Something about Anzac Day rubs me the wrong way, and I’m not sure what it is. A niggling voice tells me to just shut up, respect my elders and join in the jingo-fest, but as usual I’m going to poke the bear.
I think the fundamental problem I have is that Anzac Day places Gallipoli combatants on a higher level than the rest of our veterans. What, precisely, was so great about the ANZACs? Contrary to popular belief, it was not the first time Australians went to war. We served in the Boer War, the Sudan and the Boxer Rebellion, not to mention dispatching our scant military to help the Kiwis wipe out the Maoris (I guess we had some spare time after wreaking genocide on our own indigenous population). Even if it were, there is no glory in “baptism by fire.” What exactly is so honourable and noble about signing your life away to defend the interests of the British Empire, which proceeded to literally treat you like cannon fodder?
There is a lot of talk about how the ANZACs “defended our freedom.” Rubbish. No Australian freedom was being threatened on the beaches of Turkey and we all know it. If you want to talk about defending the freedom of the Europeans – defending the French and Belgians against the German war machine – that’s another matter entirely. And the Gallipoli assault was part of a larger campaign to stop that. But I just find it very hard to equate the nobility and honour of saving the innocent with the sheer dumbfuck battle tactics on display at Gallipoli, especially when it gets warped and twisted into some kind of ideal Australian value, soaked in blood. Nor when it is abused and exploited by politicians to justify our modern day wars, our blind support of the United States, our contribution to ill-planned and destructive invasions.
There’s just a bad taste to it. A subtle glorification of war. Every Australian seems to be lock-step in worshipping a generation of young men who were unfortunate enough to be brought up with an ideology where fighting in a war was still considered awesome, yet juuuuust after the mounted machinegun was widely implemented. They threw their lives away for nothing and our country applauds them for it. That’s not courageous. It’s tragic and foolish. The ANZACs made no sacrifice towards us and we owe them no debt. Perhaps the descendants of the villagers around Ypres and the Somme do, but the time of Australians would be better spent focusing on the soldiers of the Kokoda Trail and the sailors of the Coral Sea.
Ultimately, World War I is a damned stupid thing to revolve our national ideology around. It was a global tragedy caused by outdated modes of thinking and macho bullshit, taking tens of thousands of Australian lives for no purpose other than obeying the British Empire in their deep involvement in the fucked-up web of European political alliances. It was not noble, it was not honourable, and it most definitely was not Australian.
A final note: at my work, Australian flags have been hung up on all the windows. (Interestingly, this was not done for Australia Day). I rhetorically asked why we weren’t hanging up the New Zealand flag as well, and met with some blank stares.