Over the years I have attempted to write an anti-war themed post each Anzac Day, inspired initially by an essay in Overland by author Jane Rawson – Don’t Mention the War – which no doubt I came across in her now seemingly discontinued blog. So these are my efforts to date –
2021 Stand Easy. Stories written by Australian soldiers in WWII
2020 The Black Line. Why don’t we celebrate Aboriginal resistance to occupation.
2019 A Day to Remember. Vietnam Moratorium Day, 1970
2018 Randolph Bourne vs The State, H.W. Morton. Anarchist anti-war theory
2017 Internee 1/5126, Robert Paterson. My family’s own WWI internee
2016 Miles Franklin’s War. Where she served and her fierce anti-war sentiments
2015 To mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. The Anzac myth
It seems that what I had in mind to write this year, an overview of the Anzac myth, I already covered in 2015. Though given that not even Melanie read it (WG, as she so often did in the early days, shepherded that particular orphan through) perhaps I should just put it up again.
At its heart is this quote from historian Marilyn Lake: “The myth of Anzac with all its imperial, masculinist and militarist baggage has yet become our creation story.”
In 1915 the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp – hence ANZAC – were with Allied (British and French) forces storming the beaches at Gallipoli, the Turkish peninsula guarding the entrance to the Black Sea. First Lord of the Admirality (ie. Secretary for the Navy) Winston Churchill conceived the assault as a second front in the war against Germany – then and for years bogged down in the trenches of France and Belgium – which would lead to the taking of the Turkish capital, Constantinople.
The Turks famously saw off the Allied forces and Churchill resigned in disgrace.
The significance for Australia was that this was our ‘blooding’, our first engagement as a nation in war. War correspondents led by CEW Bean and Keith Murdoch (father of Rupert) invented the myth of the brave, larrikin soldier which has been enthusiastically promulgated ever since, an extension of the legend of the 1890s, of the independent, ‘lone hand’, bushman.
Farcical when you consider what a suburban lot we are, and were back then; our ready submission to today’s surveillance state; our ongoing demand for strong leadership (the horror of ‘hung’ parliaments).
MST pointed this out some years ago, but what does it say about us that all our heroes are a) men and b) failures. Anzacs – lost; Burke & Wills – died of starvation while camped at an oasis; Ned Kelly – hanged; and so on.
Russel Ward, in The Australian Legend (1958), while noting that volunteers came in equal numbers from the city and the bush, puts the case for the independent, bushman soldier, quoting Bean –
The Australian, one hundred to two hundred years hence [and astonishingly, we are already one hundred years hence], will still live with the consciousness that, if he only goes far enough back over the hills and across the plains, he comes in the end to the mysterious, half-desert country where men have to live the lives of strong men.CEW Bean, Official History of Australia in the War 0f 1914-18
and continues, citing novelists Eric Lambert and Tom Hungerford, one of the Left and one of the Right, whose works both highlight “a very strong resentment of the whole system of officers”, which Bean too had noted.
For a while it looked like Anzac Day had reached its use-by date. By the end of the 1970s America, including us, had been defeated in Vietnam, and in the streets of Washington, Melbourne, Sydney; Whitlam had modernised the 1950s welfare state; Anzac Day was on the way out. So what changed over the next couple of decades? Two things, or three maybe – returned servicemen from Vietnam were encouraged to be angry about their treatment as pariahs, and of course gained strength from a similar movement in the US, and from the leadership of returned serviceman, Liberal leader and State Premier, Jeff Kennett; the Right, thoroughly beaten in student politics, and then through all the years of the Hawke/Keating Labor government, surprisingly fought back; neo-Liberalism (Thatcherism, Reganism) became the new orthodoxy.
And it’s hard to know whether this was symptom or cause, but the threat from the far-right in the person of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation led Liberal Prime Minister John Howard to release his inner-racist and inner-jingoist and those particular genies are not going back in the bottle.
It will be interesting to see how Anzac Days progress over the next couple of decades. On the one hand our school children are receiving US-style “values” indoctrination; but on the other, Vietnam ‘vets’ are getting old and it doesn’t appear veterans of our ill-fated ventures into the Middle East are coming through to replace them.
A recent story on the ABC site, RSLs lack young veterans for Anzac Day events, says “The future of Anzac Day events is at risk due to a lack of young veterans signing up to volunteer with RSL sub-branches”. The average age of volunteers is over 55 and “most” members are in their 70s or 80s.
So, do I think this matters? Should we keep ‘celebrating’ Anzac Day after all the old soldiers are gone? No, of course not. It was designed to get people behind the war effort, and that’s its purpose still, to normalize the spending of billions by politicians on their ongoing war fantasies.
Next year, if I remember, I might review Roger McDonald’s novel of Gallipoli, 1915. Both book and tv series made an impression on me at the time, 1979, though what I remember best is the young woman drowning.
Returned Serviceman’s League. Checks – Returned and Services League of Australia. Obviously the best they could managed de-gendering-wise. (Wiki)
The image at the top is, I think, of a statue at Gallipoli, representing a Turkish soldier giving aid to an Australian. Searches: Respect to Mehmetçik Monument
see also: The Resident Judge, The life and thought of an Australian pacifist Eleanor May Moore 1875-1949