Newton, Douglas: Hard questions we should face on Anzac Day 2016

Newton, Douglas

The hard questions we should face on Anzac Day 2016‘, Pearls and Irritations, 20 April 2016

Short, sharp piece by historian of the Great War. He asks:

  • Why were Australians so exposed in this protracted catastrophe? (essentially, because the Australian government of the day believed in ‘the Empire right or wrong’)
  • For what purposes were Australian lives committed? (noble ones on the surface but heavily mercenary ones beneath)
  • Why was peace not achieved in 1916? (there were efforts in this direction but the ‘bitter enders’ prevailed)
  • But what was ‘the Anzac spirit?

This last question is the most important. Newton quotes the ubiquitous marketing slogan, ‘Their Spirit, Our History’. The Anzac spirit, he says, grew from men who were ‘fiercely democratic and ferociously egalitarian’ and he draws the contrast with today.

Do we have a right to invoke “the Anzac Spirit” in contemporary Australia? If we tolerate widening inequality, monstrous private wealth amid public squalor, intensifying social stratification, and weakening social mobility, dare we speak of “Their Spirit”? If we pursue a neo-liberal agenda, that preaches an acquisitive individualism, hollows out the public sector, privileges the private provider, relentlessly privatises our pooled resources, and lauds lower taxes as the one true household god – is “the Anzac spirit” alive?

And the hardest question: if egalitarianism is lost in Australia, what is the point of Anzac?

Douglas Newton and John Menadue, who wrangles the Pearls and Irritations blog, are both distinguished supporters of Honest History.

More for Anzac Week 2016.


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