‘Anzac Day and the politics of forgetting‘, 100yearsoftrenches.blogspot, 8 August 2015
Text of (long) speech delivered to International Socialist Organisation meetings in Wellington and Dunedin. It is a fascinating ‘compare and contrast’ exercise for readers on the western side of the Tasman. (Sensible Kiwis will have consumed it already.)
From new Peter Jackson exhibition, New Zealand (100yearsoftrenches)
My main claim in this talk however is that in spite of the intrinsic merits of all of these alternative historical narratives [soldiers deliberately shooting away from the enemy, mutinies, impact of war on art and culture], the modern version of “remembrance” very successfully marginalises all of them. It does so mostly without trying very hard at all. There are many aspects to this, but three stand out: “remembrance” is very strictly curtailed to the dead soldiers. The focus is on soldiers in the trenches, and especially “our” soldiers. Secondly the actual history tends to be packaged in a personalised and sentimental fashion: check out for example the numerous Herald articles with pictures of families holding up pictures of their ancestors in uniform, with poignant and tragic stories told in a sepia laden tone. Thirdly, and I think most powerfully, any sort of “alternative narrative” which points out shortcomings or criticism of the idea of “sacrifice” – any suggestion that in actual fact the deaths of all those thousands of young men were a complete waste (or even had overall negative effects on the world) – this is always avoided because it is too upsetting. So there is kind of post traumatic stress disorder which has somehow lasted for 100 years, with the effect of moral blackmail: to question the Anzac legacy is disrespectful of the dead.
The article also links aspects of remembrance to the theories of Louis Althusser and discusses the SBS-Scott McIntyre case. Another article from New Zealand, referring to the opening of the Remembrance Park in Wellington.