Anzac Day thoughts

Anzac day was not a big one in our family. My father, who served in New Guinea, was never keen to talk about it. Both my grandfathers, who were in the Great War, were much the same as far as I can remember – one never fully recovered from being gassed. But it’s important to remember and honour all those who risked, and often gave, their lives in answer to calls made in all our names.

For as long as anyone who took part survived, their memories on Anzac Day and similar occasions served to remind us what a tragic disaster was the Gallipoli expedition, and indeed the whole Great War. Now that we have to rely on the words of those who have passed, Bert Facey’s wonderful book, A Fortunate Life is one of the best.

Now that the Anzacs, and most of the survivors of 1939-35, are gone, I hope that we can remember their sacrifice and do our best to end the wars that still cause so much grief and suffering around the world.

23 thoughts on “Anzac Day thoughts

  1. I just hope that the astonishing increase in observance and spectatorship of Anzac Day does not indicate a general rise in militarism in Australian society. However, I fear it does.

  2. Remembering the sacrifice of others is not “militarism”.

    Sadly, as long as there are people from elsewhere who wish to impose their will on others there will be a need for the people to take up arms and defend their country.

    Those who did so in the past, and are doing so now, deserve to be remembered.

  3. Brimstone

    Does this apply to Australian indigenous peoples who struggled against the British who imposed their will on others?

  4. I don’t think “remembering the sacrifice of others” is “militarism”.
    A bit like Easter, its some thing that ought to humble people, dealing as it does (also) with unwelcome issues concerning human nature and behaviour and the actual frailties of the ego driven creature.
    Yet, true enough, there is a movement toward jingoism and white washing, and the presentation of a certain type of history almost as ideology that acts to excise alternative readings and understandings.
    Some thing that ought to humble has being getting closer to crass ra-ra.
    I wonder if all Turks are enthusiastic of our yearly expropriation of parts of their country to celebrate our invasion and the subsequent deaths of tens of thousands of them?
    Is it a species of eurocentrism, in a sense?

  5. I find the raise a glass ads by a beer seller particularly offensive. I don’t think that it hurts to revisit some of the weak reasons that Australians have gone to war on Anzac Day but wonder at how the drinking problems of those who returned can be presented in such a manner.

    My father joined up when the Japanese bombed Darwin – so he was sent to Europe to fight. I don’t think he ever got over the fact that he joined up to fight for his country and suffered extreme privations for a battle which wasn’t his.

  6. Gee, that’s an astute comment from Jill Rush.
    Crystallises it all, as far I’m concerned.

  7. My father was in the army for 5 years – in the Middle East and New Guinea. Ended up with malaria. Wouldn’t talk much about the army – or at least the serious side of it but he hated war. Remember him going off to ANZAC Day ceremonies when I was a kid.

    He’s been dead for 34 years. I think of him often but particularly on ANZAC Day.

  8. It has been a bit sad over recent years to watch the transformation of ANZAC day from an event of sombre remembrance to something more approaching a celebration of I guess you could call it national identity.

    Our egalitarian society and the very large sacrifice we made as a percentage of population has always meant that trying to turn war memorials into celebrations was in awful taste. There have always been too many veterans for whom ANZAC Day is a genuinely sad when they really are remembering friends who did not come home. As our veterans pass away its becoming possible for those of us who only understand war from books and movies to never know that the whole bloody business is nothing but horror and misery. The veterans were smart enough to figure out that you had to do it, you looked after your mates and they looked after you, you did your best to get home in one piece. Anything much more than that was clap trap for the generals and the politicians or what you might call jingoism. Its harder to understand that today but not impossible. You could trying speaking to a veteran for even a few moments, or just watch the expression on their face when they quietly deflect away questions of what it was like and you will get just a glimmer of how horrible it all was. Its more than enough. The pain of an old man remembering dead friends should make anyone realise that an ANZAC Day which is a jingoistic celebration can never really be an ANZAC Day at all.

    I know we need to celebrate our national identity, and that much of that was forged on battle fields. But are we so desperate for national affirmation that we’re willing to re-write the sad history of many of our best and trample over the graves at Gallipoili to do it? In my mind at least, Australian values have been built on deep cynicism of politicians and jingoism coming from the hard experience of war. The quiet self confidence we have in part comes from learning the hard way that the man with the general’s stars who orders you to die is just as likely to be an idiot as the man next to you. If we give that up then we’ll have thrown such important bedrock’s of our real identity (as opposed this media/politician contrived crap) that we may as well go the whole kit and kaboodle and declare ourselves the South Pacific Territory of the United States. Then we could have ANZAC Day with happy smiles and laughing children. Put the guys with the missing limbs at the back and out of sight. All so it doesn’t get people down when they watch it on TV.

