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Razer: What Anzac Day lets us forget

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There are plenty of good reasons to loathe the cultural dominance of Anzac Day and these start but hardly end with the peculiar fact of our national refusal to learn that Middle Eastern war is generally a pretty shit idea. I mean, what’s the point of shedding tears for our boys brutally slain in the service of a cruel expansionist power when we just do it all over again?

Then, of course, there’s the control of the triumphalist event afforded to the RSL, an organisation that by no means represents all of those who have suffered in war. That this group has the power to legitimise participation in what is, purportedly, an inclusive national day of mourning when they have previously delegitimised participation by Australian women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is total pants. The cold, masculinist embrace by the RSL of those who have fallen has left, and still leaves, many unsupported.

And then there’s the curious hypocrisy that allows a nation to countenance claims that commemoration of the many massacres of indigenous Australians is a “black arm-band” view of history when it appears to be perfectly happy to build fantasies of a Disneyfied past. We are not prepared to grieve for one set of bloody mistakes because, apparently, the descendants of the victims should just “get over it”. Yet, we seem to experience no trouble at all in being informed by false history when it suits the maintenance of our mythology. We’re not “getting over” this fiction of heroism in a hurry.

All of these critiques, which I consider entirely valid, have been amply made today and in previous years. It’s quite possible that many Australians feel as Alec Campbell, our last Anzac, did, who reportedly said at his death bed, “’For god’s sake, don’t glorify Gallipoli—it was a terrible fiasco, a total failure and best forgotten”.

The words of the Tasmanian soldier and unionist, which were themselves an act of great courage, are more stirring to me today than the Ode of Remembrance. And, yes, I know that I have never fought for my nation etc., but, heck, we’re not exactly a military super power and so, the likelihood that you have either is really very slim. Don’t go on with “you don’t know hardship and masculine friendship forged in war” when (a) you probably haven’t and (b) intimate knowledge of terror is not a prerequisite to a critique of how we perform history in this psychologically fragile nation.

This is not, for a minute, to discredit the extraordinary sacrifice that Australian men and women have chosen to make, or—let’s be honest—been forced to make in war. I am quite capable of fairly high emotion when thinking of expendable bodies left to rot in trenches for Britain, in the jungles of Vietnam for the US or in the plains of Iraq for goodness-only-knows what.

This is not to take a dump on the Ode or the war dead. It is, however, to say that Anzac Day has acquired, in addition to its function of exclusion of many harmed in battles for land, the function of making us forget.

And, it’s the wrong kind of forgetting and not at all the sort of thing that Campbell recommended in his last moments of life. To see war, whose study has the potential to be such a great university, as a simple matter of honour and dishonour is only to dishonour its dead.

Gallipoli was a farce. It was a needless, poorly strategised surrender of young life. Vietnam was a conscripted embarrassment to which 60,000 Australian bodies were offered for no reason nobler than “we don’t like communism”. Iraq remains, even to the best minds in foreign policy, a riddle wrapped in an enigma swathed in the flag of nationalism and hunger for trade with the US. If We Will Remember Them, let us remember them. Let us remember why their lives were taken, transformed or cruelly pressed into the service of domestic politicians seeking re-election.

There is so much to be gained from a true engagement with our past and so much to be lost from a cursory reading of history. There is so much we owe the men and women who died and fought in wars outside, and inside, our borders and we have managed to forget this debt in a nativist carnival of easy self-love.

If we’re going to do this remembrance thing, let’s do it. Let’s not say there is a right way or a right people to remember when considering the cost of war. Let’s look, as we annually pretend that we are, back into the history of sacrifice and really see what it can teach us.

Among those lessons is not that Gallipoli was a moment we must relive with a series of cheesy simulations—if you want to see history first as tragedy, then as farce, look no further than the historically irrational Camp Gallipoli. Among these lessons is not, however much the honourable Campbell pleaded for it, that we must forget. It is that we must truly remember.


62 responses to “Razer: What Anzac Day lets us forget

  1. Who is the “we”? Consider that for a moment. Not me and not you, obviously. So who was in government when these troops were committed to war. We live in a country were the armed services go where they are sent by governments (that is why we don’t have coups). What we do is honor those who, sometimes despite misgivings, follow the directions of government and if those directions are ill-conceived and misguided it is no fault of those who followed the directions. So stop trying to dishonour those who do the will of the government of the day because they are sworn to do so. Allow their friends and family to honour them for following the orders they have no option but to obey Thank whatever god you may have that they do and that our armed services do not overthrow governments, and allow them the dignity to be proud of their service to their country. After all, you and I do elect governments, the governments that send men and women to war. So the point would be to look at the history of who has made these decisions and not vote for the party or parties that commit our young men and women to futile conflicts. Very easy to sit on the sidelines and take potshots when you have very little knowledge and or sympathy for those who serve our country or those whose lives have been affected by conflicts that they maybe didn’t want, agree with or commit to. Why not list the governments that made these decisions and their political leanings. Mind you, if it hadn’t been for some very brave men and women in the Pacific region you might have been writing your crap in Japanese.

