Honest History miscellany: angles on Anzac 100

So much stuff; so little time. Rather than try to recognise and categorise everything that’s whizzed past in the last couple of days, we’ve just grabbed a handful, as follows, before we settle down to take in Kate Aubusson’s Lest We Forget What? doco (on Iview for a limited time).

Aubusson’s take was very good (with little subversive gems like VD figures) while Sam Neill’s Why Anzac? had a similar tone from a different generation. Worth noting among a number of notable tropes in Sam’s version were Peter Stanley’s remark about Anzac expanding to fill the void and, on similar lines, James Brown’s about how the myth is remodelled by successive generations. (See also Tony Stephens.)

Sam Neill’s sonorous recitation of the Ataturk words (words now under question) was in the Why Anzac? trailer but not in the full show. No-one could fail to be emotionally affected by making or watching shows like this (watch Kate and Sam) but the point is to move through the emotion and ask hard questions and both Aubusson and Neill tried to. So many of us don’t. More about Sam.

Meanwhile, Camp Gallipoli in Sydney was postponed indefinitely due to rain, attracting some unfair criticism. Rain or no rain, ticket sales in Sydney, at around 7000, seemed way short of previous Camp Gallipoli projections.

The Drum continued to have some good material, including Jonathan Green on shell-shock at Gallipoli and Val Noone on the need to memorialise conscientious objectors. Harvey Broadbent was on ABC News Radio about contradictions in the Anzac legacy. John Menadue has some good material on his blog.

There was something about a surf boat marathon. (Truly.) Clare Wright on Anzac fatigue. And there’s a longer version available. Wright, Paul Ham and James Brown on LNL on the larger lessons of Gallipoli, including the military ones. We don’t normally link to letters to the editor but there were two rippers in The Age from Dorothy McLaren and Rod Beecham (and a Leunig cartoon with them). Dorothy’s in full:

As Anzac Day approaches let us honour the memory of men who served but never marched and never wore their medals. My late father was such a man and was not alone. He found the jingoistic element that surrounds Anzac Day deeply alienating. As I now hear people referring to the Anzac commemoration as the Anzac celebration, his feelings resound in me.

I do not wish to diminish the meaning of Anzac Day for others in relation to the profound bonds forged between those who served together, but for many who experienced the suffering of war, remembrance remained a private process for which silence rather than celebration seemed more fitting.

These men had a particular disdain for any glorification of war, especially when it was aimed at children and young people. I think they would have been disturbed by the current exploitation of their service for the purpose of triumphant nationalism. The men who never marched loved their land as much as any others. They wanted something better for their country than what we have created. On Anzac Day I remember them.

Dorothy Scott, Macclesfield

Some good sense coming out of Aotearoa New Zealand via TV3NZ’s Tony Wright with some very level-headed comments and this classic quote from an unidentified English historian: ‘The Australian Government is going to erect a monument everywhere a Digger took a piss during the war’. SBS’s The Feed has a brisk look at the Anzac myth (from 17.0).

Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner makes its TV debut tomorrow night (20 April). Discerning viewers may wish to read Peter Stanley’s review (10 000 views and counting) either before or after Rusty struts his stuff. Other reviews are here.

The Water Diviner is also a feature at Camp Gallipoli, where we wonder if the Mature audience version (recommended for teenagers aged 15 years and over’) will be showing. There’ll be lots of kids younger than that ‘camping in swags together as one’. (For classification.)

The prime minister couldn’t resist an Anzac link in his op ed about the troops going off to Iraq III, even though the force won’t be ANZAC-badged (note correct use of the acronym there, for a collection of troops).

On the eve of the 100th anniver­sary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli, about 300 Australian and 100 New Zealand military personnel will deploy to the Middle East … I have no doubt our armed forces will face up to this challenge with the same resolution, courage and professionalism their predecessors displayed a century ago.

The PM also goes across the Tasman ditch to help dedicate an Australian memorial in Wellington, which will confirm that ‘[w]e are more than friends, we are family’. This, even though the Kiwis are perplexed by Anzackery. This is what he said in Wellington. This is his Anzac week video message. Contrasting, a nice send-off by the Governor-General to World War I widows going to Gallipoli. An op ed from the PM, including a quote from the putative Ataturk words. He was still using these words in Turkey, making us wonder whether his staff work is bad (not knowing of the uncertainty of the provenance of the words) or he is simply unwilling to consider that a comfortable certainty has been questioned.

In the non-government field there were two pieces in Fairfax by Matthew Raggatt and Bruce Stevens about religious aspects of Anzac, the latter’s idea of ‘Digger spirituality’ being particularly interesting. Stevens professes psychology, whose tools have been insufficiently applied to the Anzac phenomenon, though Christina Twomey’s work on mass identification with trauma is relevant. On religious aspects as well, author Val Noone provided this final draft of a piece he published earlier this year on how churches of different denominations dealt with World War I.

