Modern day Anzac celebrations are increasingly becoming a day of nationalist fervour, where we wear the flag, instead of honouring those we lost defending it.
I have visited Gallipoli.
Being there, even on a spectacularly sunny Spring day, is enough to move the most hardened cynic. The immaculately kept war graves are respectful and dignified, but reading the headstones provokes a real sense of outrage. The names, ranks and, more shockingly, the ages of the soldiers who died hit you in the face.
Boys, really. 16, 17, 18.
I think the oldest person I saw was 45, and he was an officer. It’s exactly the same in the Turkish war cemetery – so many young men dead.
All for a piece of ground a few kilometres long.
It is fitting that we remember the soldiers who lost their lives at Gallipoli, Egypt, on the Western Front, and in all arenas of war from 1914-1918, and Anzac Day is as good a day as any to commemorate the fallen. Of course, the day now also honours all those soldiers who have fought for Australia since 1918. The big ones – World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq. And the smaller ones – the Russian Civil War, the Malayan Emergency and so on, not to mention all the peacekeeping operations our armed forces have been involved with such as Cambodia, Namibia, Somalia, Rwanda, Bougainville and East Timor, amongst others.
When I was a kid, all Anzac Day meant was a day off school and nothing on telly. All channels seemed to show the march in gloriously-boring black and white. I don’t recall my parents thinking anything much about the day and its significance. We (and they) were taught about Gallipoli at school – the bare bones at least – so it wasn’t complete ignorance that informed our apathy. Rather, it was the general perception at the time, during the 1960s and 1970s, that the day was for the survivors of war, not for the general public.
People get caught up in symbolism and forget humanity. It’s common to hear that soldiers fought “under our flag”, but surely they fought for humanity, not for a square of cloth.
It has only been in the last couple of decades or so that Anzac Day has taken on a more nationalistic hue.
Perhaps it was the poor treatment afforded to Vietnam veterans that germinated the change in our national psyche, or perhaps it was growing globalisation and the rapidity with which news and current affairs could travel. Perhaps it was our growing sophistication in the last quarter of the 20th century. In any event, we as a people, made ourselves more aware of our military history and started to think about the men and women who fought in our names.
This is all to the good, but there has also been a worrying side effect. Jingoism has reared its ugly head. Faux-nationalism is becoming the norm. Hoons and yobbos are wrapping themselves in the Australian flag, fostering the kind of misguided patriotism that led to the xenophobic Cronulla riots in 2005. It’s an ugly sort of nationalism.
As for the Australian flag, consider this – many people get caught up in symbolism and completely forget humanity. It’s common to hear people say that soldiers fought “under our flag”, but surely that is a base insult? To suggest that our diggers fought for a piece of fabric is not only insulting, but belittling to their memory. These men and women fought for the values, the ideals, the principles of freedom and democracy that we hold dear in this country.
They fought for humanity.
They did not fight for a square of cloth.
Personally, I find the flag a divisive symbol, but that’s the subject for another article.
Also on The Big Smoke
- TBS Flag Poll: The Australian demonstration flag
- ANZAC Day: We should remember them, but not forget others
Anzac Day has become a day to knock back a few beers, have a barbecue, fly the flag, be a “dinky-di” Aussie. There’s even a “traditional” Anzac Day match on the AFL field that commercial interests have marketed as the equivalent of a battle.
Footy players as warriors??
I mean, seriously?!
Apart from the absurdity of equating football players with soldiers whose lives are on the line, it seems to be forgotten that the battle fought on 25 April, 1915 was an unmitigated disaster. We have idealised the failure and made it into something it wasn’t.
We have embraced an unattractive jingoistic mindset.
And this mindset is becoming more entrenched. It manifests itself in prejudice against anyone perceived not to be a “true” Australian, and that includes second-, third- and fourth-generation Australians of European and Asian descent, not to mention the desperate souls fleeing the conflicts rife in the Middle East. Jingoism breeds intolerance. This brand of flag-waving patriotism produces an irrational hatred of other races.
We really should be aiming for a respectful remembrance of those Australians who suffered fighting wars of other people’s making, and also be trying to stamp out this misplaced belligerent form of nationalism, which is not pretty, not pretty at all.
Do we really want to look like a bunch of bigoted rednecks?
On Anzac Day this year, can’t we try to embrace a gentler, more conciliatory form of nationalistic pride, one that is inclusive of everyone?
An idealistic notion perhaps, but surely worth the effort.