What is Anzac Day to Australians and New Zealanders? As an Australian, I was taught to see it as a day of honouring the fallen, of remembrance and thoughtful reflection on bravery, self-sacrifice and brotherhood defiant in the face of adversity. This I believed.
I was also taught that it was a day to be grateful for what our soldiers did in WW1 at Gallipoli because they did it for us, that we would be free. This I have always struggled with. I struggled to see how an event that occurred 30 years before I was born could impact on me in that way. I struggled to see how my life would have been any different had these men not travelled to Gallipoli. I still struggle with that today.
As time passed, the Anzac legend broadened to include WW2. As I learned about this more recent conflict I came to appreciate the enormous implications the First World War had in the making of the Second World War. A clearer picture began to emerge.
WW2 may not have happened but for WW1. A ridiculous argument between a family of European cousins should never have been allowed to escalate to the extent that it did. To compound the error by exacting an overly zealous punishment inflicted on the losers was a huge mistake.
Combine both these failures of common sense and the result was the calamity that became WW2. Call this an over-simplification if you wish, but in simple terms that is what happened. Having visited both Gallipoli and the monuments of the Western Front, the one thing that sticks in my mind is the shocking waste of life; our boys and their boys.
Today, in our fervour to honour all the conflicts of which we have been a part, it seems to me that we have forgotten the original intent of what I was led to believe was ANZAC, i.e. to remember, to honour the fallen, to reflect on bravery, self-sacrifice and brotherhood defiant in the face of adversity; something we should acknowledge of the boys on both sides.
As a consequence of that fervour, something strange and sinister has crept into the mix. The idea of nationhood emerging from the ashes of WW1 has taken on a dark side. It seems that anyone who dares to suggest an opposing view is to be vilified and typecast as un-Australian.
It seems that to voice dissent is treason. For those too young to remember, Anzac Day protests were commonplace in the 1960s. University students regularly tried to disrupt marches, calling for an end to the ‘glorification of war’.
The marches themselves were poorly attended by an apathetic public more interested in what a public holiday offered. If we are to vilify those who criticise our fervour today, what do we say about the way this day was looked upon then?
When we have come to the point where a television commentator expresses an opposing view that gets him sacked, we have gone too far. Scott McIntyre, a soccer reporter and presenter for SBS, tweeted that some Australians marking Anzac Day were, “poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers.” I could add rednecks and bogans to that list.
He also wrote “Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan,” to his 30,000 followers. And, “Not forgetting that the largest single-day terrorist attacks in history were committed by this nation & their allies in Hiroshima & Nagasaki.”
These subsequent comments are not something I would have tweeted, but there is an element of truth in them both. In war there is always appalling behaviour by some that threatens to overshadow the more honourable exploits of the majority.
The Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been misrepresented as ending the war. They didn’t and weren’t a necessary act. It was mass murder. This act deserves closer scrutiny.
And to single out one person for expressing that, is a massive over-reaction. Those who would boldly claim that the Anzacs fought for freedom are hypocrites if they exclude freedom of speech in that cry. Are we no longer allowed to disagree when we feel the need?
Personally, I was somewhat relieved to be out of the country in the lead up to this year’s Anzac commemorations because I felt I would be subjected to a barrage of jingoistic marketing and merchandising campaigns that were riding the expected wave of national pride.
It turned out I was right. We are faking Anzac Day and have been for years now. Politicians have progressively hijacked the occasion over time to the point where it is now out of control. Spending $400 million on the 100 year commemoration was absurd.
I fully expected that there would be some dissent, some call for a more rational approach to the way we commemorate this day. Someone did and paid the penalty. Welcome to democracy in action, or what’s left of it.