    1. Ten-out-of-ten for a spectacular misreading. D- for comprehension, obviously.
      (Teacher’s notes: To state what is, I believe, obviously stated: Anzac Day is not a fearless look at the past. And, as even a little look at the War Memorial website will attest, has often overlooked the fallen. And continues to do so. It’s not magically inclusive just because you would like to believe it is. And we could go on all night about who cares most—I mean, obviously, it’s you—but where would that get us but into a pointless argument. Oh. Jeez. The clue is in the first sentence “the cultural dominance of Anzac Day”. Which is a different thing to the day itself, no?)
      But, an A+ for bravely going there and actually telling me that speaking Japanese is something I might be doing. FFS.

    2. There’s no problem with Australia having a genuine day of remembrance of servicemen (and women) who lost their lives. The problem with Anzac Day is that it has become our de facto National Day. It commemorates a day on which we began a military campaign organized and run by someone else for someone else’s interests. The same can be said for all wars which preceded and followed (except for WW2).

      Do we have a day to commemorate the Kokoda Campaign?

      No, the problem is that we don’t have anything to commemorate where we did something significant for ourselves. The British, to their credit, pushed us out the door, we (or at least the so called conservatives) wanted to remain colonials. The reluctant nation indeed.

      Had we voted for a republic in November 1999, we could have had a day on which we actually did something for ourselves without seeking someone else’s permission or direction.

      Our National Day actually commemorates being someone else’s flunkies

    3. “… you might have been writing … in Japanese.”

      Having rather spectacularly lost WW2, the Japanese don’t go in for bellicose chauvinistic celebrations such as Australia Day and Anzac Day have become.

      I tease my Japanese-born wife about it, but Japan actually has some intelligent and thought-provoking national public holidays.

      They are also practical in scheduling an extra public holiday for the day between two public holidays that are two days apart during a work week. This year, the third week in September in Japan begins with a national public holiday for “Marine Day”, which is on a Monday and one day before the national holiday for “Respect For The Aged Day”, which falls two days before the national public holiday for “Vernal Equinox Day”.

      So the Wednesday between “Respect For The Aged Day” and “Vernal Equinox Day” is a special public holiday this year — it is called “Bridge Public Holiday.”

      [apologies if this is too far on a tangent — but the “you could have all been speaking Japanese” is a furphy that does rile me somewhat at times — Japan never seriously considered invading or annexing Australia. The idea came from some hubristic middle-ranking naval officers in February 1942 and was quashed in March 1942. It was most effective as propaganda to aid the anti-Japan war effort in Australia. The year 2016 is long past the use-by date for early 1940s wartime propaganda]

  2. I think the major reason the “Anzac legend” still gets dragged out year after year in all the mainstream media is purely for marketing purposes. Just watching Channel Seven tenuously equating the courage of footballers with the courage of the diggers was enough to make me barf.

    1. I think it’s more multipart than that, Emma. While it’s true that the market uses this moment of emotion, just as it uses others, to sell things, the day and the particular kind of remembrance itself remains very important to a good many Australians.
      Of course, it’s easy in the current era to say that national identity doesn’t matter. But, for as long as there are nation states, it will. And I do get that Australians feel the need to define themselves. That they do this with recourse to forgetfulness is a great shame.
      And, that they do it with increasingly scant regard for (a) our history as the servant of greater powers and (b) our crimes against the first inhabitants of this land makes the matter of our identity all the more frustrated. Unless we use a day like Anzac Day to say “yes, we are always fighting others’ wars” and “yes, we have a festering sore that underscores our foundation myth”, we’ll get nowhere,
      Just to say that it’s more than marketing.

      1. oh I think in this conservative climate anyone who is not a bobblehead dog going along the lines of the status quo is unfortunately, ‘brave’. Look at whats happened to Scott Mcintyres career for speaking out about women raped by our war ‘heroes’. Ive been the lone wolf in early childhood forums as to why ‘celebrating’ anzac day and its meanings (you know, nationalism and all that) is kinda creepy. Its so much easier to remain silent, when the majority lack basic critical thinking skills.

  3. As an ex serviceman who has seen active service I would suggest people like Emma have never sacrificed or would ever sacrifice anything to protect their comfy little lifestyle. They leave it to us and then complain about the way we do it. You have no right to judge us from the comfort of your armchair.

    Leane – I say to you that rational, honest and brave are probably not qualities you possess. Fortunately we dont leave the defence of our way of life to people like Helen either. The very freedom of speach she uses to her advantage was won by people who defended this nation. Those that didnt come back dont expect people like you to either understand, applaud us or even condome what was done but at least have the decency to shut your mouth during this very reverant time, so we can remember their sacrifices.

