Stephens, David: Five arguments for downsizing Anzac

David Stephens

‘Five arguments for downsizing Anzac’, Teaching History (History Teachers’ Association of New South Wales), 49, 1, March 2015, pp. 16-19

Pdf accessible here made available by courtesy of HTANSW, which holds copyright.

We need to make Anzac less important than it is now and as it looks like being in the four years of its centenary. I am not talking about Anzac Day (provided it is done with dignity) but about the Anzac tradition, or myth, or legend, that ever-widening khaki thread that runs through our Australian national tapestry.

The five arguments are:

  • vainglory: excessive pride in Australian military achievements along with insensitivity to the wider impacts of war; empty denials that we glorify war; narcissism;
  • strangulation: overdoing military history drives out other parts of Australian history which have contributed just as much, if not more, to making us what we are today;
  • bellicosity: Anzac, added to other factors such as our loyalty to the American alliance, makes Australians too ready to fight wars; our obsession with military history has distorted our view of ourselves;
  • ideology: we suffer from Anzackery, overblown, sentimental, often jingoistic commemoration-celebration but we also risk Anzacism, a state ideology, loud-mouthed, built on a narrow base, justifying aggressive defence and security policies and punishing dissent; the article compares a possible Anzacism with state ideologies of the past;
  • child protection: much commemoration and much Anzackery targets children, to the extent that their psychic health is at risk from a sentimental, misleading portrayal of war; politicians use the language of obligation (to carry forward the torch of remembrance), the Australian War Memorial encourages children to ‘connect’ with dead soldiers, commemorative institutions avoid the aftermath of war in favour of relentless remembrance, a minister says children must understand their freedom was paid for in blood.

That is our legacy to future generations: the expectation that honouring the war dead of the past – carrying the torch – requires the preparedness to become the war dead of the future.

The article has comprehensive end-notes.

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