Paul Daley in Guardian Australia warns us against confusing the battle against coronavirus with the wars that are marked by Anzac Day.
Those at the vanguard of resisting the coronavirus are not Anzacs. They are nurses, doctors, police, ambos, orderlies, cleaners, delivery drivers, supermarket workers and public servants. Today, as they did 100 years ago when the world was in the grip of the Spanish flu (killing 50 million globally including some 13,000 Australians), they work for the national interest, many putting their lives at risk.
Daley also looks at the lack of commemoration of the Spanish flu pandemic. Compared with the Great War, what was needed to deal with that early pandemic did not look heroic enough for memorials to be built.
Update 27 April 2020: Clare Wright in Guardian Australia also warns against superficial comparisons between Diggers and health workers. ‘The co-ordinated effort to save lives is not the same as the state-sanctioned battle to extinguish them’, she says. In other words, we might add, soldiers face the imperative ‘kill or be killed’; health care workers do not. The Hippocratic injunction ‘Do no harm’ could never apply to armed soldiers.
This year, we have an opportunity to jettison the militarism and remember the trauma of war in a different way. This year, we may be able to escape what the Pulitzer prize-winning novelist and scholar Viet Thanh Nguyen calls the “industrialisation of memory” and consider the root causes of war, as well as the voices that are heard in wartime commemorations and those that are not. Not having a public commemoration defined and organised by the state might just enable a “just” remembering of war.
(Davidson’s book on censorship and subversion in Great War New Zealand was reviewed on Honest History.)
Over at Inside Story, veteran journalist Graeme Dobell looks at how the meaning of Anzac Day has changed over many years.
Anzac Day has buried the British dimension. The idea of the Australian Briton has been interred along with the Empire. To see the shift, come join me for a 1950s memory at Carrum State School in Victoria. Every Monday morning, we assembled for a rendition of “God Save the Queen” and recited the National Salute as Victorian state school kids had since 1901:
I love God and my country,
I honour the flag,
I serve the Queen,
And cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the law.
We used to zoom through that final “cheerfully obey” line like a bunch of staccato chooks.
Inside Story also has Tom Greenwell making the point that there is a gaping hole in the evidence that men returning from Vietnam were ill-treated at home. Mark Dapin researched this extensively, but the cloth-eared ‘historian’ Paul Ham still has not got the message. (It is incomprehensible that Ham apparently had not come across Dapin’s work.)
Finally on Inside Story, journalist Mark Baker looks again at the history of the Gallipoli campaign. ‘What was not recognised at the time, and is still largely forgotten, was how much had been achieved during the eight months of the campaign.’ (Review of Baker’s biography of Gallipoli correspondent, Phillip Schuler.)
Then, in The Conversation, Frank Bongiorno looks at how the Spanish Flu pandemic affected Anzac Day 1919 compared with the impact of the coronavirus on the day in 2020. He notes the resilience of Anzac Day.
We can be sure the novelty of the 2020 Anzac Day commemoration will attract plenty of media attention. The Australian media have a ready-made, multipurpose rhetoric that is easily adapted to whatever novelty – minor or otherwise – each year’s Anzac season brings with it. This year will be no exception.
25 April 2020 updated