    1. Andy – the military do not have a monoply on freedom of speech or ‘defending’ this country. The comfy little lifestyles are made by us all and not by just by the Military. Certainly the role of defense is crucial but it’s not the be all of our ‘comfy little lifestyle. Its that kind of thinking – a benevolent military where the military are the ones that defend us and know what’s best, that leads countries into military dictatorships and Police states. So please do not use that argument to silence those who might raise questions about how we as a community respond to war and to ‘commemorating’ war. My grandfather was in the first world war in France and suffered the rest of his because of it, but he never once suggested that we not be critical. Surely a day like Anzac day would be the best time to look critically at how we remember or treat war as an opportunity to really appreciate the sacrifices. Shutting ones mouths ? Surely not.

      1. Well said, John.

        “The very freedom of speach (sic) she uses to her advantage was won by people who defended this nation.”

        Well, actually no. That’s a point made within Helen’s typically acerbic article, perhaps you might want to reread it? The obvious fact is that we’ve gone to war at the behest of other countries for often dubious reasons. Was Vietnam really about defending Australia from threats to our freedom? Given we lost that one, how much freedom did we lose? 10% of our freedom? More? Less? The devastation within Vietnam and the consequent bloodbath in Cambodia represented a bit more of a loss of freedom for them, I would have thought. Iraq has never posed a credible threat to the West, notwithstanding dramatic marketing campaigns from the Reagan-wannabes in the West Wing. Dubya’s war against the desert sand solved precisely nothing, cost trillions, and resulted in thousands of poor Southern folk coming home in pieces (dead and alive). Not to mention inspiring a new generation to grow up with the mission of exacting revenge against the West. WWII was created out of the mess left behind by WWI – global imperial powers moving their pieces around a 1:1 scaled game of Risk. The soldiers involved in any and all of these modern conflicts were told to do insanely heroic things in the name of freedom, God, flag and empire, but those rallying cries have proven to be considerably less convincing with the benefit of some decades of hindsight. If they died for us, let us do them the honour of being honest about the less than heroic reasons why they were sent off to die or to return traumatised and incapacitated. Being critical of our involvement in a series of tragically pointless wars doesn’t imply a lack of respect for the fallen – that’s a lazy argument. Just like the rejection of a national flag that doesn’t include the British flag within it, because “they died for that flag”.

        Let’s stop mindlessly repeating mantras like that and similar – “they died so we could be free”. Freedom, including freedom of speech, is hard to define. Talk to indigenous people about all that wonderful freedom the British brought with them in 1788. Whatever freedom actually is, it is established and maintained by political will and consensus, and a fair bit of vigilance in the face of those who would tell us to trust that they know what it best for us. It’s ironic to say the least that genuine losses of freedom have been instituted in recent years with the expressed purpose of preserving it – that is, sweeping powers granted to security agencies to monitor their own citizens without the safety net of judicial oversight. Metadata requests being used to target journalists who earn a rapidly diminishing crust from trying to uncover government activity that they don’t want the average Joe to find out about. Don’t believe the hype.

    2. In what way did our involvement in Gallipoli, Vietnam or Iraq protect our comfy lifestyle and freedom of speech? The pacific war is the only military involvement that could be afforded that title

    3. So you held a gun and you can tell people like me to shut up. Well I’m going to suggest that you have no evidence to tell me that holding your little gun back then (when?) made any difference to freedom of speech ‘in this land’ because apparently now that you have not got your hands on your ‘weapon’ you can tell me to shut up.

    4. My intention was not to discount the great sacrifices made by the soldiers who fought for our country and were often forced to do so. It was to point out how the media drag it out year after year as a way to sell stuff. Wouldn’t have thought that was the way you’d want to do it either. It’s these trite reasons the media outlets for extolling the Anzac legend for the sake of selling ad space that gets me – surely that would make an ex serviceman feel angry too.

    5. Saying that the diggers at Gallipoli “defended this nation” is drawing a very long bow. The British Empire, perhaps. And look how that turned out!

  4. Helen.
    I remember the live broadcast you did while you you had your genitals pierced and I became a life long fan because you were real.
    6 months ago my dad for the first time told me that he machine gunned Chinese soldiers that attacked his lines in Korea and he cried on my arms like a baby and I had no response but to hold him. Now I have a response..he never had the luxury of blogging in his 3×2 in Newtown, he enlisted and did what was expected of him and he has paid the price since. He is 83 and in hospital and has missed his first Anzac Day in years.
    Please focus on writing about your genitals.

    1. You’ve got the wrong girl. I would no more have my genitals pierced than I would bother to indulge your lazy argument. Which itself in no way addresses what I have written.

  5. I would wager that Helen Razer goes to military cemeteries and takes a literal dump on the graves of war heroes, like she takes a figurative dump on them in this article.

    Was the Gallipoli campaign poorly strategized? Yes. The fault is on the senior officers who failed basic military strategy, not on the soldiers on the ground who did the best they could with what little they were given. They deserve to be remembered and honored, not vilified by SJWs.

    1. You don’t get to argue meaningfully by using a set of initials.
      Argue with what I have written. Not with the rot you’ve been fed by the intellectually malnourished.
      You can do better. Please re-read.

