Huzzah — the culture wars are back! Australia’s textbooks will be, erm, whitewashed under Christopher Pyne, opposition education spokesman, who wants to overhaul the national curriculum so that the “black armband view of Australia’s history” (armband? more like a noose!) is removed.
How very ’90s. Perhaps this new round of the culture wars can be fought out on these new “weblogs” the young folk are getting into “on the Internet”. Oh, sorry, what’s that? You’re too busy watching Seinfeld and listening to R.E.M.?
“History is what it is. We should know the truth about it, and we shouldn’t allow it to colour our present and our future,” Pyne declared. Damn right. History has nothing to do with the present or the future. Nor is it ever contested. It “is what it is”.
But Pyne seems particularly concerned that colour, as in skin colour (as in black skin colour, not just a black armband), is ruining Anzac Day, which is now being lumped in with NAIDOC Week, Reconciliation Day and Harmony Day.
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It’s a strange view, surely. The idea that anyone can somehow escape Anzac Day is absurd. When I (and Pyne) were kids, unless you were the family of a veteran, Anzac Day was almost an afterthought, a holiday on which TV networks would dutifully broadcast the march to the dulcet commentary of Major Peter Young while the rest of us got on with enjoying an autumn day off. People even warned of the looming death of Anzac Day.
But at some point, perhaps in the 1980s, that began to change. Anzac Day slowly went from an afterthought to a nationalistic icon. The notionally cynical and worldly Generation Y embraced it, complete with getting up to attend dawn services. Greater affluence meant Anzac trips to Turkey became a regular part of young Australians’ international travel experience. And the Australian media decided relevant parts of Turkey were basically Australian property and routinely expressed outrage at the failure of the Turkish government to appropriately respect our land.
Along with that came endless discussion of the “meaning” of Anzac Day. But the essential meaning, that we’d launched an unprovoked attack on the Turks in our role as vassal state in a conflict between imperialist powers, tended to get ignored — perhaps because we were busy launching other unprovoked attacks on Middle Eastern countries as a vassal of imperial powers at the time. Even so, the Turks have been consistently gracious and welcoming toward the descendants of the people that attacked them, rather more so one suspects than if Japanese youth decided Darwin was an appropriate place to reconnect with the spirit of Japanese militarism.
Indeed, the ostensible obsession over the meaning of Anzac masked that it had become sacred and unquestionable. If you were foolish enough, like Catherine Deveny, to express reservations or criticism of Anzac Day, you were demonised across the media.
Some blame former PM John Howard for this, accusing him of appropriating nationalism and the Anzac tradition for partisan purposes. But he was hardly alone among pollies in doing that and anyway, that missed the point: Australian nationalism, once shy and retiring, had pumped itself full of steroids. It wasn’t just Anzac Day but Invasion Day (Australia Day), too, which went from summer holiday to a patriotic duty to deck your car (usually fully imported) out in flags, along with the requisite and mind-numbingly boring discussion of what it all “meant”.
In short, the idea that there’s any risk of Australian children growing up unaware of the importance of Anzac Day is zero. There’s no escape from the relentless inculcation of Anzac as the key to Australian history, even if in reality it serves merely as a key to exploring the tortured psyche of Australian males, the use of propaganda and our enthusiastic subservience to imperial powers.
Still, of course, that steers us toward the true meaning of Pyne’s bizarre statements: Anzac Day is, as it has been for decades, being used as a weapon in the long conflict between Left and Right over Australian culture.