Today is ANZAC day, which is a significant day for Australians, and is considered by many to be our most significant day. However, it is also considered by some to be a divisive day, and some are calling it racist.. and here. I was discussing this with my wife this morning, and I think part of the problem is that we now live in a multicultural global environment that is vastly different to the era we lived in 40 – 100 years ago.
100 years ago, we were a new nation that was developing our identity within a global perspective. This perspective was shaped by the back ground of empire. While we may recoil at that terminology, it was part and parcel of the normal life throughout the world. We had been a federal commonwealth for only 13 years, which meant we were no longer under the direct rule of the British; instead we were self governing.
While we were a self governing nation, the ethos of empire was still a dominant ethos within the framework of our national identity, and the ties to the British Empire was very strong. And hence when England went to war, it was only natural that their enemies became our enemies. And so we made an alliance with New Zealand, which become known as the Australian, New Zealand Corps. ANZAC.
And while many of us may not understand, nor may some not agree with it; many young Australians signed up to go to war, within the ethos of the then prevalent national empiric identity. But under the direction of England our combined troops fought hard for 8 months in Gallipoli, in which we suffered the great loss of over 8000 men, many of whom because of age, we would consider boys. This battle in Gallipoli, was but a skirmish in relation to the overall thrust and horror of the war, in which we lost over 60’000 men, many who died needlessly.
ANZAC day ceremonies began in 1916, and in 1930 it had become a national public holiday. In no ways was it a day to celebrate war, rather it was a day to honour those who died in the horrors of war…lest we forget. The term, ‘Lest We Forget’ needs to be remembered within the context of WW1 being known as the Great War. The thought that it was the war that would end all wars, was a common catch cry. This term has great connotations of peace, if we do not forget the horrors of war, we will never again have to go to war. But of course, history shows that it wasn’t the war to end wars. The empiric ethos rose up in a number of leaders, which lead to the horrors once again of WW2.
After world war 2, Australia, like many other nations opened our doors with an immigration program. We soon had a influx of people immigrating from other nations, people of whom we had only recently considered to be both enemies and allies. We had a influx of Italians, Germans, Japanese, Turkish, French and British people, making the move to call Australia home.
Today we are a number of generations removed from WW1. We are a number of generations removed from WW2. Many of our younger population have grown up without knowing the horrors of a global war, and therefore have no national sense of enmity within a multicultural environment. For many among our younger generations there is a dichotic problem in making sense of our forebears going to war against enemies, who are now the forebears of many whom we call friends and neighbours.
How are we to reconcile the past within the framework of the present global national experience? I believe we reconcile this experience in the same way, we have reconciled this war with Turkey. Gallipoli in many ways has become an icon of identity, for both the AZACS and the Turkish people. For many its a place of pilgrimage. Perhaps within the Turkish context, its a reminder that they won that battle. And perhaps within ours its a reminder that we lost that battle.
But, I think it goes deeper than that. For we were not the only ones to suffer losses in that battle. The British, French, Indian and Turkish people also suffered great losses. We were not the only ones. The French lost 15000, Indians lost 1300, the British lost 21000, and the Turks lost 86’000 men in this battle, not to mention the vast numbers of wounded.
I believe that ANAC day is not a racist day. It is a day of great inclusiveness. It is not a day of celebration. Instead it is a day of remembrance, It’s a solemn day in which we remember all who battled on that day, all who lived, all who died and all who suffered in that battle and war. And it is right and proper for us to honour those who went to war on behalf of our nation over 100 years ago…and within the catch cry…Lest We Forget, let us not forget, that this war, was a war that was supposed to end all wars… because the reality is that in war there are no real victors. There are many losers, losers of life and within this framework, there are no victors, only survivors.