  9. I’ve just came across to the site & wanted to share some words as a Turk, to respond to Paul’s curiosity in a way..Turkish people has no complaint about your citizens’ arrival to Turkey each year. We have respect for the Anzac’s who lost their lives many miles away from their homeland, and also respect the ones coming each year for the remembrance day. Frankly, I would not call it a celebration of invasion if I knew a little bit of history of what had happened on those lands of Gallipoli. In any case, tens of thousands of people lost their lives,your&our grandfathers, and each year we both remember that we owe to those for we are living in peace now. Below is the tribute of Ataturk for the Anzac’s died in Gallipoli:
    ”Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”
    That’s what Turks still think..
    Best regards,

  10. Thats a nice thought Nur. I agree wery much with Jill’s point on the disateful way that beer sellers use Anzac day to promote their product. My fatherb had three brothers. All four went to the war. Two of them became ta pilot and navigator – they must have been trained in extraordinary haste (in canada). It was for the bombing raids over Germany. One didnt come home and the other won the distinguished Flying Cross. He survived a plane crash and never spoke about the war. His diary was interesting. It was full of fun and jokes until they arrived in England. They went by boat to Hawaii en route to Canada. They had a lovely party at the Pink Palace in Waikiki which opened its bar to the men. There was a story of very inebriated mates attempting to reboard the ship, and stories of practical jokes between the Australians, Americans and Canadian troops.

    The lightheartedness stopped when they reached England and his diary turned into a log. Date, time, destination, aircraft type (flying fortress mostly), duration of flight. Night after night. He never spoke about the war but the log was telling for its pressure and then I remember how young they all were.

  11. That comment by Ataturk is very moving. It always brings tears to my eyes when I read it.

    I don’t go to ANZAC day commemorations much now, but I don’t think they have much to do with national affirmation at all. To me they have the same sadness of a funeral. Or at least the ones I used to go to did. Maybe it’s changed in the past twenty years…

    Don’t know. Don’t care. Jingoism, politics, the whys and wherefores of how it happened don’t mean anything to me on ANZAC day. For me ANZAC day is when I remember the people (particularly family) who died or were damaged in war.

  12. We also shouldnt forget those that went to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq and that some leaders misuse youth for unnecessary wars. Many wars have poverty or unemployment as their recruitment grounds. Waikiki is still full of solidiers on leave. I chatted to some of them whilst on holidays there (usually in the hotel laundry) and they are mostly young and they freely admitted that lack of jobs in the US regions where they lived was a primary motivation for joining the army. They seemed to hope not to stay in the army too long (five years or eight years) – just enough time to save something. One soldier told me that he didnt believe there was any organised “insurgency” in Iraq, as reported so often by the media, but that the culture of honour killings (revenge) was very strong in Iraqi culture and it was more of a form of chaos due to this.

  13. Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949. It is one of the few countries in the Americas not have endured a civil war or military rule since 1949.

    Perhaps we should disband the Army, Navy and Air Force and spend the money on assisting our neighbours with their policing and rule of law efforts.

    If you do not have Miltary Forces it becomes difficult to have wars and you are forced into more rational ways of resolving conflicts.

  14. Pr Q says:

    For as long as anyone who took part survived, their memories on Anzac Day and similar occasions served to remind us what a tragic disaster was the Gallipoli expedition, and indeed the whole Great War.

    The Great War was the mother of all the 20th C wars. And Gallipoli was a foolish venture. We would have been well out of it.

    I’m not sure a lot of historical understanding is gained by imposing contemporary moral standards onto the concerns of by-gone generations. The war was very popular at the time.

    From what I gather most AIF men supported the war aim of curbing fearful Prussian militarism. A fear that was vindicated by subsequent experience.

    They were also concerned to “protect the rights of small countries”. An aim which got something of a fillip from Versaille Treaty.

    All the evidence shows that the AIFs commitment to the fight was unwavering and indeed strengthened towards the end. As proved by their good showing in the climactic battles.

    Pr Q says:

    Anzac day was not a big one in our family. My father, who served in New Guinea, was never keen to talk about it. Both my grandfathers, who were in the Great War, were much the same as far as I can remember – one never fully recovered from being gassed. But it’s important to remember and honour all those who risked, and often gave, their lives in answer to calls made in all our names.

    ANZAC day has totally different meanings for veterans as opposed to civilians.

    Both my grand-father and grand-uncle (KIA) served. Dad was a partisan brigade commander. They never talked about it much, neither whining nor boasting. But then they never talked about anything personal very much. Thats how men were in those days.

