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Glorious heroics or the rule of fear

By Andrew Gunn - posted Friday, 20 July 2007

I only ever knew one of my grandfathers. He was, among other things, a Queensland Lightweight Boxing Champion and a disabled Gallipoli veteran. At about the age of eight, I remember accidentally bouncing a beach ball on his head. I floored him.

This taught me to be careful with grandad. I'd known about his mangled arm but hadn't realised bits of his skull were still in the Middle East.

But it could have been worse. One long-dead uncle was never the same after being buried alive for 36 hours. His official diagnosis was shell shock. These days we'd call it post-traumatic stress disorder, although it could also be known as thinking too much.


My uncle wrote a memoir while trapped in the foxhole. I'm told it's almost unreadable - not because it's illegible but because the contents are deeply disturbing. The memoir's elderly keeper seems reluctant to let others view it, perhaps fearing that readers will be possessed by the same demons. I expect it will one day be buried. May the demons rest in peace.

My father served in New Guinea during The-War-Straight-After-The-War-To-End-All-Wars. It wasn't an experience he'd talk about. As a child, I would no doubt have been thrilled by tales of glorious heroics in defence of the homeland. I didn't get them.

It's said that those who don't learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Perhaps my dad tried to teach me a thing or two.

When I was in primary school, during the Vietnam War, I was given a T-shirt that read "War is not healthy for children and other living things". A more obviously true statement there never could be.

Over the years, I've also seen T-shirts that assert another truism "Shit happens".

Everyone knows it's happening in Iraq.


Recently, it's happened in London too. There have been many deaths, including a sort-of-Islamic-looking man executed by sort-of-civilian-looking police. He was collateral damage in The War Against Terror.

Perhaps I'm getting old, but fighting terror with terror seems absurdly Orwellian.

We're told that young Muslim guys are blowing themselves up to get their hands on 72 virgins or, according to some Islamic scholars, 72 raisins. I don't get that, but it's no weirder than lots of stuff in the Bible. If al-Qaida could provide an email address, in the interests of world peace, I'll happily forward every spammed offer I receive for virgins or dried grapes.

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This is the transcript of a piece presented on Perspective, ABC Radio National on October 7, 2005.

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About the Author

Dr Andrew Gunn is a Brisbane GP, editor of New Doctor, National Treasurer of the Doctors Reform Society and Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, University of Queensland.

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