By Maria Millers
Anzac Day’s evolution as a national obsession has been cleverly manipulated by politicians, companies, organizations and clubs all trading on the lucrative Anzac brand.
In recent years Prime Ministers of both persuasions have seen political gain in the Anzac legend.
Prime Ministers from Hawke to Howard and beyond have seen political gain in promoting the Anzac myth. An exception was Keating, who rejected the obsession with Gallipoli and turned his attention to Kokoda.
With the heavy pall of the Brereton report’s disturbing revelations of gross misconduct by our elite force in Afghanistan, commemorations should return to quiet reflection; not the noisy spectacles with jingoistic overtones at a time when serious soul searching, beyond the easy clichés, is needed.
On my own patch the local RSL is collaborating in hosting a local derby football match on the 24th. There will be a flyover of 9 war birds, 50 pigeons, a canon to start the game and a full battalion brass band to march the players onto the ground.
Not surprisingly, the sitting members from the three levels of government will be there.
Engagement of the young is seen as crucial in maintaining the Anzac legend. But like all legends, the Anzac legend is very selective in what is taught as history to our young. According to James Brown, Defence Analyst and former army officer, the awful pain of the reality of Gallipoli has become reconfigured into a heroic narrative that belies the truth. The emaciated, dehydrated victims have been turned into bronzed heroes of Greek mythology
Our national identity has become defined by our participation in wars. The Frontier Wars are, however, a notable omission.
Furthermore, the Anzac troops who fought and died at Gallipoli are always idealized and portrayed as heroes fighting in the cause of protecting democracy and freedom. Ironically, most of the much lauded freedoms we enjoy are not due to war efforts but have been achieved through trade unions and the reforms of progressive governments.
Historians such as Marilyn Lake and Joy Damousi have pointed to the role of governments in force-feeding us military history not only through the education system but through the promotion of war heritage. This is most blatantly illustrated by the proposed $500 million renovations and extensions at the Australian War Memorial, at a time when other national cultural institutions are struggling to survive; while the welfare and needs of damaged veterans appear to have been marginalized, in fact, totally neglected.
I’m not sure what the RSL and organizers of the Anzac event at the derby match at my local football ground hope to achieve. And despite asking my local member who was funding the war planes for the event, I have still not received a reply. Perhaps the money could have been put to far better use.
We should take note this Anzac Day of what American writer Norman Mailer once pointed out: that “Myths are tonic to a nation’s heart. Once abused, however, they are poisonous.”
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