Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 22:25 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 22:25 | SYDNEY

Military funerals: Where does it end?


Sam Roggeveen


26 August 2011 13:07

Here's a question for those who argue that political leaders should attend military funerals because it reminds those leaders of the true cost of war: how far do you want to press this argument?

If attendance at funerals does indeed serve this larger purpose, should we also insist that our political leaders, say, visit the families of the fallen soldiers? How often? Should the leaders also be asked to watch combat footage taken by our troops? Would it help them understand the true cost of war if they learnt the names and faces of the enemy combatants our soldiers have killed? Should they be made to watch the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan?

Or let's take the same argument in a different direction: should the Minister for Health attend memorial services for those who die in our public hospitals? Should the Minister for Transport attend the funerals of car accident victims in order to fully understand the importance of proper road maintenance?

Our politicians are seldom as wise as we would like them to be, and we should try to educate them as best we can so that they make better decisions. But asking them to attend funerals in order to teach them lessons about war seems like a pretty inefficient way to produce good policy, and also slightly disrespectful of the dead. If our political leaders are going to attend funerals, it should be to represent the nation, pay their respects, and observe a solemn religious ceremony, no more.

But as James Brown said, those purposes have been fulfilled for many decades by Remembrance Day, and although the practice of political leaders attending military funerals has quickly become entrenched, it is still reasonably novel. The onus is on those who support the new practice to explain why the earlier arrangement was insufficient.

Photo of Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance by Flickr user entity119.