Don’t dare question war

ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps from World War I. But it now stands for a lot more.

April 25 was ANZAC Day, Australia and New Zealand’s Veterans Day, and has been so for more than a century. It commemorates the landing by the ANZAC expeditionary force on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey in 1915.

And I have some questions that are “unAustralian.”

Have we gone over the top with the ANZAC Centenary? Why does its motto, “the spirit lives,” sound religious? Why is there now discussion that April 25 is so “sacred” it should become the date for Australia’s National Day? Is replacing a day in January, when many say the British invaded Australia, with a day in April, when Australia helped Britain invade Turkey, really more appropriate? Is there a subtext to all this ANZACkery?


In 1990, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the son of a preacher, at the 75th Anniversary of Gallipoli, talked of the troops’ “devotion” and how “the hills rang with their voices and ran with their blood.”

At the Centenary in 2015, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a former trainee priest, spoke of “the greatest love anyone can have: the readiness to lay down your life for your friend.” He told us they were “faithful until death.” Both used religious metaphor because they wanted us to collectively sing the same hymn in the church of remembrance.

Is this all designed to ensure we won’t question why we went to a war, what really took place, what happened to those who came home, and why we are still involved in wars today? 

Turks have their national day on April 23 to mark the defeat of their invaders. Armenians have April 24 to mark what the Turks did to them. The systematic rounding up and slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenians began on April 24, 1915. This genocide happened because the Turks feared the Armenians would side with the enemy (the ANZACs), and so they were exterminated as a precaution. We rarely discuss this event and our indirect role. Hitler observed in 1939 at the height of his power: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Historians have made a case to show Hitler used the collective amnesia of the Armenian genocide as another reason to perpetrate his “final solution” on Poles, Jews and anyone else he saw as the enemy within. 

Those who want ANZAC Day as Australia’s official or de facto national day choose the history they want perpetuated. They don’t want inconvenient facts. Can they answer these questions? What’s the link between the Vietnam War and the genocide in Cambodia? The secret war in Laos? Has Australia’s involvement with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan improved or worsened the situation there, in Syria and the region in general? Should Australia’s school children be writing essays on the Spirit of ANZAC or would time be better spent writing about the long-term damage caused by war and the need for peace? Should they write about post-traumatic stress disorder and how generation after generation of soldiers and civilians suffer? 

The Spirit of ANZAC Centenary site talks of walking in the “footsteps of heroes” and focuses on sacrifice. It downplays the reality of a history we seem doomed to keep repeating. The message is clear: It is noble to die for others and the nation. It used to be called dying for “God, king and country.” Aren’t the kamikaze pilots of World War II and today’s extremists, who strap explosives to their bodies, a distorted version of the same story?

Spend some money, but why is Australia spending so much money? Defense writer and author Ian McPhedran noted recently Australia is spending “more than any other country in the world” to commemorate the centenary of World War I. He says more than $470 million of the $552 million comes from taxpayers and about $80 million from the private sector. This has to be the commemoration to end all commemorations, and remember there are almost three more years to go. This ANZAC Day, a $10 million Anzac Centenary Garden Walk opened in Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia. It says it’s there “for all, not a few” and marks all conflicts from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan.  


If you question any of this, you’ll be attacked. But you’ll also take a stand with a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Former Australia Special Air Service Capt. James Brown gave his opinion when the WWI centenary commemorations got underway by pointing out we were “commissioning new histories about the soldiers at Gallipoli when we haven’t even begun writing the history of soldiers at East Timor, in Iraq or in Afghanistan.” He particularly noted: “We’re spending three times as much money on ANZAC Day ceremonies over the next four years as we are on the problem of mental health for those soldiers coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder.” And he wondered why “if we really believe what we say about ANZAC, then why aren’t we spending the money looking after the soldiers right here and now?” 

The motto of the Returned Services League is “lest we forget.” But it could be we want to forget, not remember, the reality of war.   TJ

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