    2. What nonsense. If you critically engage with what Helen has written, you’ll find she does nothing of the sort. Are you really arguing that scrutinising the decisions of people with the power to send other men and women to their deaths is somehow denigrating the men and women sacrificed by those decision-makers? How do you work that one out?

      My grandfathers served in WWII – in fact, my dad’s father also served in WWI, joining up as an 18 year old towards the end of the war – and fortunately, both returned home (relatively) unscathed. But far too many haven’t been so lucky. Mum never met one of her great-uncles because he was killed in WWI, and for what? What higher, glorious purpose did his death, and those of countless others, serve? Really, what was the point of sacrificing young lives – and forcing those young people to kill other young people who looked a bit different or spoke a different language, just because politicians designated them the enemy du jour? The fetishistic glorification of “mateship” and “Our Diggers”, and the myth of “fighting for our freedomz!!!” – no one has yet been able to explain to me what Australians’ participation in the Boer War, World War I, Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars in particular had to do with “our freedom”, most likely because the answer is “bugger all” – is much more disrespectful to my relatives’ and others’ service, than a clear-eyed analysis of the realities of war, a thorough understanding of history and justified critique of the politicians who want to send us to war over and over again. The hysteria in the face of anything even vaguely critical of the mythology attached to ANZAC Day is embarrassing (and staggeringly hypocritical – I note more often than not, the wailing and gnashing of teeth comes from the same politicians and keyboard heroes who tell First Nations people to “get over” the Frontier Wars and subsequent massacres).

  6. Thanks Helen. You articulately expressed what I was trying to say and getting respectfully in trouble with friends for suggesting. Why can’t we challenge this myth and the ridiculous commercialisation and aggrandisement of this event without being “brave” to do so? There is no way my grandfather, who fought in New Guinea, suffered PTSD and studied history and Hitler for years after to try and understand, would like the sound of buzzing planes overhead and the sight of children marching. We’ve got this commemoration all wrong. It’s become a celebration of national pride. We have forgotten and we are making it up.

  7. I hate Anzac Day in Sydney. I grew up in Melbourne where it always seemed a day of solemnity and reflection. I recently moved to sydney and it’s like Schoolies for young racists. Public drunkenness, flag waving, muscle flexing. a group of tattooed, topless, muscled guys walked up my street, catcalling women and threatening (as a joke?) to punch my crying toddler. My 7month pregnant friend had drunk men dance around her lewdly on the street. In sydney on Anzac day, I lock the doors and wait for the bogan storm to pass…

    I think war is primarily a male endeavour and it brings out the very worst (and rarely, the best) in them. Anzac Day is an excuse for too many men to amp up their testosterone…

      1. Thank you! I wish I didn’t have to use it. It’s the worst. People bang on about the reverence for anzac day and the military and shut/shout down anyone who examines it in a way they disagree with, yet they seem silent and content with the public boozing, gambling, racist strutting and sporting frivolties that now characterise so much of it.

        By the way, I loved your article. Really nailed it. “Lest we forget” means the opposite of STFU…

        1. I think you should read some Orstralian History re the CWA and their White Feather letter writing campaign to shame those unionists that didn’t want to fight in the Imperialist Wars. It must be nice to be from the gender that has not fingerprints on history

  8. Thanks Helen.
    I may have expressed it differently, but yes to your article. It was very rare to hear any WW1 veterans voice any support for the war. Perhaps some of your detractors could read the war poets?
    I have seen many tacky, jingoistic lists flying around the internet and Facebook asking (demanding?) people ascribe to their definition of being Australian. Surprisingly, none of them mention connection with, or care for, the land, understanding indigenous history, welcoming the stranger and/or refugee, caring and compassion, respect for non-European sacred sites, anti war, etc. Lots of Bondi beach, eskis, Anzacs and flags. Interestingly, as an older Australian, I have watched the whole tenor of Anzac Day change – from sadness and remembrance and “never again” – to nationalism and glorification. Revisionism seems to have won.

  9. Not a year goes by where my wife (of ethnic background) isn’t exposed to at least one racist comment, if not outright harassment, on ANZAC day. Specifically as a result of idiot white men getting very drunk and deciding to pick on anyone that looks like someone that Australia once got dragged into conflict against.

    ANZAC day long ago moved from being a day to reflect on the horrors of war and what the soldiers went through, to become a source of nationalist pride for the dumb and vile white men that increasingly represent the most vocal and unopposed voice in Australian discourse.

    My grandfather, who actually fought in World War II, was horrified by what the day had become before he passed away. And it’s only getting worse.

