nation and yet we have always come to the aid of our allies when fighting for peace and the civil rights of cultures and nations far removed from ours.

Our soldiers are renowned for their strength, resilience, loyalty and commitment. Despite being such a small nation, in many ways we have a greater fighting spirit than countries far larger and more powerful than us.

And yet what are we doing with this incredible part of our identity? Many Australians are more familiar with the conflicts of the USA or Europe than that of their own homeland. Simply because of the amount of cultural currency we attribute to the exploits of other nations compared to that of our own.

I have no doubt this is largely because of long-entrenched national identity problems such as the ubiquitous Cultural Cringe, somehow wrapped up in our ridiculous obsession with self-deprecation and achievement-avoidance known as the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

In reality, we are now better known around the world for these two insecurity issues than we are for the actual reality of our nation’s history and achievements. How absurd.

In fact, how shamefully embarrassing. Do we have such a low opinion of ourselves that this is the legacy we have created? Or do we just care so little about anything that we simply can’t be bothered?

As I think about it now I find it utterly dumbfounding. I’m frustrated by the lack of understanding we have about our own significance and our own cultural strength. I’m angered by the subsequent lack of understanding that this generates in the eyes of the world. Why don’t we celebrate our history? Why don’t we make it part of our identity? Why don’t we think it’s even worth the value of artistic effort?

In truth there’s a vast disconnect between our world stance and our true national identity. And it’s our fault. What are we going to do about it?

We owe it to ourselves to retell the stories that shaped our identity as a nation, to learn how to celebrate our achievements instead of hiding them behind false modesty. Really, we owe it to the world to stand up and own our history, to reverse the negative legacy we have built for ourselves.

But most of all we owe it to the men and women who made possible the freedom we enjoy today, and upon whose sacrifice our identity is built.

 

Elise Janes

On “Gimme Shelter”

It’s 1969, and the Beatles perform together for the last time on the roof of Apple headquarters in London as the US military begins a clandestine bombing campaign in Cambodia. It’s four years since the US officially entered Vietnam, and President Richard Nixon vows to begin withdrawing ground troops by September. Neil Armstrong sets foot on the moon. Members of the Manson Family murder Sharon Tate and friends at the Benedict Canyon mansion she shares with husband Roman Polanski, as the US National Guard contains anti-war demonstrators with rubber bullets and skin stinging spray following the arrest of the Chicago Eight. Moratorium marches erupt across the US. Journalist Seymour Hersh publishes details of the My Lai massacre and the Rolling Stones record Gimme Shelter with Meryl Clayton singing a last-minute backing track that lifts the song through the roof.

gimmeshelter 1 imagesMick Jagger called Gimme Shelter an end of days song, a bleak and foreboding mirror to the insanity of the Vietnam War, race riots, anti-war riots, activists and anarchists and revolutionaries of all persuasions clashing with police from Chicago to Paris to New York. It’s a slow build, with Keith Richards picking a careful path through the overture before Meryl Clayton’s haunted vocal sweeps in like a fog, a mist, a darkening of something, a brewing, the helicopters in that scene from Apocalypse Now backlit by the sunrise, the moment before a scare, an explosion, a gunshot, the sound cranked out of old Triumph speakers to give it a bit more grunge, like something put together on the fly, the run, fleeing from something with good reason because they’re coming and they’re coming for you! Then Charlie Watts steps in with two snap reports on the tom and away we go.

Oh, a storm is threat’ning

My very life today

If I don’t get some shelter

Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away

It’s just a shot away

 

MansonAltamontKeith Richards, who actually wrote the song, doesn’t recall being infused with the same social outrage or conscience as Jagger, but it’s sure as hell infused with something. Gimme Shelter packs all the heft of an anti-war song, but unlike Sunday Bloody Sunday or Edwin Starr’s War, it’s rarely pulled out by filmmakers to soundtrack peace rallies or brand a sentiment. There’s something about Gimme Shelter, a menace, that lends itself equally to a helicopter gunship flying low over the Mekong Delta or the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the post-war diaspora of Vietnamese refugees that literally took to the sea. Seeking shelter. And many of those refuges travelled south down the Indonesian archipelago to Australia, where they were resettled without being interned in detention camps or issued with Temporary Protection Visas. The then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser died in March 2015. At his funeral, members of the Vietnamese community attended to pay their respects carrying banners and placards applauding him as a champion of humanity. Their appeal for shelter has not been answered in the same way since.

