The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

We again mark the eleventh armistice. We were in Sydney earlier this year, and I was struck by their war memorial; most commonwealth countries have something like the Cenotaph in London, bearing the legend “the glorious dead.” The ANZAC memorial is quite different. Its heart is a statue titled “the sacrifice,” and it was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. It depicts a young warrior, fallen in battle, being carried home dead on his sword and shield after the fashion of ancient greeks. And what makes it so moving, I think, is that it is relentlessly and unsparingly focused on one thing: It says nothing about why the war was fought; what was accomplished and what was not, who won and who lost. It is silent on whether it was worthwhile, and it is majestically uninterested in whether it was glorious. It doesn’t criticize or exult or forgive. “The sacrifice” is a war memorial that recounts one thing and one thing alone: What it cost.

And maybe that’s the lesson in all that business that most needs to be conveyed: Not the glorious dead, but simply the dead. That young men poured their lives into a cause that they were told was important, and the cavalier indifference of the men to whom those lives were entrusted.