    1. Hey, Ashamed. I am of course very cranky that your wife must endure such nonsense. And, I am a little impatient that a plea for a better understanding of war, which would entail more and not less respect for our servicemen and women, has produced comments of no more depth than “you’re just a social justice warrior”.
      First. No. I’m not. I’m a grumpy old communist. It’s quite a different kind of politics from the “tolerate and love everybody” brand, which I despise with more intellectual rigour than those twits above.
      Second. Who cares what kind of person I am? Argue with the argument. Not the imagined qualities of ts author.
      Third. Let’s really use this opportunity for really reflecting on war. As other commenters have noted, those who have seen action, especially those sent to the hell of Vietnam, are often loath to participate in what has become a very shallow and meaningless display of identity formation.
      A little less “you wouldn’t understand little girlie/brown person” (as though more than a handful of living Australians really do understand firsthand) and a little more grappling with understanding itself.
      Again, I will say: I believe remembrance has the potential to be a good ritual in which we really grapple with the idea of our nation. And, let’s not forget that this is a country so confused about its identity status, it most often declares it by saying what it is not. We don’t know what is Australian, so we just say “that’s unAustralian”. I think this is a good indication that we have no bloody idea about the things that make us us.
      Anzac Day would be a good opportunity to address this important question and produce answers with a little more resonance than “you’d be speaking Japanese” or “don’t be unAustralian.”
      What does it mean to be Australian? What would we like it to mean? Why the heck is the RSL in charge of this important, and degraded, national day?
      I respect Anzac Day. I am deeply moved by and grateful to those who have given their lives, their sanity and their careers for the defence of this nation, as wrongheaded as that defence might have been. I would wish for them, as I would wish for this nation, to be considered fully on this One Day of the Year. A bunch of twits saying shallow things they heard elsewhere and sinking piss/justifying current battles does not a remembrance make.

  10. Good article Helen.

    Bad comprehension (and manners) for some commenters here.

    Simply because good people have tragically, bravely and selflessly died for us does not in any way whatsoever afford the coward-monkeys that sit in their ivory towers and incompetently, if not knowingly, send them to their deaths, any such similar consideration.

    To my mind it is those ABOVE the ANZACs in the command chain we must castigate and prosecute for, what smells to me like, murder if not manslaughter.

    Wars are started by greed and fed with good people.
    When I stand at the Cenotaph my enmity is not for Johnny Turk, The Japs, Hitler, The Commies or Towel Heads.

    It is for any evil-doer that can concoct a reason to send somebody else’s child to their death.

    The thing that makes my blood sublimate is that if I was of an age and the call went out I WOULD SIMPLY HAVE TO GO TO STAND BESIDE AND HELP MY MATES.

    So many thanks to all ANZACs and servicefolk and a massive fuck you for pretty much everybody else. Just how I feel right now.


  11. Nicely put Helen. I see from your responses above that you have no need for a flak jacket. Indeed you wit is firing both barrels back at the unthinking.

    ANZAC day is our biggest cultural cringe tainted with a big fat lie. War is stupid. Always has been and always will be. One day humanity might just wake up to this fact and we put our guns down. One day……..

  12. Thank you Helen for summing up in such an articulate way exactly why I find the whole Anzac Day ‘hoo ha’ a pitiful brainwashing of the Australian people (and I used to be one of those people), and why I actually find the day offensive.

  13. Thank you Helen,
    As a middle aged privileged white male, I don’t always agree with you but you are spot on this (and with most things if Im being honest with myself,).
    Im glad the Gallipoli circus that ANZAC day had become is slowly coming back to a day of remembrance. But we already have one, at 11am on 11 of Nov – at least this symbolises and end, not a start to war. I love that it is solemn, individual and reflective.
    To me ANZAC day is trying to morph itself into a hyped Remembrance day to redefine and broaden its meaning.
    Keep up the good work.

  14. The freedom of speech trotted out as saved / created ? by war / soldiers myth. We have what freedom of speech we have from the constitution. The jap invasion / speaking Japanese. Please – Jap documents the US archives has says they had no intention of invading here. We went to WW1 and 2 because we were part of the British Empire. We went to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq etc because we are now part of the US Empire. Lenin said a bayonet is a weapon with a worker on both ends.

    No the army didn’t get me, Whitlam saved my worthless backside.

    1. People who use racial slurs, either because they’re ignorant, or think that it’s an appropriate manner of discourse, have no right to have their opinions on anything taken seriously and represent everything that is screwed up about this country.

  15. Agree we actually must not forget.
    But I do believe the mood has shifted somewhat particularly following the revelations in Iraq & Afganistan not to mention the last 30 odd years of anti war films, docos & education.
    Australians aren’t so keen on war or trusting of governments anymore & I don’t believe our government is likely to be so in the future either as a result. Hopefully the present governments reluctance to send further troops to Syria is a signal of this.
    Just because some sections of society may express their appreciation of ANZAC’s in a perceived vulgar manner doesn’t mean we can truly know their hearts & minds on this matter or anyone else’s.
    Shifts in psychology take time & information. Education is critical.
    I cant imagine our growth in this area being any richer or heavier than on ANZAC day, spending time in a war memorial or with a digger.
    Nationalistic pride doesn’t necessarily indicate a penchant for war, just bad taste. After all no one consulted them or anyone else before the deployments OS.

