McKay, Jim: Battlefield tourism

McKay, Jim

A critique of the militarisation of Australian history and culture thesis: the case of Anzac battlefield tourism‘, Portal, 10, 1, January 2013

Criticises the authors of What’s Wrong with Anzac? for their ‘top-down’ approach and assumptions that the recipients of government Anzac promotion are dupes. Questioning the effect of the flood of military history books, he notes there have been iconoclastic books and articles in the field as well. He is sympathetic to the more ‘nuanced’ pilgrimage literature of Scates and Ziino and notes the variety of ways in which school students engage with the Anzac story. He concludes that the critics offer no practical strategies for casting aside the key premise of the Anzac legend that nations are made in war.

McKay offers ‘an alternative framework for studying Anzac battlefield tourism by referring to empirical research on Anzac and some concepts that have been deployed in studies of postmodern tourism’. (p. 14) He suggests that military tourists, rather than being ‘dopes’ as Lake and others imply, have a sophisticated appreciation of the sites they visit.

Consequently, battlefield tours can precipitate a range of often conflicting responses: guilt, revulsion, shame, anger, empathy, sorrow, comfort, pride, reverence, re-enchantment, empathy and communitas. Battlefield tourists can also challenge information provided by organisers and guides and transform their viewpoints. (p. 18)

He quotes people claiming they turned from tourists to pilgrims during their visits to sites. He says the critics discount the possibility of battlefield tourists feeling conflicting emotions, nationalism and sadness, for example, anger and a desire for peace. He concludes by speculating about the Anzac centenary:

Understanding the complex and contested ways in which Australians both at home and abroad will respond to this five-year commemoration is a daunting academic task, one unlikely to be achieved by a hotchpotch of anecdotes, moral condemnations, utopian rhetoric and preconceived ideas about the inescapable militarisation of Australian history and culture. (p. 19)

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