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“Our national identity has become defined by our participation in wars”

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.

After a great deal of pressure the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has  just announced a long overdue royal commission into suicides by Australian veterans and serving Defence personnel.

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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11 comments

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  1. paul walter

    Used to quiet and dignified stuff about remembering working people who had died in other people’s wars.

    Today it is about jingoism, not humble self-sacrifice.

    Howard of course takes much of the blame with his neo Churchillian nonsenses at the site of the Gallipoli landings. We used to have dignity as an independent country, today it is vulgar mediatised noise.

    The propagandising of the Mid east wars at the turn of the century was the real reason, but not so much glory when we have been kicked out of both Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars were fought over oil and geopolitical strategy, not defence of democracy here and there. The people were lied to and fell for it hook line and sinker.

  2. Domenic Lachimea

    well articulated Paul!

  3. Stephengb

    As an Englishman I do not shy away from the horror that was WWI, it was not ‘the war to end all wars”, nor was it the “Great War” it was a war for the spoils of the victors, plain and simple, greed!

    I am also pissed off with the myths of Gallipoli – it erks me every year that we celebrate Gallipoli by denergrating the 165,000 soldiers who were sacrificed on Gallipoli to honour 8000 ANZACS. The ANZACS consisted Australians, New Zealanders, British, and even American volunteers.

    It is time we as a nation grew up and recognised the use of myth and straight out lies to further the careers of our so called political representatives.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-25/five-anzac-myths-put-to-the-test/5393750?nw=0

  4. leefe

    Half a billion for the War Memorial, but SFA for veterans’ services. That is governmental attitude in a nutshell – here, now, everywhere, always.

    Tell the truth about it all, you arseholes, and take care of the people you screw up with your lies.

  5. paul walter

    And of course the racist treatment of Turks, who were, after all, only defending their country…

    As The Drum on China tonight demonstrated, state media will not hesitate to propagandise on foreign affairs.

  6. wam

    The only lasting humanity from Gallipoli was the poem from the defending commander Kemal Ataturk.
    Sadly he is being forgotten in Australia and Turkey.

  7. Andrew J. Smith

    Agree with comments, and non soldier Howard’s political media strategies needing the nostalgia and authority of military imagery turning commemoration into celebration aka Gallipoli/ANZAC Day; one had multiple relatives involved in WWI not just Australian, for whom commemoration was very quiet, sombre and personal.

    English researcher Nigel Steel’s ‘Gallipoli’ is far more objective and less nativist than anything written in Oz while the local community in Turkey i.e. Canakkale are bemused at the behaviour or obsessions of Australians from those demanding big celebrations for junkets or jollies, the drinking, concerts… and the flags as superman capes; while Australia does little if anything for the local community (even most tourist income goes back to Istanbul based operators)…..

  8. Matters Not

    How myths are created and then persist.

    A persistent myth hangs off these words attributed to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk … there is no strong evidence Ataturk ever said or wrote them. Their invention and promotion says far more about politics and diplomacy than it does about remembrance. … Cementing the Ataturk myth in Canberra was not easy, …

    The words are essentially a confidence trick, and the people most taken in are the bright-eyed children who are pushed forward every Anzac season to recite what they have been told are the words of the great Ataturk.

    https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/johnnies-and-mehmets-kemal-ataturks-quote-is-an-anzac-confidence-trick-20170423-gvqkrx.html

    We believe what we want to believe.

  9. paul walter

    I liked Andrew J Smith’s
    set of comments…dealt with the subject instead of being sidetracked into diversionary issues and has a clear understanding of cultural psychology.

  10. New England Cocky

    It is time to change the laws for who is authorised to send Australian troops into imperialistic wars for the benefit of foreign states and interests. Correctly, it should be Parliament by 2/3rds majority.

    Think of the billions squandered on military expenses that should have been spent in Australian domestic areas like education, mental health, hospitals, public infrastructure and R&D.

  11. Dolores Bellemo

    I agree utterly with Maria Millers. Far too much money is spent on the glorification of war while the needs of damaged veterans have been totally neglected.

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