"Anzac Day was founded on a double absurdity, at the heart of a series of imperial power struggles."The entire attack had not even the vestige of a moral angle. And the argument that it was somehow a defence of Australia’s interests assumes that those interests were not only imperial in nature, but fully justified -- something that many of the soldiers at Anzac Cove, trade unionists and socialists, would have had no agreement with. (Nick Cater, in a piece that projects pro-war values onto a population that shows no indication of subscribing to them, manages to write 800 words on the Anzacs without mentioning that the Turks were actually involved). Anzac Day was founded on a double absurdity, at the heart of a series of imperial power struggles. That has been the source of its residual strength. When Paul Keating tried to switch nationalism over to the celebration of an event -- Kokoda -- that had all that anyone could want from a celebration of nationhood, it failed utterly. Indeed, Kokoda seems even less fixed in the national imagination than it was a decade ago -- possibly because it was a life-or-death struggle, with a racial dimension. The Turks we fought against at Gallipoli are not so much forgiven as unknown -- as an adversary they have no character, no image. There is no spine of logic that connects Gallipoli to Kokoda to Long Tan, in a way that connects Lexington with Gettysburg, much as anyone would want it to. So it was not unusual but inevitable that Anzac Day would really take off only when the last people who had any real involvement with it had died -- and when many of the veterans of the next big war were gone, too. Though military celebrations usually serve as the recruiting sergeant for the next war, Anzac doesn’t seem to flow through to actual military commitment -- much less an actual desire to enlist. It mourns an object it cannot specify, which is root cause of melancholia. Even the thematisation of "mateship" has been undermined by the rise of a more gender-mixed society, a deindustrialised economy and the atomisation of relationships in a more complex world. What appears to have fallen out of the mix is the very thing that Billy Hughes, the little gravedigger, wanted kept in -- the seal of blood. As World War I has receded in the visceral memory, so too has the mammoth slaughter at the centre of it. The phalanx of right-wing pundits who want to argue for a kernel of moral sense at the heart of the war -- including now, apparently, Greg Sheridan, who wants to be reincarnated as a Joint Strike Fighter; satire is dead, too -- have to simply remove the idea that the event, at its bloody core, was not simply a giant crime against humanity, whose participants could have made different, less lethal decisions along the way (even that oaf Niall Ferguson now argues that the British Empire could have stayed out of the war, and withdrawn from it at several stages along the way). Central to that conception is the idea that men, our men, were noble and died stoically, laconically -- that they saw a sense in their own deaths. We can be pretty sure that the former was not true -- much of the Australian forces’ reputation for "larrikinism" was really gained from their appalling treatment of local Arab populations, unquestionably a transfer of anti-Aboriginal racism. And we can be reasonably sure, from every record of violent combat, that they died as men often die, shitting their pants and crying for their mothers. What they would think about people three generations down wearing their medals cannot be known, but we can be reasonably sure that there is a total disjuncture between the event itself and the ceremony that has survived it. The strange thing about the WAR protests was that they accorded as much meaning to the event as their opponents chose to. No such protest could be done today, because there is nothing concrete that it would be protesting against, save for a vague unspecified feeling of the hallowed. Lest we remember.
Anzac Day’s disjuncture from the bloody failure it represents
At least the women who protested against Anzac Day in the 1970s and '80s had a real cause. Lest we forget what the remembrance of a bloody failure has become today.