|megpie71 (megpie71) wrote,|
@ 2014-04-25 08:00:00
On ANZAC Day
ANZAC Day has always been problematic for me. I first heard about it when I started primary school, which now I come to think about it seems a little strange (but may well have been fairly normal for the early-to-mid 1970s in Australia). Even as a child who didn't know anything about the Great War or the circumstances around it, it seemed a little wrong and "off" to me to be having a service to celebrate a war. I never liked it, and I wasn't fond of the way some kids seemed to glory in it, wearing their granddad's medals and such.
As I grew older, and learned more about it, my unease with the holiday grew. By high school in the early 1980s, having seen a few documentaries, and done a bit of reading, it was a positive dislike. Not only were we celebrating a war, we were celebrating Australia's part in an invasion. Not only were we celebrating an invasion, but we were celebrating an invasion where Australian troops were essentially used as colonial cannon fire, dropped in the wrong place by the British Admiralty, and told to accomplish the task anyway.
The battle at Gallipoli was wrong, and stupid. It was a diversionary manoeuvre on the part of the British army, and they were using colonial troops from Australia, New Zealand and Canada as bait to try and pull the Ottoman Turks out of the war. About the only damn thing which can be said in favour of the wretched battle is at least it wasn't happening in a Russian winter, because the rest of it was a SNAFU (to use the military slang) from start to finish. Our soldiers were slaughtered like animals, because the British High Command didn't really give a damn - all their attention was focussed on the Western Front in Flanders, and they had very little interest in what was happening on the Eastern one. All to try and capture a little bit of territory.
About the only good thing to come out of the Gallipoli battle was that the commander of the Turkish side, a fellow by the name of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, got a bit more impetus to do something about the high command on his side of things.
So the ANZAC legend was born out of a cock-up, and became a central part of the Australian military mythos. But what was the whole "ANZAC spirit" anyway? A determination to keep doing what our colonial masters had asked of us, even though we didn't have the right tools, weren't in the right place, and were being commanded by officers who had no idea what we were capable of? A willingness to follow stupid orders and try to attempt the impossible in order for our politicians to win favour with whoever our colonial overlords were this year? It's not much to build a country on.
I'd attend the ANZAC assemblies at school because there was no way of getting out of them. I'd stand there, getting angrier and angrier, particularly at the more jingoistic bits of the speeches. Those men weren't doing what they were doing in service to an Australian ideal - at the time they thought of themselves as good British citizens, and they were out there in service to Mother England. To glorify it as something wonderful was and still is wrong. It wasn't wonderful. It was blood, mud, people dying, people being horribly wounded, because a bunch of politicians on the other side of the world from Australia had decided this was the best way to achieve their goals.
The First World War was a tragedy and a farce from start to finish. The Second World War at least pretended it had a better moral justification. But Australia's role in that war wasn't much different - we were still colonial cannon fodder, it's just in the early stages of the war, the Prime Minister of the time (John Curtin) made certain Australian troops were commanded by Australian generals (who largely complied with the wishes of the colonial overlords anyway), and in latter stages of the war, we shifted which colonial overlord we were cannon fodder for from the British to the Americans. Then we were colonial cannon fodder again and again and again in the decades which intervened - for the British in Malaya and Suez, and for the Americans in Vietnam, and Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The best song about ANZAC Day was written by an immigrant to this country from Scotland (Eric Bogle's "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" - the original is a lot better than the Pogues cover, IMO). And even that song ends with a question about why the hell we're still commemorating a cock-up. Can we find no other cause to celebrate?
My family's relationship with ANZAC day is problematic as well. Neither of my grandfathers served in the Second World War, something both of my parents kept quiet about a lot of the time. My father's father had run away from home to become a drummer boy with the English army toward the end of the Great War (which says something about quite a few things, starting with the type of home life he'd experienced, and moving on to the recruiting practices of the English army at the time), and by the time the Second War rolled around, he was a gold miner in Kalgoorlie - a protected profession. I've a feeling he'd lost an eye by then as well, so he wouldn't have been eligible for military service anyway. My mother's father was a conscientious objector on religious grounds (he was Christadelphian). My father was too young to have served in Malaya, and too old to be drafted by the time Vietnam rolled around (as was the case with his elder brother), and my mother's younger brother had the same religion as his father, and wouldn't have served had his number came up in the draft anyway. I've not asked my parents what it was like, growing up in the aftermath of World War 2 with parents who hadn't done military service, but I get the feeling it can't have been comfortable.
Over the years, the reading I've done, and the way Australian culture has metamorphosed around us have made me profoundly uncomfortable with the holiday. Next year, 2015, is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of ANZAC Cove. I think it would be a good time to stop celebrating ANZAC Day altogether. It's been a century. The original ANZACs have all died. Let them rest in peace. Let the battle fade into history and vanish. Let's find something else to celebrate - for example, let's celebrate the future day when one of our colonial overlords asks Australia to supply troops for a battle, and we consider the matter, and say "no". That would be a day worth celebrating.
Meg's ANZAC Day Playlist:
"And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" - Eric Bogle
"Scorn of the Women" - Weddings Parties Anything
"I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green)" - Redgum
This entry was originally posted at http://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/41650.htm