    Most hard-core veterans are not all that crazy about the “Johhny-come-latelies” who are now joining in the commemoration of the landings. Originally it was a soldiers get-together and civilians were not always welcomed. War-story bragging rights are a currency only tendered amongst that exclusive brethren.

    The revival of ANZAC day based on grass-roots sentiment, mainly from civilians with no military service of their own. It touches a common nerve amongst the multitudes of Baby Boomer males who feel that they have somehow “missed out” on a chance to prove their manhood in battle, especially compared to their forefathers.

    March numbers and pilgrimage makers were well on the rise before Howard got to office. His govt did jump on the bandwagon, though.

    I have never caught the slightest whiff of militarism emanating from ANZAC day. Mostly its a sacrament revering self-sacrifice, a noble sentiment much missing in todays self-serving culture.

    We have few enough rituals in this country to remind us of our common tradition. Now that we are becoming so diverse its all the more important to make “E pluribus Unum”.

    Pr Q says:

    Now that we have to rely on the words of those who have passed, Bert Facey’s wonderful book, A Fortunate Life is one of the best.

    Facey’s book is excellent. But Gammage’s book “The Broken Years”, a selection and commentary on AIF war diaries and letters, is more representative. It reveals complex ambivalence about the war from its most direct participants.

    Life was pretty grim in those days, esp after the awful 1890s Depression and subsequent political conflict. Well-paid military service did not seem like a bad option.

    All the AIF men were volunteers. Many Australian men, then an now, grabbed at the chance for an all-expenses paid overseas trip. They relished the opportunity to make a difference in the Big League and to show that they were the equals of the top-dogs in the Old Country.

    Most AIF hostility about the war was not based on pacifism. It was of the “Perfidious Albion” variety: scathing criticism of toffy British officers, poor quality of Tommie soldiers, war-profiteering, credit-squeezing bankers or the Press which did not give proper credit for AIF contribution to victory.

    When the AIF returned they formed the RSL which was notoriously the most chauvinistic organization in Australian political life.Hughes, the most pro-war politician, was also the most successful Australian politician until Menzies. Another man noted for his loyalty to the British Empire. Perhaps these “revealed preferences” are a better indication of popular sentiment at the time than the never-ending procession of black-arm banders.

  15. I should add that I do not consider Pr Q a “black arm-bander” in any meaningful sense.

    At least compared to the ever-sorrowful Marilyn Lake. Who not so long ago managed to snare a $480,000 grant to finance her research into our past mis-deeds.

    Nice work if you can get it.

  16. I dont know about the term “black armbander” Jack. I didnt like it when I heard it. Then I heard about the “white blindfolds” (or something similar but the latter doesnt carry the dangerous connotation that “black armbanders” did mostly about pretty innocuous undangerous people as well) and I thought well thats fair but why does it have to come down to labels about what political persuausion people “supposedly” are or are “misconstrued by negative label as” rather than what they actually say or write?

    The white blindfolds think the black armbands are ideas manipulators and the black armbands no doubt think the very same thing of the white blindfolds.

  17. I must also comment that Marilyn Lake has been writing history for many years and as Professor of History at La Trobe university she likely more than deserves a grant like that for research purposes. The age then invites people to comment on her article

    There are some good points aside from those in the the general public who want to label Marilyn Lake a “cleverdick modern historian” or “typical academic perspective pandering to the minority lefty view.”

    Why do I tend to think reasoned comments spring from the middle or left of the political continuum (note use of word continuum) and one line personal insults tend to spring from the right of the political continuum?

  18. Given that war is a failure of politics, maybe it would be apt to ask politicians to stay away from such ceremonies… even if they’ve served in a war.

    For me there seems to be a clear conflict of interest for politicians who wish to publicly remember the fallen and those who returned for their military service and ask those who currently serve to unquestioningly enforce their political will, however dubious it may be. And most wars are dubious.

    Of course when a political career is over there should be no problems about attending remembrance ceremonies.

  19. 15# Jack
    I know you are giving JQ a compliment when you say he is not a “balck armabnder” so I dont want you to take my comments personally. I just question the use of descriptors like this – that is all. I dont think they help and its too easy a label. Im new to the “black armbander” literature ie I have read the discourse years later – I believe the phrase was coined in the late 1980s. I thought on first readings the expression was a little over the top.

