Wounded War Veteran to jump off Princes Bridge, Melbourne on Anzac Day
Anti-war activists including Van Thanh Rudd, Sam King and James Crafti placed a hyper-real sculpture created by Rudd of an anonymous Australian war veteran on the railing of Princes Bridge overlooking Melbourne’s Yarra river on Anzac Day 2013. It was a successful intervention by the activists to create an impending suicide attempt by a severely wounded (physically and psychologically) Afghanistan war veteran.
Taking place at approximately 9am, (when the official Anzac Parade starts), the creative action aims to draw attention to the hidden realities of war that so often get masked over and deliberately sidelined by myth-making events such as Anzac Day (Australia).
One of the realities that is frequently glossed over is the psychological impacts felt by soldiers in active duty and those returning after their tours. Veterans are increasingly prone to suicidal thoughts and actions, loneliness, depression, family breakups and job insecurity. Prime Minister Gillard was recently confronted on talkback radio by a soldier who complained about a lack of support for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He spoke of the confusing experience when approaching the Dept of Veterans’ Affairs:
“My experiences with DVA, [Department of Veterans’ Affairs] is a very jagged field and nobody can give you direct answer of where you’re going to be and where you’ll end up, which adds to the stresses of the discharge process,” he said.
Julia Gillard responded with the usual government inaction, “we’re looking into that”.
It is also widely known among the military establishment that it is incredibly difficult for veterans to voice their opinions on this issue. Former commander of Australian troops in Afghanistan, Major General Cantwell recently told the ABC’s 7.30 that:
“Regrettably I still meet many, many veterans who don’t feel they can speak up and if they do speak up they feel they have been systemically punished in a way.”
He also outlined that there will be a tidal wave of veterans with PTSD coming from duty in Afghanistan as troops are withdrawn this year. How the Australian Government responds to this will remain to be seen.
Successive Australian governments have not come very far since former PM Billy Hughes promised the welfare of returned WW1 soldiers in 1917. There must be a link between the myth making of Anzac Day and the reasons why veterans are unable to comfortably voice their mental health grievances, and also their ability to oppose what is clearly the senseless slaughter of innocent civilians and soldiers in imperial war situations.
An article written recently by journalist Marin Flanagan highlights this through WW1 Veteran Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon who wrote to the House of Commons (UK) in 1917:
”I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers … I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.”
In return for Sassoon’s stance, he received calls to be court-martialled for treason. This not unlike the situations facing whistle blowers today such as US private Bradley Manning who is still being very harshly treated by the US military establishment for his exposure of the realities of war.