AltamontGimme Shelter appeared on the 1969 album Let It Bleed. On December 6 of that year, during a promotional tour of the US, the Rolling Stones held a free concert at the Altamont Speedway in San Francisco. The local chapter of the Hells Angels was asked to provide security. They were reportedly paid in beer. In a documentary of the event, aptly named Gimme Shelter, Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old arts student from Berkeley, is seen lunging towards the stage with what appears to be a gun. He is stopped by members of the Hells Angels armed with weighted pool cues and motorcycle chains, then beaten to the ground, and stabbed five times in the upper back. Meredith Hunter died at the scene. He was one of four to die that day at Altamont, an event promoters tried to sell as an alternative Woodstock but is now viewed by many as the symbolic end of an era. The Sixties. However the Sixties is seen, lost and remote to some, remembered by others as the most colourful, violent, ground-breaking decade of the century, it was the first time in history where the universe seemed to align in such a way as to create a space for thousands of people across the globe to stand up and in one voice say: What binds us is stronger and more valuable than what divides us. The anti-war movement. Feminism. Civil Rights. Gay Pride. In some ways, the anti-establishment movements of today have their roots in the Sixties. And behind every banner, every charge at the barricades, every Molotov cocktail and upturned car, what motivates the anger and passion and theatre and violence can be found in the last refrain of Gimme Shelter sung loud from the rooftops and pavements of Chicago, Paris, New York.

I said love, sister,

It’s just a kiss away

It’s just a kiss away….

Sean Macgillicuddy

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vintage-hearing-aid

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Sir P Speaks: That vain stab at immortality

Dear Sir Partridge

My husband and I have 10 children. Should we have another one so we can field a complete cricket team? Or should we get a pet? If so, which species and breed? Seven of my children want a border collie; two want a cheetah; one wants a meerkat to feed to the cheetah.

Yours in desporation (desperation and adoration)

Beatrice S

vintage family

It’s funny you should mention this, Beatrice, because of late my legion devotees have been hounding me to breed (usually with them). “Do it for the sake of humanity!” they wail. But I refuse. Here’s why: my cleaning lady told me she once walked into her bathroom to find her two-year-old ‘cleaning’ his teeth with the toilet brush. She took this incident in her stride; I have entirely failed to do so.

Yes, having children passes the baton of your title and/or surname to another generation in the great spiralling relay race our DNA makes us run. But in exchange there is much to be endured. One analogy is that children are hugely demanding, wildly expensive pets it takes years to house train. Another is that they are helpless, fickle, merciless, deranged masters who are as unwilling to pay you as they are unable.

Kiddy-winks are diametrically opposite to how they should be. These are the phases a child, in an ideal world, would pass through:

  • 0–12 months: lounging about in their cot, sleeping more or less constantly and making charming gurgling sounds when required
  • 1–5 years: impeccably behaved, self-vaccinating creatures of delight who excel in all sporting and quasi-academic endeavours, putting all your friends’ kids to shame
  • 6–12: perfectly capable of managing your tax and other financial affairs, mixing you a decent cocktail, and capable of and inclined to cook and clean without any expectation of payment
  • 13–18: never surly, sullen or in any way inclined to interact with the wrong type of boy/girl or express any interest in becoming an actor, dancer, poet, artist, writer etc.

There is also a need to interrogate your ancestry and ask yourself what it really has to offer. I am the eldest of the Gormley mass spawning and neither I nor my six siblings are terrific advertisements for passing on our genome. They are all in varying degrees deranged, profligate and perverted:

  • Pemmican – buffoon, male palm-reader, thinks he’s a hipster
  • Petunia – the brains of the outfit but a bit dry and tiresome, truth be told
  • Puddock – amateur mortician and professional taxidermist (or possibly the other way round), Internet troll and general shit
  • Plenitude – psychopath and femme fatale (sorry, Plenny dear, but it’s true)
  • Prunella – lady drunkard; cockatiel-fancier; psoriasis-sufferer
  • Picaroon – diminutive gigolo and all-round Queenslander

So, my dear, ditch the Beatrice XI idea and opt for a pet. Forget the border collie though. Offer your kids either a stick insect or an orang-utan. If they plump for the former, your troubles are over. If they select the latter, don’t be dismayed. These excellent apes are fantastic animal companions for two reasons: a) they make cheap, if mediocre, butlers, and b) when the time comes, their pelts make exceptional throw rugs.