    1. Poor appropriation is not the province of the “tasteless” mass. I’d actually say that Howard, a decided non-Bogan, had a good deal to do with the transformation of Anzac Day into a moment of empty identification.
      You can say, if you wish, that education has transformed our nation into one that despises war, loves justice etc, but I don’t think this explains how injustice is, by nearly any measure, actually on the rise. I understand there are a lot of people who believe themselves to be copiously tolerant, but there is, simultaneously, a rise in income inequality, a rise in housing affordability, a diminution of workers’ rights, a widening of the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, an increased intolerance from the elite of asylum seekers (Reclaim Australia has nothing on the IPA) and an increase in the cost of education. Add to this the TPP, tax concessions to the rich and the corporate and our involvement across the past 13 years in three bloody wars and I think the argument that awareness (which is different to education; only the wealthy in Australia can now afford one of those) has changed us for the better loses its might.
      I was certainly not critiquing the “bogans”. Being one of them myself and being in the business of recognising social class, I wouldn’t. This piece was not intended to discredit those who most luridly display their nationalism. It was to those who do so very covertly. Never blame the foot soldiers.

      1. Exactly. There is so much focus on ANZAC day ‘reaction’ from the masses/pomp/ceremony it distracts from our outstanding debts to aggrieved servicemen/women, the mess we leave OS & responsibility of past & present Governments.
        Lest we forget the deeper issues & to keep a watchful eye.

  16. When I chronologically grew up (approx 30-40 years ago) ANZAC day seemed to be about the remembering the sacrifice of life and the futility of war.
    Maybe I’m wrong and it always was what it seems to be now; exactly as you described, Helen.
    I feel if not ashamed, then at least very disappointed in my fellow Strayans.

  17. Excellent article. Spot on. However, religion, nationalism, racism, and war have always breathed the same putrid air. Celebration of Gallipoli is only one symptom of the entrenched human malaise.

  18. Firstly, I totally agree with you, Helen, and perhaps you will allow me to add to some of what you and others, who hate ANZAC day of what it has become (or has always been?).
    So, let me add my comment here as apparently the only person who did live and suffer through a World War (the Second) in Japanese and Indonesian prisons and concentration camps, while my dad hardly survived in tact from building the Railway in Burma.
    I am astonished about the arrogance of most of your critics, and why people do not see that expressing sorrow about and reflecting on the horrors of wars, by remembering the men and women who sacrificed their lives in them, never fits with marching, military brass, medals etc. What happened to simply remembering at day break at a monument (as they do all over the world) the terrible toll of useless wars.
    Let me add my experience of ANZAC Day:
    Some of us, women, decided to march at the tail-end of the march in 1983 as a commemoration of Women Raped in Wars, we got nothing but vilifications, were hauled into paddy wagons and spent the night in the Central Police lock-up. The same happened in 1986 (except that one old gentleman joined us at our march).
    There is a strange attitude about war in Australia and about ANZAC Day in particular. There is no criticism about the way Australians have been mostly fighting others’ wars as you so rightly remark (with the exception of the war against Japan). In the case of Gallipoli, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Irak, Syria etc.etc. what does it mean to say “we fought to defend our country”. Not once was our country in any danger from any Turks, North Koreans,Vietnamese, Afghans, Iraki, Syrians or whoever. And we do it again by mouthing all this stuff about “defending our country” when we stand ready to be the supporters/police chiefs for/of the USA’s role in the Pacific and against China. There we go again.
    I believe that this readiness to fight wars, which have nothing to do with us, comes exactly from not really knowing what war means, because it is always far away. War as day-to-day death, destruction, senseless suffering and people losing their loved ones and everything they own, is foreign in this country, and we should be glad about that, but stop glorifying it then. By now Australia must have many new Australians who can tell you what war means from their own experience, and I doubt that they understand or like ANZAC Day (perhaps they will not say so openly, because they will be called un-Australian).
    I find the most sinister aspect of the current ANZAC Day commemorations the way children, even little ones, are expected to join in this heroic militarism on the streets of capital cities and the coast of Galllipoli. For those of us who remember the Hitler Jugend and the Japanese children’s devotion to the Tenno (Emperor) this enlistment of the young has really sad nationalistic connotations. And all because those who fought have died or are dying out and therefore we have to keep the myth going.
    It becomes then really ironic when we now read that Camp Gallipoli turns out to have been (for some years now?) nothing but a big money-spinner for some corrupt enterpreneurs. This is what you get when you loose sight about what it is all about!

    1. The Women Against Rape action surely stands as one of the boldest of the last half century. I was 13 when I first learned about the group in The Canberra Times, a newspaper, I recall, that published the opinion that “these women” need not fear rape.
      Can you tell me, Mia, if it was WAR’s action that led directly to full control of the match by the RSL?
      And can anyone tell me why those who have suffered rape, which is so often weaponised on war, do not merit commemoration?
      The famous image of the Muslim woman who had hanged herself after a systematised Serbian mass attack surely represents a thing we should not forget?

