Kelly, Paul: The next Anzac century

Paul Kelly

The next Anzac century‘, The Australian, 23 April 2011

Kelly is interested first in the differing attitudes of intellectuals and others towards Anzac.

The re-energising of Anzac has become the central organising principle of Australia’s past and how the nation interprets its future. It is fair to see the struggle over Anzac’s memory as the triumph of the people over the intellectual class.

Rejection of the Anzac tradition has ‘long been the refrain of pacifists, socialists and feminists’ but its revival ‘has been driven by a combination of elements –a more mature Australian nationalism, family ties to the Anzac experience and a de-politicisation of the legend that invests it with a unifying power’. Kelly discusses the work of Ken Inglis, has some criticisms of the Anzac Centenary Commission report for its blandness and of What’s Wrong with Anzac? and comes down firmly on the side of a robust attitude towards the Anzac tradition.

The real power of Anzac lies in its authenticity and this authenticity is the insuperable barrier for its opponents. While Federation in 1901 was an immense political achievement that brought to life a new nation, the quality of Australia’s nationalism was untested and its character was stained by a convict heritage …

[The centenary] needs to be a muscular event, strong enough to tolerate different views, on guard against too much emotionalism and intellectually honest about the history. World War I engaged Australia’s direct national interests. It was not somebody else’s war. On the contrary, it was our war because victory or defeat would profoundly affect Australia’s future.

The Anzac legend has become bipartisan; Kelly notes the political significance of Anzac: ‘This renewed conviction [regarding Anzac] now pervades Australia’s political life. Each prime minister seeks to find a new or old purpose in Anzac. It has become a requirement of the office as well as a task they relish.’

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