Luv-dubs,

Gormley

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Quid est veritas?

What is truth?

The quest for an answer to this proposition is arguably the driving force behind all human endeavour, sitting at the heart of scientific, artistic, philosophical, historical, cultural and ideological pursuit. Certainly in literature it forms the central narrative drive, propelling action and informing the struggles and motivations of protagonists and antagonists alike. It seems to represent the core struggle and mystery of life’s frustrations.

Significant in literary and historical record, these words are attributed to Pontius Pilate, a question asked during the trial of Jesus of Nazareth in an exchange between the two men that has long been the source of much commentary and analysis.

However one approaches Good Friday, whether it be a day of religious, philosophical or simply social significance, the events that form the basis of our cultural recognition of Easter bear some consideration. As with any historical episode that has become part of cultural identity, the story of Good Friday is as significant for its wider implications as for its immediate context.

Within the many layers of narrative and religious symbolism, Pontius Pilate is one character that lends the narrative a deeper resonance of meaning. Confronted by his subjects, whose laws and customs he did not share, to execute a seemingly innocent man on the eve of their most important religious festival, Pilate faced one of the most bizarre and confusing moments of recorded Roman government.

Pilate

Roman prefects were not known for their light hand or mild manners. They were inevitably promoted to office because of their proven military strength, adherence to judicial code, and practical understanding of the intricacies of political strategy and rational decision-making.

Pilate’s apparent disinclination to condemn Jesus is clearly represented in all recorded accounts of the event, but is illustrated most intimately in the canonical book of John where Pilate questions the Nazarene to ascertain a reason for the Jews’ sudden and unanimous call for his death.

Caught between the politically serious accusations of treason, the increasingly violent demands of the crowd, and his personal unwillingness to convict a man who had seemingly done no harm, Pilate asks Jesus point blank: “Are you the King of the Jews?” This is the question that initiates their short but compelling exchange, a conversation that is unlike any other recorded between an accused criminal and the man who legally controls his fate. Far from defending himself, Jesus remains strangely obtuse.

Commentators and narrative adaptations have portrayed this interaction from many different perspectives, some interpreting that Pilate was questioning Jesus in jest or that he was supremely disinterested in the whole proceeding and in the affairs of Jews in general. However other glimpses into Pilate’s nature provided by the canonical, apocryphal and historical records portray him as a man who wouldn’t have hesitated on a conviction had he not had cause to doubt Jesus’ guilt. This belies a much greater political if not personal investment in the situation than some commentators would claim, indicating, in fact, the very opposite of indifference: a deep and enduring reluctance to condemn the Nazarene.

It is this reluctance that leads to Pilate’s persistent questioning, an effort to determine if Jesus does in fact believe himself to be a King. Jesus’ simple but confounding responses eventually elicit from Pilate the startlingly personal and equally rhetorical question: “What is truth?”

The proposition is famously left unanswered. Nietzsche considers this to be further evidence of Pilate’s scorn for Jesus, and yet Pilate’s direct response is to publicly declare: “He is not guilty of any crime.”

Furthermore Pilate attempts a political move to dissuade the angry crowd, by appealing to the ritual of releasing a prisoner on the eve of Passover. In an almost comical comparison he presents them with the choice between releasing Jesus or Barabbas, a convicted murderer. The crowd, as we know, chooses Barabbas.

Pilate continues to try, even then, to dissuade the Jewish leaders, repeatedly stating his lack of conviction and famously washing his hands of the situation in one account. In light of the context it does not seem likely that Nietzsche and similar commentators were correct in believing that Pilate held Jesus in scorn, much less that he had no interest in the man’s fate.

In his last recorded exchange with Jesus, Pilate tries a final desperate question, strange for its superfluity, perhaps in an attempt to clarify Jesus’ earlier statement that his kingdom is “not of this world”, the one caveat that prevented Pilate from ruling a conviction of treason.

Pilate asks him “Where are you from?” but, as John records, “Jesus gave no answer.”