  20. Nur, thanks very much for you comment.
    It’s a concern for some Australians that we retain the sense of respect and a sense of shared past, especially through adversity with others thrown by historical accident into conflict with us.
    Hence Australians should not allow respect for the conduct of Australian troops particularly (I say this as an Australian), under great pressure, and a resulting sense of sadness that such people should have died so vaingloriously, to be appropriated by those who manipulate human emotions for personal gain. Most die arguably not for sufficient cause, particularly given the involvment of politicians and profiteers in creating wars that bring grief only to many others, on both sides.
    In Australia we have had people called Hansonists who have stoked the fears of some uneducated Australians, of cultural or religious”others- no doubt you have pockets of similar people in your country who also stir strife between different people.
    Let’s celebrate great courage and resourcefulness under terrible conditions, and lets weep for the loss of innocence. And let’s pray that that that celebration excludes consideration of the humanity of the other side, or builds some sort of silly misplaced sense of superiority that is disrespectful or ignoring of one side, for this leads to contempt,wars andbloodshed later regretted. The overarching fact of humanity that could bind wounds and sooth grief must remain paramount if any thing is to be gained in the way of a lesson, from past human messes.
    The modern wars are caused by people who discourage the sense of a shared humanity and arrange fights carried on by the exploited, mislead, gullible and hotheaded, that are an extreme offence to the memory of all war victims.
    There is a bad trend toward “history only from the point of view of the victors” where alternative views are ignored, exploited for political purposes, that always seeks to deny the story of the other side; that sets up “us” as victims of wicked “them” and reappropriates virtue as “our” sole prerogative, and war is rarely that simple.

  21. Pr Q says:

    I hope that we can remember their sacrifice and do our best to end the wars that still cause so much grief and suffering around the world.

    I would be fairly confident that war will be less important as a resolver of political conflict. Its just too expensive and ineffective to satisfy basic cost-benefit calculus. Inter-state and even intra-state war has been in decline since the end of the Cold War. Andrew Mack gives the broad brush picture:

    By 2003, there were 40 percent fewer conflicts than in 1992. The deadliest conflicts — those with 1,000 or more battle-deaths — fell by some 80 percent. The number of genocides and other mass slaughters of civilians also dropped by 80 percent, while core human rights abuses have declined in five out of six regions of the developing world since the mid-1990s.

    International terrorism is the only type of political violence that has increased. Although the death toll has jumped sharply over the past three years, terrorists kill only a fraction of the number who die in wars.

    What accounts for the extraordinary and counterintuitive improvement in global security over the past dozen years? The end of the Cold War, which had driven at least a third of all conflicts since World War II, appears to have been the single most critical factor.

    Pacifists should offer up a special prayer for Ronald Reagan every time they lay thee down to sleep.

    But underlaying the abatement of ideological super-power conflict is an even stronger force dictating our destiny: post-modern demography.

    The best predictor of pacifism is feminism. As woman gain in productive and re-productive rights they are less likely to breed and brood large families to be given up to the warfare state. One point six trophy children if you are lucky and these will be molly-coddled and hot-housed by “helicopter parents”. Luttwak traces the effect of feminism on pacifism:

    What explains the change is, I fear, a simple loss of vitality in its most elemental sense: advanced, postindustrial populations with their equal-citizen females do not produce the exuberant abundance of children (four, six, or eight per mother) that can at times fuel warlike sentiments, and which does certainly induce families and societies to accept the casualties of war with adequate equanimity.

    Consider, for example, the USSR, “traumatized” by cumulative 10-year losses in Afghanistan that it would have calmly absorbed before breakfast when Russian women were still fertile–and this, without democracy or “biased” TV coverage by the way, whose effect on Vietnam was perhaps 1 percent of what was imputed by disgruntled blood-and-guts warriors and self-congratulating network executives alike.

    When a Palestinian mother (of 12) whose son has just been killed says that she is willing to give the lives of more sons to the cause, she means it; her emotional capital is diversified, not invested in one son (US) or 0.8 of a son (Germany, Italy).

    Given that the PRC’s birth-rate is very low and that even Arab birth-rates are declining I do not see the fertility-virility dynamic being the driving force behind militarism in the future.

  22. Jack#21
    I agree with some of your argument given I have only one son. Conscription would turn his mother into a draft dodging accomplice before they would get him for the war. I would personally burn the notice and disappear into the Mulga with him if necessary!.

  23. Pacifists should offer up a special prayer for Ronald Reagan every time they lay thee down to sleep.

    There is much myth making around the Reagan legacy. Given the cold war proxies that were fought in his time (Iran/Iraq, USSR/Afghanistan) and the blow-back that these have caused, I’d hardly consider him a saint.

    A BBC documentary series on US presidents that appeared on ABC TV circa 2005 put forward the credible premise that Reagan was showing the early signs of senility after he had otherwise physically recovered from the assassination attempt in 1981.

    When I get time I’ll have to read the recently published book titled “Tear Down This Myth”.

    Also the theory around the original October Surprise doesn’t sound that incredible when you consider the shenanigans of the Iran-Contra episode.

    So in summing up… this pacifist atheist will do no such thing.

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