Saturday, April 25, 2009

ANZAC Day and Pacifism

Written by John, to express sentiments held by both John and Tracy

Stated straight out, we believe ANZAC Day is an extension of the State’s desire to keep the population militarised.

From school classrooms where it is the prime focus of nationalist propaganda through to the television screens across different stations — interdenominationally, if you like — through their trans-vector fronts such as religious organisations (which have vested interest in the militarisation of the State to protect themselves and to use as a vehicle or vector for their own imperialisms), ANZAC Day focuses aggression.

We have no problem with acknowledging the horror of war, the brutal loss of ‘civilians’ and ‘soldiers’, and lamenting of humanity’s folly in allowing war to happen in the first place.

The inculcation of State values is, of course, desired by much of the population — though if such people were aware of having been propagandised, no doubt many would still choose the path of glorification rather than lament.

When the dawn services call to memory men and women who died in war, they cast it as sacrifice for the nation, for the country. This may or may not be true in individual cases, but it certainly can’t be made as a generalisation.

My Auntie Dulce is one of the last still-living wives of a Gallipoli veteran, Harold - a soldier of the 10th Light Horse, who came to believe in peace and never war. Uncle Harold, who would never march on ANZAC Day, never trade in what one might call the ‘currency of medals’, used to say, ‘Don’t let them glorify it – it’s not glorious, it’s brutal.’ And he felt that if talking about it would help people understand it was brutal, then that was worthwhile – but not if it was intended to glorify.

So we don’t object to the conversations that come out of ANZAC Day, but we do object to the militarisation of our children at school, our ‘selves’ as part of the country.

To give a sad intensity to this lament, we are disgusted to see that the Australian Defence Minister used this day to announce in Afghanistan that ‘diggers’ had ‘killed’ a hundred Taliban. Crowing over their skill in killing, the hierarchy cast it against the background of personal and collective sacrifice for the nation. Disgusting.

Did they mention the Afghan children killed by Australian troops in ‘crossfire’ during a military activity a couple of months back? We doubt it.

ANZAC Day is not about the people killed by ‘our’ soldiers, but about affirmations of the State as a military entity. Military entities require selective memories as much as they require poetry and art to feed their myths of glory. Every poem we write should be an anti-war poem. Every poem should be an affirmation of non-violence. Violence begets violence — and you don’t need to be part of a religious hierarchy to make this call. Pity religions didn’t abide by this observation.

ANZAC gatherings without uniforms, without weapons, without the military at all, would be an alternative — if people must gather for such things. By all means, lament the loss of humans, the death, the maiming, the damage to the environment, animals, plants. Lament the damage to the spirit of all. Not a gun in sight. Never. Read Wilfred Owen, read Leon Gellert or any of the many women poets of the First and Second World Wars (for example) who wrote against war and if not combatants experienced the horror in equivalent (or greater) measure. Poetry as activism.


Growling Gecko said...

Well said John. Both Michelle and I have similar misgivings.

Dr Michelle Frantom (aka Dr Mad Fish of Mad Fish Designs) said...

So true. I almost managed to avoid ANZAC day by not watching TV much at all, but this morning caught the news of the 100 killed Taliban. I too empathise with the need to remember, to mark days as 'special' in our nation. I just wish the focus of our nationalism sincerely included events like 'Sorry Day'. I am also disturbed by the 'Y' generation's interest in ANZAC. Many of my generation did not support the military tradition at all. Our young ones have become so conservative.
And if I hear the term 'digger' again I think I will throw up. How can soldiers and civilians today honestly relate to the conditions of war that created the term 'digger'? It has become such a powerful tool for propaganda and it is puzzling that the general public allow themselves to be so easily manipulated.

Barbara Temperton said...

I share your sentiments, guys.

Adam Aitken said...

As a great great grandson of a Lone Pine veteran I fully endorse your thesis. Major Aitken never wanted to talk about ANZAC as a glorious experience. He also experienced the Western front, before the British made him an officer in a training facility in Kent. Here, he administered the kind of skills men "needed" to kill other men (eg: bayonet drill, donning gas masks.) What's honourable about all that? I find it an insult to his memory that now ANZAC is used to justify our military campaigns in Afghanistan.


Anonymous said...

Great post, but I'm amazed you don't have any angry responses yet; doesn't anyone on the right read your blog? I hope we can find ways to dismantle the militirisation of schools that has increased in the Howard years. It was good to see The Australian carry a counter-story to the Anzac legend on Anzac Day on the huge number of court martials, a story that gave a sense of some of the realities of war.

A profound story about your aunt and uncle. A story that needs to be heard.