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Lest we repeat

By Nigel Silas - posted Thursday, 30 April 2015

This year, on the 100th ANZAC anniversary and for the first time in my over 50 plus years, I marched to honour our war veterans.  Even though I was  a very reluctant and conflicted participant and almost pulled out before the formed-up group took its first step, I completed the march from Federation square all the way to the Shrine, ‘amidst cheers, flag-waving and tears’.  It was a very emotional, and confronting experience.

My father fought in the war, but he did most of his fighting after he returned.  I’ve no idea what he was like before he left our shores, but he returned a bitter, violent and abusive alcoholic.  The impact of this on his family, and now their own children, is inestimable.

He yelled, he criticised, he verbally abused.  He hit, he slapped, wrestled, punched and spat.  He aimed armed rifles at neighbours during arguments.  He drove his wife and infant children out of their home in the middle of the night.  He drove his children to live on the street or with often ‘unsuitable’ placements for months on end.  His chronic abuse pushed his wife to frequent bouts of morbid, suicidal depression from which she never really recovered.


He ended up contracting cancer.  But neither that, nor of his tour of active service, was the cause of his premature death.  In the end, with twisted irony, it was the booze that killed him:  living alone, getting drunk and falling over hitting his head.

His alcohol on rare occasions caused him to drop his guard, and he would mention snippets of his active service, and sing military songs, make military jokes, use military vernacular, and even where his military slouched hat.  While he never mentioned details of his experiences, his drunken rages were clearly symptomatic of deep-seated post-trauma – either caused or at least exacerbated by his war experiences  Throughout all of those years, to this day, there was not a support service within cooee.  No mention of psychology, social work, therapy.  Not for him, his wife, nor any of his children. 

The result?  A generation of children – his children -  who suffer the secondary trauma, and now have their own social, psychological and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, social isolation and incompetence.  How will these not be passed on to yet another generation?

Trauma affected these veterans, and because it was not addressed, it then affected their families.  If the cycle is not broken, their family’s families, will also be impacted, and soon enough the impacts of war are perpetuated to every new generation.  The lasting battles of these wars are fought not on battlefields, but amongst the demons in the veteran’s mind, and in turn the minds of those around him.

So why did I complete the march?   It was not to acknowledge, or even honour, my father.  The consequences of his mistreatment still run deep and forgiveness is neither relevant nor likely – although I now am forced to concede that there may have been some mitigation to his cruelty.  He, like many others did a service to their nation, and I acknowledge this and the price they paid.  But as much as I marched for those veterans, I also marched for the generation that followed them – to acknowledge the price that they paid and continue to pay.

We spend a lot of time, money and effort preventing wars, as we should.  We are now increasing our efforts in preventing and treating trauma for those military personnel who must engage in wars.  But we should never forget the generations that follow them who still suffer, often in silence, the trauma our veterans brought home.


We will certainly remember them – some of us can never forget.

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About the Author

Nigel Silas the the nom de plume for a Melbourne university researcher.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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