‘Review note: more Anzac miscellany 2014’, Honest History, 24 May 2014
Honest History’s David Stephens has an article on Australian Independent Media Network, ‘Five arguments for downsizing Anzac‘, which reworks his speeches at the Canberra Peace Convergence and at a Remembering and Healing service in Lismore. He also spoke at Pax Christi NSW on three propositions about the centenary of World War I. (Dr David Stephens Anzac Centenary address 7Apr2014)
Many others contributed to the continuing debate about Anzac. It is appropriate that this note appear on the website a month after Anzac Day 2014 because the pieces referred to in it are more about Anzac the phenomenon than about Anzac Day; the phenomenon is with us all the time and seems to be becoming more ubiquitous. In that vein, Christina Twomey asks if Australians are in danger of suffering compassion fatigue.
Anzac’s continuing power in the 21st century [she says] stems from the ways in which trauma has come to sit at its very core. Australians will better understand the current embrace of Anzac if we stop confusing it with a love of militarism.
She refers to the play The Long Way Home, PTSD, the recognition of rape in war and the stolen generations and concludes that the revival of Anzac commemoration fits into
an eagerness to hear about suffering. Because trauma can happen to anyone, we think we understand what happened to them and, in that shared sense of pain, we become one. People wrap themselves in flags and bedeck themselves with old campaign medals and feel a connection with the past. Still, empathy is a precarious foundation for unity, and raises the possibility that by 2015 – the centenary of the first landings at Gallipoli – we might all be suffering from compassion fatigue.
There were 86 trenchant comments.
In Overland, Jeff Sparrow argues that traditional Anzac commemoration leaves no room for remembering those who opposed the Great War (and other wars), that the depiction of World War I front line combat is distorted and there is insufficient consideration of why that war began and how it ended (revolutions and insurrections). What war ‘felt like’ has become the focus. There is a need for an anti-war movement to re-emerge to address new ways of thinking about conflicts and to progress ‘the only decent commemoration’, ensuring that such wars never happen again.
Paul Daley wondered about the appropriateness of arms manufacturers being involved with commemoration while Daniel Flitton drew some international comparisons and Michael McVeigh suggested that other 25th days of months should be used for other commemorations. Finally, high school children at Goondiwindi were taking a thoughtful approach to researching soldiers’ lives while digital archives were opening up new possibilities for historians.
David Stephens’s sentiments in this article are exactly right. Those who believe, like the respected WW1 historian Hew Strachan who should know better, that somehow or other Australia’s “national identity was forged at Gallipoli” have got it very wrong and they do the country no good service. Our national identity (to the extent that it can be defined) has been formed by countless actions of many people over a long time. It’s unfortunate that some are prepared to discount their efforts by ascribing who we are now to a tragic military event that deserves to be defined, respected and commemorated for what it truly was.