Anzac Day and the war to end all wars

By | | comments |
(Image via staynerlegion.ca)

Let's make Anzac Day about trying to end war rather than about glorifying it, writes managing editor David Donovan.

YESTERDAY WAS, of course, Anzac Day, where we honour our fallen and remember the feats of Australian soldiers and service personnel from Gallipoli and beyond.

I find Anzac Day inexpressibly sad.

Like most Australians, my family have their blood and sweat to Australia’s frequent foreign wars. My father’s father fought with distinction in the 11th Light Horse, including in the famous 1917 Battle of Beersheeba and returned home to tell an heroic tale, which is now part of family legend. Yet the tale was also a sad one, as one of his brothers later died in the trenches in Northern Europe. But it goes on. One of my mother’s great uncles still lies in the Middle East, killed on the last day of the “War to End All Wars”. And her father was a gunner in New Guinea in World War II, where he contracted malaria, which plagued him throughout his life. My wife’s grandfather died in a Japanese POW gaol after the Fall of Singapore in 1942, while her father was just a baby; he lived his life having no recollection of his father at all.

War is a terrible thing. It should not be entered into lightly. To spill the blood of our nation’s youth causes downstream effects that affect our society profoundly. Anzac Day, I feel, should be a day of quiet reflection for those who have sacrificed so much, or it all. It should be a day to recall that war is hell.

And yet, I don’t get that feeling about Anzac Day. At least not these days. Every year, it seems to be more like a festival than a commemoration or a memorial.

Last year, for instance, I was rather shocked to hear the veteran at my son’s school Anzac Day ceremony make a speech about the “glory” of Gallipoli. He said nothing at all about the horror or the pain.

And yesterday, listening to ABC Radio in the morning, the local anchor was talking to an ABC reporter in Darwin, which had suffered terrible destruction from Japanese bombing in WWII. It was about 10am. He was Irish and was at the local RSL, where he said “everyone has had a few drinks” waiting for the two-up to start. One of the veterans was explaining to him the principles of two-up, about which he was unfamiliar.

At the end of the segment, the reporter said two-up was just one of the many ways people chose to “celebrate Anzac Day” in Darwin. Some went sailing. Some had picnics. Some gambled and “had a few drinks”. Quiet reflection, or sadness, was not mentioned. Just celebration. Just having fun and getting pissed. Welcome to Anzac Day, circa 2016.

Now, I don’t have any problem with fun, or the odd beer, but it occurs to me that turning Anzac Day into a “celebration” does nothing to honour or help our brave veterans and current serving personnel. Or, even more importantly, the ones who are yet to serve.

Every year, there are more shows on TV and more Anzac Day “celebrations” talking about the glory of war. But war is not glorious. War is a profound failure of diplomacy.

Moreover, our commemorations never include mention of the estimated 100,000 who died in Australia’s Frontier Wars — 60,000 in Queensland alone. Indeed, the War Memorial in Canberra, run by former Liberal Leader Brendan Nelson, refuses to have any memorial to the Frontier Wars at all. It doesn’t fit with the glorious Anzac narrative.

According to a War Memorial spokesperson, its mission

“… does not extend beyond the experience of deployed Australian forces overseas in war and in peace.”

Yes, only Australia’s overseas adventures are "celebrated" by the War Memorial. Sending our young people off to fight overseas in other people’s wars is what we do. There was nothing very glorious about our defeat at Gallipoli. Of course, our men were heroes, but they should never have been there at all.

Gallipoli was an invasion by the British Imperial Army on the competing Ottoman Empire — all part of the “Great Game” between the great powers of the time that led to the “Great War” — which wasn’t great all. Because we lost the flower of our youth on foreign battlefields on behalf of our Imperial overlord. Australia was never threatened. Apart from our imperial allegiance, we had no reason to be involved in that war at all.

I remember and honour all the people who sacrificed their lives and who suffered in service to this country, but don’t expect me use the day to glorify war. To glorify a nation training its citizens to become killers, traumatising them in brutal conflicts and then blithely placing them back into society like nothing at all has happened. The whole idea is horrific.Their effects, cataclysmic.

Just one Anzac Day, I would like to see one of our leaders give a speech promising that no longer would people like him or her sacrifice our young in needless, futile, foreign adventures. To apologise for the mistakes of the past and promise never to allow them to happen again. To make our Defence Forces about defence and not about attack. To swear they will not put our sons and daughters in danger again, just so Australia can play at being a loyal Deputy Dawg in someone else’s aggressive strategic plans.

Let’s not use Anzac Day to glorify war. Let’s strive for peace. Let’s remember the fallen and honour their sacrifice.

Lest we forget.

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

Monthly Donation


Single Donation


Support independent journalism. Subscribe to IA for just $5.

Recent articles by David Donovan
My part in Elon Musk’s horrifying and tragic Everest catastrophe (Chapter One)

Infiltrating Elon Musk’s Everest caravanserai was not the most difficult assig ...  
POEM: Park on Park

Nick O’Loan and Nic Clark both work at a carpark... Park on Park.  
$368 billion leagues under the sea: The Opportunity Cost of staying afloat

The subject of this story is Opportunity Cost, which is an economics term that ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate