“Steel tempered by fire and ice will be harder and will overcome all trials” – Nikolai Ostrovsky, How the Steel Was Tempered
I’m sure I think about it too much. More than any relatively sane person should, anyhow. Not steel that is, but the tempering of our World’s societies and cultures. These days, it’s the differences between Vietnamese and my own Australian culture – which on many levels are worlds apart and stark in contrast. I must say though that in many more ways we are actually quite similar and I rest well at the end of a day knowing that fundamentally, we are!
It’s hard to escape the culture here in Vietnam, even in it’s most modern and wealthiest city, Ho Chi Minh. Even with it’s modern CBD it’s still so Vietnamese it’s not funny and not quite as ‘western’ as other big cities in Asia. Actually, I’m often quite embarrassed when I have to explain our culture back home. I realise how heavily diluted we are with others and how comparatively boring we have become in,thanks to… (drum roll)…. Capitalism! Unfortunately in Vietnam, like many recently or ‘developing’ countries around the world, that monster (along with it’s consumerism baby) has it’s claws well and truly in here and the cuts are getting deeper, bloodier and more infected by the day.
So, lets get back to the steel. It’s a scientific fact that steel after being worked into shape, reheated and then submersed into ice cold water is significantly stronger…. Tempering steel sounds like a terribly awful experience for the poor steel, doesn’t it?!….. So, once this harrowing ordeal is over and the steel’s strength is multiplied it also possess’ a “slight reduction in hardness with much of the internal stresses relieved”. Such things happen to anyone who has made it through any kind of emotionally disturbing experience like a disaster, massacre, terrible accident or war. Hey, when I was 8 years old, even I felt a little stronger after attempting to fight that kid who was a both older and bigger than me!
I’m sure your aware that Vietnam’s ‘steel’ hasn’t been the only one in this big bad world that’s now hardened, though at the moment, it’s the place where I can draw most of my comparisons. My homeland of Australia is quite unique even compared to most ‘western’ countries, due to it’s isolated location, small population, huge landmass and high standard of living. I love Australia for many reasons. The top few being our inspiring cultural diversity in our cities, our vast, untouched, pure nature is absolutely breath-taking and our unusual history is as rich as it is diverse.
I don’t think our society will ever be quite as strong as the Vietnamese though. We haven’t been united like them or the Koreans, Japanese, Afghans, Iraqis, Polish, Russians, English, Germans… and the millions of different societies that have all had to dodge bullets, live under falling bombs or almost starve to death while trying to do so.
In modern day Australia we’re lucky our land has never been aggressively invaded by foreign soldiers. Our women and children have never had to truly fear for their lives and we’ve never had to involuntarily give up our comforts and conveniences. We’ve never had soldiers marching down our streets and threatening us with assault rifles. We’ve never been kept awake at night, listening to the whistling of bombs falling towards the ground or the shaking of the walls after impacting with our neighbour’s houses. The people of our towns have never seen heaped piles of dead innocent bodies and our countryside is not scarred with the memories and graves of hundreds upon thousands of lost civilians and soldiers.
But…. in Australia our Aboriginals have truly had their steel tempered. Our archaic White Australia Policy allowed this to happen for so many years and are truly united people. Many ‘new’ Australians whether they be refugees or migrants also come from terrible experiences in their previous lands, but now, as a whole society we’ve yet to face true hardship in together.
What a lot of non-Australians don’t actually realise that our Australia’s forces have been heavily involved in almost every war within the last century. We’ve sadly had too many Aussies die on foreign soil and for their sacrifice I am so grateful. In those wars of the past century, we had scares and did see at some Japanese bombs dropped in Darwin, mini submarines in Sydney Harbour and German shells at Newcastle in WW2.
In reality, we’ve yet to live though a full scale war and aftermath like most Vietnamese have and in Australia, the smallest continent, we’ve yet to have to work together to save ourselves and the country we truly love. Luckily, as a society, we’ve yet to run in fear of our lives, or fight for them and have never had to prepare our minds to die that we might die, either for the love of our country or in vain at the hands of murderers.
Would you die for your country? I know many that proudly say they would, but don’t think I know of any Aussie who honestly believes that. To sacrifice your life, the only one you’ll have so others might have a chance at a better one. I couldn’t say I would, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t. Juxtaposed against the Vietnamese, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who wouldn’t sacrifice their lives – especially the young. It’s the least they could do to return the favour to their ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’; who had once upon a time not long suffered terrible injustice, many sacrificing their lives so they could have the chance to have a better one. That was over forty years ago now, but future generations here will still carry on many traits passed on and if the call came tomorrow, most people wouldn’t hesitate to courageously go to war.
As much as I love our multicultural existence in Australia I fear, that now days, with so many different races, religions, beliefs and freedoms that we have – I can’t see our society ever being as strong as it may need to be. We aren’t really all on the same page at the moment, which is lovely, but also kinda scary. Our ‘steel’ hasn’t been tempered by fire and ice – no matter how much young Australians think it has – and of course I hope it never has to be either.