      1. I cannot tell you whether the RSLonly got in charge of ANZAC Day after our WAR demonstration., I doubt it. But I like to think that it was the impetus in turning it in the sickening glorification it became. They surely were not objecting to our treatment by the NSW Police, who were very keen to tell each other loudly at Central Station that “you do not need to ask their names, just turn them upside down and they all look the same, that’s all you need, mate!” (makes you feel what indigenous people had/have to go through “all Abos are the same”).
        The RSL only let all those other people march, because they were running out of ‘heroes’, in my opinion. It became also necessary to extend the cult in a big way in Gallipoli, before it would disappear in the mist of too much emphasis on what was done to the Turks by Britain. The millions that were/are spend on this sickening spectacle would have been gratefully received by those that came back from those damn wars and treatment for PTSD sufferers.
        Don’t start me on the billions on submarines, the whole build-up of militarism is quite evident, it always works, particularly handy when it looks like Federal parliamentarians are in danger of losing their cushy seats. Bring in the guns, the heroes, the children!
        Thanks for your columns, Helen!

  19. I am disturbed by the change in our perception of ANZAC day from that of reflection on war and remembrance and respect for those who have died in wars to a tawdry nationalistic celebration which today has little relevance to many of our fellow citizens. John Howard played no little part in this transformation as part of his “culture wars”, appealing to those with little insight into his misinformed black armband of history. Thank you Helen for pointing out exactly what we should be remembering.I was sent to Vietnam and after seeing the waste, futility and sheer devastation of the country we were supposed to be helping, I came back determined never again to be part of any military adventure outside Australian soil. Wilfred Owen said it best:

    I mean the truth untold,
    The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
    Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
    Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
    They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
    None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.

    It seems to me that we have been trekking from progress in this matter for a long time!

  20. Completely agree. Anzac Day could be a worthy holiday where we reflect on the mistakes of our past and vow never to allow young people to be killed so senselessly again. However somehow it ends up glorifying war and ‘mateship’ and creating a frenzy so animated that anyone who raises a criticism is immediately labelled as selfish and unappreciative of those who died for our ‘freedom’. Perhaps someone could helpfully explain how engaging in an illegal war in Iraq and killing millions of civilians helped my freedom. Instead of engaging in meaningless tributes, our aim as a nation should be to end the need for an Anzac Day.

    1. Rachel. Anzac Day does not glorify war. You are confusing Hollywood blockbuster films with reality.

      If Anzac day services ‘glorify’ mateship; good.

      Anzac commemorations are solemn occasions reminding us of the horrors and personal suffering of war. The speeches and minutes silence make this point very clear. The returned service men and women and their families including those who march in the parades understand this perfectly well.

      Sadly we still need the history of the Anzacs to remind us we live in a harsh world. Others have defended this country in order that we are not ruled by nazis, communists or Imperialist Japanese.

      There have always been people in the world and there still are today, vicious people who start wars and seek military domination, who do not care how many people they kill and how horribly they die to further their personal desires. Currently ISIS and the Taliban are top of the list.

      One day we may not need the depth of courage and all that is required to fight evil at the last (which marks the Anzacs and their military descendents). Until then remember this if nothing else:

      “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a Socialist.

      Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a Jew.

      Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Pastor Martin Niemöller

  21. Hi Helen.
    Your article has enlightened my thinking somewhat on the annual parading and remembering, but it seems to me that what the media cannot say is that 20th century slaughter has changed nothing and solved nothing. Is that a terrible thing to suggest?

  22. Yes, it seems counter intuitive that the further we recede from the events of WW1&2 and Vietnam the arguments of Steve Knight seem to grow stronger even though the wounds would seem to be less raw. And instead of being able to broaden our view from the eclipse of that great suffering and transfer some of that empathy to others, it seems there is a restricted, dogmatic view that the debt “of not speaking Japanese” ( although I’m not sure of the corresponding debt from WW1- not speaking German I suppose, gosh we would have been a multi-lingual lot) seems to grow greater, and the people to whom we seem to owe that debt have somehow not only have lucked on some sort of transfer of ownership but have managed to get some interest.

  23. Helen: A+++ High Distinction to you – for actually caring about the young men and women sent abroad to fight on foreign soils to serve the khaki-fied vested interests of our politicians and bigger foreign powers. David DONOVAN elsewhere has written another brilliant critique of the “celebration” of ANZAC Day this year. I am writing from the US – I am a former teacher of history – my birthday did not come up in the lottery ballot of 1969 – for which I was most grateful in later years – because in those years at that time I would probably have “done my duty” – and would in most likelihood have no longer been here to think and write about it. Oh, and by the way – I speak – and to a large extent read and write Japanese – that’s the way of our world – and to a communicative level French, Spanish and German. None of it because we won or lost wars – or indeed maybe because of wars way back into the past. The Skewing of History. Yes – keep the politicians out of the right to make war – unless they send their own children (which you’ll largely note they do not)!