The same void of response is what makes our titular question so lastingly perplexing. For some reason, in this narrative, we see Pilate thrust into the role of the Everyman. A public figure of great authority, and vested with political power, suddenly in a private aside is reduced to the fundamental human condition where he wrestles with the logic and meaning of his own situation.

“What is truth?”

The lack of an answer does not serve to undermine the significance of the exchange, as some have posited. Instead it carries a much more essential purpose: to force us, like Pilate, to continue in the asking.

 

Elise Janes

 

Being a writer: what do you need to make it happen?

I once heard someone say, ‘We would never talk to another person the way we talk to ourselves.’ As writers our self-talk can be highly critical and extremely biting:tumblr_mbffz2ntyg1rtheg4o1_400-323x450

‘This is terrible.’

‘I’ve written nothing today.’

‘I’ll never finish this.’

‘I’m a failure.’

While we’re not always gentle with ourselves, sometimes the gloves need to come off. There’s a state of agitation that exists between satisfaction and dissatisfaction where creativity and motivation are born: the constant arm wrestle between low and high pressure weather systems that vomit thunder and spit lightning.

In these moments we can be at our very best and at our very worst – the line can be very thin. It’s not easy to be both Good Cop and Bad Cop to the vulnerable and sometimes insecure writer inside of us. As I battled, knee-deep, through the detritus of rejection and seeming failure during the latter part of last year I found my only companion was Bad Cop. It wasn’t long before his tired cynicism began to sound like Truth.

And just as I felt the vestiges of one novel and eighteen-months of work slip through my fingers, I experienced a moment of quiet calm. Soon though, whispers of doubt grew louder and seeds of undoing sprouted stems. It was as I resisted this return to negativity that a question emerged from the ether of my subconscious: What do I need to write?

A challenge and carrot. A push and a pull. In the tug-of-war between Good Cop and Bad Cop, the little agitated atoms within me were shaken into a state of heated friction and proposed a way forward.

It didn’t take me long to come up with the three core things I needed to enable me to write and remain committed to my practice of writing on a regular basis:pencil-writing-ftr

 

  1. Space
  2. Time
  3. Energy

 

  1. Space

Need:    Somewhere I can go where it’s conducive to be a writer and to write.

Action:  I converted the spare room in my house into a writer’s den. I moved in my book cases and stacks of CDs. My notes and plot structures adorn the walls. I’m cocooned in my craft and my stories and my characters.

Result:  I’m writing more regularly, more spontaneously and I’m really enjoying how and what I’m creating.

 

  1. Time

Need:    To carve out thirty, sixty or more minutes per day (or at least five days a week) to write.

Action:  I’m eating more lasagne. I’ve found the 40 minutes while the dish is on the oven a great time to work on some new scenes. On the nights where I’m not eating lasagne it’s either the second I get home from work (thirty minutes of power writing leaves me free to relax for the rest of the evening) or just after a scalding hot shower (the ideas I have in the shower never cease to amaze me).

Result:  Slowly but surely the first draft of my new project is coming together. I’m making steady progress which is very satisfying and keeps Bad Cop at bay.

 

  1. Energy

Need:    To not be fatigued, hungry or tired when I sit down to write. To have the reserves to bring passion and intensity and clarity to my writing.

Action:  Eat better throughout the day. A better breakfast. A good lunch. Some fruit. Something in the afternoon before I leave work. A good dinner when I get home. Exercise – basketball mid-week, football on the weekends. Get a good night’s sleep.

And when I’m not writing, don’t attack myself for not writing. If I’m going to chill out and watch a movie or spend time with a loved one or friend, enjoy that as much as I can. No guilt. No regrets.

Result:  I’m able to get a lot done in a limited amount of time. My writing desk is at a height where I can comfortably stand and type – so I do. And this allows me to bring a lot of movement and dynamism to how write. I’m having so much fun doing what I’m doing.

 

This is the prescription that’s helping me stay on the edge and be sharp in my practice. It’s going to be different for everyone. Each of us will have different elements we’ll need to bring to the table to make our writing work for us. So there’s no one size fits all approach here.

But by starting with one simple and direct question, you’ll be amazed, given application, patience and dedication, where it will lead you. Here’s the challenge:

What do you need to write?

 

Ken Ward

 

Body Image credit: morethanflesh / http://www.lydiamccall.com/heal-negative-body-image/