Review note: Anzac miscellany 2014

‘Review note: Anzac miscellany 2014’, Honest History, 30 April 2014

Anzac Day and the period surrounding it always produces reflective pieces, as well as colour supplements and, increasingly, promotional links to football games. In 2014, 99 years on, the number of reflective pieces is greater than usual. Rhys Crawley reminds us that there were other soldiers besides Australians and Turks at Gallipoli, John Hirst contests the hoary notion that Australia was born at Gallipoli and Peter Stanley and Ashley Ekins bust some Dardanelles myths. Myths are also the target of Ray Cassin in Eureka Street, although he seems pessimistic about the chances of busting them.

The notion that the Diggers of Gallipoli and their successors in subsequent wars, heroic though they were, are somehow the paramount exemplars of Australian virtues does not survive scrutiny. Yet that notion will not be subject to much, if any, scrutiny when the young people bedecked in a relative’s medals march tomorrow.

Nor is there likely to be any next year, when the centenary of the Gallipoli landings is commemorated. The Anzac myth of national origins has us so firmly in its grip that to question it outside seminar rooms is to play the role of the heretic. Perhaps only those who dissect the myth from within the military tradition, as the former ADF officer James Brown has done in his fine recent book Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of Our National Obsession, can now do so without courting accusations of disloyalty.

We have a duty to all the nation’s dead, however, including those who died before 25 April 1915, to keep asking the questions.

Cassin also reminds us of the social laboratory that Australia was before the Great War and of what a great democratic achievement Federation in 1901 was. In the ’boutique’ media also, though, Evan Smith on his Hatful of History blog traces a long history of contesting the Anzac myth and John Menadue in his blog Pearls and Irritations writes of politicians and the media hiding behind the valour of soldiers.

Back in the mainstream, Alex McClintock reads his grandfather’s diary and finds that the men of the Great War were not mythic giants but ordinary folk and Marele Day remembers her father’s awkward relation with Anzac Day and with war. Nick Stuart balks at sound and light shows and remembers in his own way while Peter Cochrane offers yet another explanation for the resurgence of Anzac. Tony Wright heads to Turkey again and writes how remembrance has changed under sometimes bemused local eyes.

Finally, there is always a contrast to be drawn in the way we treat our wars. Gary Foley fears that the more we make of Gallipoli the less we are capable of confronting the far more significant frontier wars. Foley concludes his piece with a telling quote from Henry Reynolds (who has had similar concerns about ‘crowding out’ by Anzac): ‘If there was no [frontier] war, then thousands of Aborigines were murdered in a century-long, continent-wide crime wave tolerated by government. There seems to be no other option. It must be one or the other.’ See also.

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