Sunday, April 24, 2016
My overseas readers may not know what ANZAC Day is. It has to do with the Gallipoli landing during the First World War. It is a very big day in Australia, and seemingly becoming bigger every year.
It is almost sacrilegious and possibly even considered treasonous to say anything that might be regarded as a criticism of this day. Few in Australia regard Christmas or Easter celebrations with anything approaching religious reverence. ANZAC Day is the only holiday in the Australian calendar that attracts this kind of reverence, from the religious and non-religious alike.
I write the next paragraph with some hesitation, because I suspect many in Australia might find its fairly mild wording offensive. Here goes:
‘Today (25 April) marks the anniversary of the attempt, during the First World War, by the allied forces, including Australia, to invade that well-known enemy of Australia, Turkey. The attempt was ill-conceived and disastrous. Unsurprisingly, the Turks vigorously (and successfully) defended their territory. In Australia we commemorate this event as ANZAC Day. I’m not sure how they commemorate it in Turkey.’
Whatever is going on around ANZAC Day in Australia is a little strange and perhaps also a little frightening. Whatever it is, ANZAC Day is not simply a day when we commemorate and honour those whose lives have been lost in war. We have Remembrance Day—or perhaps you know it as ‘Armistice Day’: November 11—to do that. At least that marks the end of the First World War: a suitable time, one would think, to remember the cost of war. ANZAC Day commemorates an attempt to invade another country for strategic purposes: to control the Dardanelles, a strait providing a sea route to the Russian Empire. It is, of course, tragic that so many people lost their lives in that pointless exercise. The Turks who lost their lives during that campaign (does anyone know how many?) were defending their territory. The Australians who tragically died were not defending Australia—despite the propaganda that surrounds ANZAC Day. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the dictum that attack is the best form of defence: easily used to justify any form of aggression.
I am all in favour of remembering the horrors of war, and commemorating the tragic and often pointless loss of life. Remembrance Day is a perfect time to do that. I am less comfortable with the mythology that continues to build around the commemoration of ANZAC Day. I in no way want to belittle the price men paid at Gallipoli—allied troops and Turks alike. But it is a stretch to claim that the Australians (at least) gave their lives in defence of Australia. It’s sad but true—and no fault of theirs—that they gave their lives in a much less worthy cause.