(Speaking of the emotions, at the foot of an ABC News piece about Anzac commodification we saw a note asking readers what did they ‘feel’ about the article. Perhaps feeling doesn’t preclude thinking but sometimes we wonder. It would be great if we could manage both, particularly on big issues like wars, past, present and future.)

Lest we forget, Howard Manns had an interesting piece about the language of commemoration. Mike Bowers from Guardian Australia has been to Gallipoli many times but this time he produced a set of pictures comparing today with 1915. His work is also here.

In Fairfax also, Bridie Smith had one of these lists of things you need to know, in this case about Anzac, while at The Guardian Sam Worthington explained why his show (as executive producer) about journalists at Gallipoli is different, essentially because it admits the journalists were encouraged to tell lies. (We have a number of resources on the topic of journalists at war: Brissenden; Broadbent; Hyland; Ramsey; this collection with a few more.)

Then, there’s the World Socialist Web Site (always worth a look; you don’t need to accept the ideological template to appreciate the commentary and the alternative view) on how the celebratory approach to the centenary threatens to bury the story of mass opposition to conscription. ‘One of the primary lies’, says WSWS’s Richard Phillips, ‘being promoted by the saturation media campaign “celebrating” Anzac Day is that Australia as a nation was unified and unwavering in its backing for the imperialist war’.

Meanwhile, in Turkey today, the tension between Islamist and Kemalist versions of the Dardanelles campaign continues. At the airport, though, modern day Christian pilgrims were given a warm welcome. At home, the National Library was blogging about children from earlier generations who received patriotic names. As the son of a man christened ‘John French’, after the randy donkey general, and nephew of a woman whose names were ‘Edith Cavell’ the present writer can sort of identify with people called ‘Dardanella’ and ‘Kitchener’.

The Daily Telegraph had a painstakingly prepared ANZAC 100 Years: the Spirit of Heroes supplement which will, no doubt, find its way into similar domestic repositories to the one which housed the King George V and Queen Mary Silver Jubilee Souvenir 1935 when this writer was a lad. (Though there is an online version.) On page 13, there is confusion between figures for deaths and casualties.

In the Sunday Telegraph, Miranda Devine proved yet again that you don’t need to go to a coffee shop to be served boring, bitter froth. Among her targets, ‘leftist cultural warriors’ like Beaumont, McQueen, Stanley, Holbrook, Lake and Reynolds. She at least warned us that Mervyn Bendle’s book Anzac and Its Enemies, is imminent. Among a reasonably broad range of comments there was ‘S’ who said this: ‘Absolute grubs – and the only reason they can put forth this rubbish is because of those brave souls who sacrificed themselves as part of the ANZAC legend.  This country needs a real wakeup …’ Be very afraid, pinko academics!

Camp Gallipoli CEO, Chris Fox, continued to be acerbic towards critics. We have found him, in our two or three lengthy conversations, to be very committed to the cause, even though we disagree with his diagnosis of what Australia needs and his menu of ways for delivering it. We appreciated Mike Puleston’s letter on ‘glamping’.

Jennifer Byrne on The Book Club talks to Peter FitzSimons, Merrick Watts, Christina Spittel and Delia Falconer. Some of the books discussed are by Les Carlyon, CEW Bean, Erich Maria Remarque, Paul Fussell, and George Johnston. Watch or wait for the transcript.

The pick of the bunch, however, was Fatima Measham in Eureka Street (a journal which once knocked back an article from us because the piece was ‘angry’). She describes Anzac as ‘a jarring experience for migrant Australians’.

The Anzac story has also become a cultural shibboleth deployed against non-white Australians. There is a Facebook post that gets shared around which claims that Anzac celebrations are being toned down in order to avoid offending new migrants. Such claims are often written in all-caps and liberally doused with exclamation marks, calling on everyone to resist the dilution of the Australian way of life, which at first glance seems to involve being a white man in fatigues.

“Love it or leave” has become the knee-jerk ultimatum for anyone who has the temerity to be black/brown and ambivalent at the same time. Yet the “Anzac spirit” is essentialist, excluding those who are not of British stock, who cannot claim that a grandfather or great grandfather died in or survived World War I, and who have no current connection with the military. It also excludes descendants of those who fought for Empire in British colonies and dominions but were not white, including a great many Aboriginal Australians, Indians and West Africans. For some reason, only soldiers who die white are honourable.

Earlier in the week, Andrew Hornery gossiped about declining ratings and Anzac cold feet in TV land, though Seven has signed up two VC winners, including one permanently. All in all, Anzackery – and, we hope, some dignified commemoration – is really hotting up. We hope there is more of the latter than the former but, either way, Matthew 13:42 seems on point.

19 April 2015 and updated


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