My family are English with a solid contribution to both World Wars. Others fought in Korea, and in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising. None of them were one whit bothered about public acclamation, remembrance or wreath laying. They eschewed any hero worship or attempt to glorify their role.
The World War 1 diggers I was privileged to know berated me as a child and a teen when I enquired about their exploits, “son you don’t know what it was like, it was a mugs game and l’d rather not talk about it.” As to the question, “Did you march in the parades today?” I usually got the response, “Not into that bullshit son, went to the pub with me mates.” Again there was no glory, no desire for a parade, a day, a wreath. Part of the anger was that it dragged up awful memories, the trauma. Partly it was anger that people who had no idea inserted themselves emotionally into their experience. And politicians who used the day to manipulate and emote in the media to their own ends. Bastards the lot!
They went for adventure, for fun, out of boredom, loyalty, mate-ship. But they never went for the Anzac Religion. Indeed Anzac or Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was only ever the original Mediterranean Expeditionary Force that came to be forged as Anzac in Egypt in 1914. But Anzac Day was, after South Australia started a day in honour of veterans, promulgated as a national day in 1916 in honour of the Anzac force which fought at Gallipoli. When you realise that the Anzac force was part of an Allied force set up to attack the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany, it might make you wonder what on earth we are on about. The Ottoman Empire??
Besides, why not celebrate the second Boer war, Khartoum, Trafalgar, the Viking wars … the possibilities are endless if integrity matters.
The American war of Independence, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, VE Day in Europe, Independence Day in several African nations, that I can understand. Kokoda as an Australian remembrance would hold more value (a point that former PM Paul Keating made in the 90s). What do all these have in common? That they were part of a national need, part of the national defence. But not Anzac, we were not defending our nation, nor were we actually defending England (geographically speaking).
Yes it was horrific, but which war has not been horrific? Yes it was bloody and lives were tragically lost. Napoleon probably lamented too in his day. But Anzac was pointless, not just because it was a mighty cockup, but because it had no point in the first place, not for Australia.
Ironically, the term that is rattled out every Anzac Day, “lest we forget”, is actually a line from a Rudyard Kipling poem ‘Recessional’ which was a quasi liturgical offering against the vain glory of colonial empire, go figure!
Yassmin Abdel-Magied caused a stir last week when she Tweeted and Face Booked a statement referencing Lest We Forget.
Photo: Yassmin Abdel-Magied (not credited).
Abdel-Magied said “LEST WE FORGET (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine)” Difficult to establish any anti Australian content, or any Anzac heresy (for Anzac has indeed become a religion). Abdel-Magied has raised a valid point echoed in several journalism pieces over the week, that we have forgotten the value of what we supposedly value, the freedoms, the rights, the safety, our international obligations. We are shallow when we orgasm over wreath laying but ignore the Anzac prayers for peace, when we fail to protest the concentration camps used to house refugees (and I note that only this week that Pope Francis called the detention camps concentration camps – http://www.dw.com/en/pope-Francis-compares-migrant-detention-centres-to-nazi-concentration-camps/a-385488556), and when we fail to value human life which the diggers were apparently defending in the first place.
The irony of the Alt-Reich response is that they bemoan criticism of our treatment of refugees (our continuing racist White Australia Policy) and defend the barbaric actions of the so-called alliance in the Middle East and beyond. Abdel-Magied is right, they have indeed forgotten the meaning of Anzac Day.
I was heartened to see a response to the Alt-Reich in articles like – ‘Remembering fallen war heroes is insincere if it excludes those suffering today’ (Mariam Tokhi in the Guardian, April 27, 2017) or, ‘Over the top reaction to seven words from Yassmin Abdel-Magied’ in the SMH, April 28′ 2017).
The response from her critics has certainly been over the top and when you see the names you smile because it includes, Abbott, Abetz, Dutton, Hanson, News Corp. But when you see the comments from some of the public it curdles the blood. This is not what my old diggers would do or say. This is exactly what they feared – a false emotive, shallow religion of jingoistic nationalism.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term Shibboleth (an Old Testament term) it simply means now ‘test phrase.’ It is used to determine who is in and who is out. It is often a trick question to trip up an opponent. Anzac is our unfortunate shibboleth to entrap migrants, refugees, and those among us who do not hold to the religion of Anzac. And this shibboleth is now being used to attack Abdel-Magied, and those who stand for truly remembering why we fight wars in the first place.
But Anzac as shibboleth, as religion, has also poisoned our national psyche. It is sadly becoming our identity as a nation, that to be Aussie is to be Anzac, is to be militaristically patriotic. I’m not going in that direction, it’s not my religion, and I believe it spells the end of possibility for a positive Australian identity tied to pioneering, harmony, struggling attempts at multiculturism, science, sport, literature, art, in no particular order.
I’m ashamed of the leaders and public who have been so vitriolic in their response to Abdel-Magied, and I’m embarrassed by the pathetic attempts to relive Anzac as if somehow we were there, we understand and know. Bastards the lot.
lets fail the test, let’s not Anzac, let’s find a new identity instead.
Well said Yassmin.
Lest we remember!