Monday, April 25, 2011

Anzac Day and selective remembering

"War, in short prompted behaviour that would have been unthinkable, as well as dysfunctional in peacetime... War- total war- has been the critical antecedent condition for mass criminality in the modern era"
Tony Judt 2008
Today is Anzac Day and with it comes jingoism, nationalism, memorialization and glorification of war.

I am all for respecting and acknowledging the sacrifice and courage of Australian soldiers, but what we get with Anzac Day is "selective remembering": the promotion and popularization of a mythology that accords legitimacy to some truths about Australia's military history and silences others.

Much of the history we hear on Anzac Day does not enhance our appreciation and awareness of Australian history. It serves as substitute.

Thinking about Anzac Day brings to mine James Scott's book Domination and the Arts of Resistance in which he writes of the public rituals, performances and ceremonies- parades, memorials, state ceremonies- that the powerful use to distract attention away from the strategies they use to retain power. War of course being one of those.

I will spend the day reflecting on the horror and tragedy of war, and Australia's history of fighting in other country's wars.

I will think of my own family members who fought (and suffered) as a result of their war experiences. They had no interest in all the glorification and memorialisaion of war.

My mother’s brother- my uncle- fought in the Western Desert and SE Asia during WW2. After his return from war he wanted nothing to do with all the celebratory war talk. He had no time for groups like the RSL. He used to say that those who talked the loudest about war were usually the ones who had never seen the real action close up. I am reminded of Albert’s words today as I hear all those politicians and military leaders.

And I will think of a former neighbour of mine. He fought in New Guinea where he saw the horror of war. He told me once that "war is just ordinary men with families and children killing other ordinary men with families and children...... Unnecessary killing that’s what war is”.

I wonder if his message will get spoken at all the official ceremonies on Anzac Day.

A piece inspired by a conversation I had with him on the eve of the invasion of Iraq can be read here.

Anzac Day would be more honest and meaningful if we also remembered and spoke honestly about alternative narratives of Australia's past and current military history, including;
  • the foreign invasion of sovereign nations by Australian troops (Turkey, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq);
  • the exploitation of Australian troops by Imperial powers (USA and Britain) ;
  • the lies and deceit that have been used time and time again (and continue to be used) to justify Australia's involvement in overseas wars (Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan);
  • the pointlessness of Australia's involvement in the geo-political maneuvers of imperial powers;
  • Australia's unquestioning involvement in imperial wars since the Boer War;
  • the incompetence and callousness of military and political decision makers- American, British and Australian;
  • the horror, brutality and pointlessness of war; 
  • the atrocities perpetrated by the Australian military and their allies;
  • the brutalizing effect of war on ordinary soldiers and their families and on civilians;
  • the abandonment of many Australian soldiers by the Australian military and government once they return home from war;
  • the bellicose attitudes to war and the political uses that military, media and political leaders make of Australia's military history; and
  • the warrior culture in the Australian military that allows and covers up bastardization, sexual assault, sexual predation and other military excesses.

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