Smith, Tony: I didn’t raise my son to be a soldier

Smith, Tony

“I didn’t raise my son to be a soldier”: a presentation to the National Folklore Conference, Canberra, Easter 2016‘, Australian Folklore Network, April 2016

Starts from the broad context of the Anzac centenary, looks at the range of Australians who opposed participation in the Great War, and looks at the use of music both for and against the war. (Related on Australian songs.)

Politicians since 1915 have exploited the idea that essential Australian values are those represented most closely by white, Christian, males of a militarist disposition. They take the respect shown for sacrifices made in warfare and massage this into a consensus to disadvantage their opponents in “culture wars” … It is also important to understand that this consensus makes it difficult to dissent during the centenary, difficult to identify dissenters of the war years, and so also difficult to appreciate how they used songs. Some Anzac legend enthusiasts might feel that this very search is subversive.

Despite its appropriate lyrics and universally applicable sentiments, ‘I didn’t raise my son to be a soldier’ has not worn well. The author examines, however, more general issues to do with the popular use of music during wartime.

Similarly ambivalent perhaps were songs of loss and grieving. Laments for casualties implied that the cost of the war was too great. There could be a sentiment that no more men should be sacrificed. There was an element at the time which urged women to bear their losses proudly and not to mourn dead sons and husbands.

3 April 2016

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