April 2003 #7

What Does ANZAC Mean?

As ANZAC day approaches I began to wonder how it will be structured this year.

Over the last few years there have been increasing pressures to commercialise the event. This has largely been resisted although many tour operators have made substantial profits from running "pilgrimages" to ANZAC cove. In the main the event retains its semi-religious status as a "sacred" day - despite Crown being granted trading status again.

I assume our "leaders" will be displayed and we'll hear them chanting the mantra that all wars a bad but we should support our boys and girls currently upholding the ANZAC tradition "over there". We'll have the reports from 'the Cove' showing us pictures of young men and women by candlelight and the scenes of older men and women 'remembering'. We'll see pictures of the little boy or girl with a flag, and one somewhat older marching with his or her granddad's medals.

The video and audio packages will be well produced and slick. There will be solemn voice-overs and whispered commentary - all of which is meant to convey the depth of feeling we should have on what is, for our nation, the closest we come to the quasi religious-militaristic displays we see from the US on July 4th.

The experts will once more polish up their knowledge of the battles fought - but with the last of the original ANZACS now gone, the order of importance placed on battles will change in the scripts, currently being finessed and edited.

But what does it all mean this year?

For the first time, Australian Forces and our government cannot claim to have been actually defending us. This year our forces became the aggressors. Sure, it could be argued that our efforts were to "free" the Iraqis from Saddam. But they didn't ask. It will be argued that they couldn't because to do so would mean death. Probably so. But as we joined in the 'coalition of the willing' we chose to cast out lot (sorry, it is we because we let our so called leaders get away with it) with the US leadership who chose to "pre-emptively" disarm Saddam. However, as is becoming clearer each day, there is no smoking gun. There is very little to show that Saddam could resist such an overwhelming force and, above all, growing resentment that the US, UK and us are interfering in the internal working of the country. In short, it will be very interesting to hear what
sloganeering will be engineered this ANZAC day.

In the past I have gone to marches to try and find out why they are so popular and to try and answer my own curiosity as to why I felt the need to go. This year, more than ever, I'm just not sure if I want to go. Its not that I don't feel empathy for the troops and their families, its just that the recent war has brought home how fickle we are. Our celebration will be the Iraqis sorrow. And, of course, they are not the only ones, just the latest.

So I wonder how ANZAC day will be presented this year. Will it inflame the nascent nationalism I've felt in previous years? Will it be a denial of present history? Will it be a time where those who "lead" us pontificate on the wonderful way our troops handled themselves. I even expect that GW Bush will send his greeting in some form.

I guess what concerns me most about ANZAC day this year, is that in telling the story, more of the history that should be written will be forgotten or buried. That history which recalls the dirt and blood and smell and heat and fear and tears and pain and loneliness that seems to be the way soldiers remember battles. And, as is usual we wont hear the voices or see the pictures of the civilians they are killed with regular monotony in each war. Their history remains, largely, unwritten and unread. Who will march for them?

So while our leaders ponce about and pontificate on the wonders of the modern army and the media commentators paint beautiful word pictures as they attempt to invoke a sense of wonder and awe, I wonder what the orphaned children of Baghdad and Bazra will be doing. I wonder how they will structure their day.