It seems to be de riguer for a certain type of journalist to write stuff on ANZAC Day saying that it’s a jingoistic load of crap celebrated by right-wing lunatics. Now, there’s certainly an element of society which seems to see ANZAC Day as a “glorious tradition”, and that tries to harness it to an unpleasant kind of nationalism. I really resent that. But that doesn’t mean that all people who find importance in ANZAC Day are racist thugs. I resent that implication too. I wrote a post in 2007 in response to an article by Tracee Hutchinson which describes the way I continue to feel now:
ANZAC day is about remembrance. It is about remembering those who died fighting under the Australian flag, and those who were wounded. It is also about honouring those who came back safely, and saying that we appreciate their sacrifice. While we may be able to see with hindsight that a particular war was not a good idea, or was motivated by improper political motives, this does not mean we should dishonour the people who fought and died in them. Part of the message of ANZAC day is that war is a terrible thing. Certainly, my forebears seemed to have been indelibly scarred by it.
ANZAC day tells us that we wish for peace in all areas of the world where war rages. …
Anyway, this ANZAC Day, my ire has been raised by Catherine Deveny and her inane twitters on the subject. To wit:
I came across Deveny’s twitter via Pavlov Cat’s piece at Still Life With Cat. Black Dog also has a great response to Deveny. Go read both posts, they are very well written. They say it better than I can. But I will say a little bit.
Of course some people enlisted because they wanted adventure, or because they wanted to be a hero. That’s the kind of thing which is attractive to idealistic young lads and lasses, and that’s part of the tragedy of it – they wanted adventure; many got death, injury and horror instead.
I understand on one level where Deveny is coming from. She’s having a knee-jerk reaction against the popular media coverage which portrays the ANZACs as unalloyed heroes. So instead, she reacts against this by saying the opposite: that the ANZACs are racist, homophobic and misogynist, as well as rapists and bullies. It’s trite and ill thought out. Like much of Deveny’s writing, it attempts to be iconoclastic and witty, but it fails miserably and ends up being offensive.
Just because the ANZACs fought in a war doesn’t mean that they were bad people. Not every ANZAC was a hero, but not every ANZAC was a monster either. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of them were just ordinary people, with normal foibles and flaws. That is precisely one of the sorrows of war – decent ordinary people go and kill other decent ordinary people.
On a day like this, we should not glorify war. We should stop and think about the horror that war wreaks. It doesn’t just result in physical injury and death, but it leaves mental scars which continue on for a long time afterwards, in individual and collective psyches. Ordinary, decent people die because of war, they are injured or suffer for long afterwards. It’s something we want to avoid, if we can. But nor should we just forget war, or insult those who fought, died, or were injured in wars.