From the Honest History vault: A note on Paul Keating’s Remembrance Day Address 2013

There is a lot of material on the Honest History website about Remembrance Day; just use our Search engine with the term ‘Remembrance Day’.

Seven years ago, former Prime Minister Keating made a speech on Remembrance Day. That speech, in turn, was 20 years on from Keating’s 1993 speech at the interment of the Unknown Australian Soldier.


Remembrance Day (photo: Flickr Commons/Tony Oldroyd 2011)

We ruminated on the 2013 speech here. (In those days, some of our posts were tagged ‘Jauncey’, in honour of LC Jauncey, historian and world traveller.) The 2013 Keating seemed to be ambivalent about Anzac:

Hearing the speech [wrote ‘Jauncey’], a far more assured oration by the grizzled old warrior than by the relatively young Prime Minister twenty years ago – Marcus Aurelius rather than Augustus – with its portentousness accentuated by the rain and the greyness, it came across as far more trenchant than it reads on paper. The feeling of unease grows with further reading. This is particularly so when Keating turns to what he believes to be the attitudes of younger generations to Anzac.

“I am greatly heartened that so many young Australians find a sense of identity and purpose from the Anzac legend and from those Australian men and women who have fought in wars over the last hundred years. But the true commemoration of their [that is, the service men and women’s] lives, service and sacrifice is to understand that the essence of their motivation was their belief in all we had created here and our responsibility in continuing to improve it. Homage to these people has to be homage to them and about them and not to some idealised or jingoistic reduction of what their lives really meant.”

The whack at jingoism is commendable [‘Jauncey’ went on]. It is good also that young people are being encouraged to see the Anzacs and soldiers since as fighting for a vision of Australia – though the evidence of books like Bill Gammage’s The Broken Years is that this vision for most of those who went overseas in 1914-18 at least was focused mainly on hearth and neighbourhood rather than anything grander – but the question remains: do admirable qualities like ‘independence, mateship and ingenuity… resilience and courage in adversity’ and, in the final sentence of the speech, ‘loyalty to Australia’ need a war phase to bring them to their finest flowering? Is that the message that young people will take from the speech, despite Keating’s assurance that young people as a cohort are too smart to be duped into being ‘cannon fodder’ in future wars? Ultimately, Keating is as ambivalent about Anzac and our war tradition as many of the rest of us are.

Mervyn Bendle in Quadrant hated the 2013 speech as a betrayal of the Anzacs. It’s not; it just has a bit both ways.

David Stephens

9 November 2020

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