  24. I know very little about the history of Gallipoli. Even how to spell it without looking it up, but somehow, somebody got killed who was doing it, at least in their mind, for what they thought was the right reasons. Someone who didn’t butcher anyone, who died, yes, unnecessarily for all the reasons given above. Who didn’t get the political agenda. Who was just somebody who thought they were doing the right thing. For these people, I will spare a quiet thought, for the people who put them there, that’s another thing.

  25. Well said Helen. Totally agree. My Dad was a Rat of Torbruk. Wouldn’t have a bar of the RSL as they wouldn’t let our First Nation Diggers into “The Group”The Glorification has gone so over the Top. Howard started that for the usual political reasons.

    1. I agree with you aout the RSL Chris. But…

      …one of the many reasons Australians voted overwhelmingly for aboriginal people to have the right to vote in 1967 was the shared experience of the soldiers in war.

      …and the resurgence in Anzac Day commemorations started waaaay before John Howard had anything to do with it. It commenced around 1980. This was partly the result of the guilt felt by certain lefties who spat at soldiers returning from Vietnam.

  26. Helen,
    I know this is taking the discussion farther afield, but I heard relatives and survivors of the massacre at Pt Arthur say that they did not like to have to be reminded of their loss and/or experience when the talk was about a 20 year remembrance.
    I have just been watching this occasion on TV and perhaps I am getting cynical, but is this going to be another of these forced commemorations, which appears to be organised by the cohort of event managers, who probably constitute a growth industry by now. They seem to be everywhere!
    Sorry, but I feel for the survivors and grieving families who have to go through this again so that we can have another national event for the social media to registrate.

  27. Fan-bloody-tastic Helen, I always ask the rellies who wrap themselves in the Orstarlian Flag at Anzac Day what they know about these wars (nothing) and how is this lack of interest honoring the dead. Hopeful only the offspring of the lazy imbeciles be used in the next bulshit war.

  28. Great article again, Helen.

    One mistake being made in your piece and by a number of contributors here is viewing history through the prism of 2017 and missing crucial facts in the process.

    My grandfather worked his passage out from in England at the age of 17 in 1906 to build a new life. When WWI started he immediately returned,enlisted and fought in the trenches of France. He was representative of many in Australia at a time only 13 years after federation in that he believed is home country was at great risk and that this would also have dire consequences for his new coutry, Australia. That is why he and so many others went to war willingly.
    They believed in what they were fighting for and had the courage of their convictions. (Fortunately he was shot and wounded. The rest of his unit were killed in one of the infamous stupid charges into machine gun fire).
    It’s all very well for people to prate on about the greed of politicians blah blah blah but what is the absolute truth?

    My uncles immediately chose to enlist in 1942 and fought the Japanese for three years in the SW Pacific in some of the most savage fighting of WWII because the question in Australia at the time was, ‘The Japs have invaded New Guinea, when are they going to reach the mainland?’
    The idea that the Japanese would never invade Australia is just revisionist crap. Leaving aside the fact that PNG was an Australian Protectorate until 1975, the idea that imperialist Japan would not go after Australia’s resources was laughable (we had only a small population to defend it while vast numbers, in fact nearly all of our military personel, were in far away Europe fighting against the global domination of the nazis).

    I still find such naivete amusing. It was a close run thing. Untrained conscripts were hurredly sent to New Guinea and stopped the Japanese advance at Milne Bay and Kokoda in the first defeats suffered by Japan on land. It was only just in time. US and Australian warships also won the battle of the Coral Sea. If these victories had not occurred at the time they did, things would have been very different. In any case the Anzacs went to war for very good reason.

    The Vietnam War was also a legitimate war to engage in. Shocked? Also Australia applied pressure to the US to go into Vietnam because of the threat of communism spreading from the north, armed by the Soviet Union and China. Shocked again? The Soviet leadership stated openly that it was after world domination.
    From October 1917, dozens of countries throughout eastern and southern Europe, China, North Korea and South America fell to communism, every one of them bringing with it the sub-human brutality of their own peoples.
    Sounds to me like the Domino Theory had more substance to it than the re-writers of history would have us believe. In any case Anzacs went to war for good reason.

    So now we have ISIS and the Taliban etc. These people hate anyone who does not ascribe to their mediaevel versions of Islam. They want nothing from us but our extermination. Perhaps we could engage them in meaningful dialogue and discussion and negotiate a long lasting, peaceful solution? Give me a break.

    I could go on.

    Lest we forget the heroism, skill, sacrifice and suffering of theAnzacs.
    Lest we forget what the Anzacs fought for.

  29. I have it on good authority that,
    The ANZACS swore an Oath before Almighty God that they would repay the WW1 wartime debt, and not be a burden for future generations.
    It started off as an Oath but because the Australian government sidestepped repaying the debt, it turned into a Legacy.
    To this day, our war veterans are still trying to raise the money themselves, by selling pins and badges, to commemorate their proud achievement.
    In their own way saying :
    “See guys, look at what we did, can we go home now” ????
    God bless their noble hearts.
    They are still fighting a “War” ☹

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