Saturday, April 26, 2008

The meaning of ANZAC Day

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. ~ Samuel Johnson, 1775

According to the Australian War Memorial site:

ANZAC Day – 25 April – is probably Australia's most important national occasion. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as ANZACs, and the pride they soon took in that name endures to this day...

The date, 25 April, was officially named ANZAC Day in 1916 and was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia, a march through London, and a sports day in the Australian camp in Egypt...

Australians recognise 25 April as an occasion of national commemoration. Commemorative services are held at dawn – the time of the original landing – across the nation. Later in the day, ex-servicemen and women meet and join in marches through the major cities and many smaller centres. Commemorative ceremonies are held at war memorials around the country. It is a day when Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war.

The "original landing" referred to is of course that of the British, French and Australian troops at Gallipoli in Turkey, part of a campaign to capture the Dardanelles from Turkish control. By the time the failed campaign ended on January 9, 1916, British Empire and French forces withdrew, having suffered approximately 44,000 deaths (there were 26,111 Australian casualties, including 8,141 deaths) and at least 85,000 Turkish soldiers died in the campaign.

For what purpose?

The view of the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (2007):



In April 1915, Australian and other troops of the British Empire attacked Turkey, in a doomed attempt to knock a minor ally of Germany out of World War I. Many soldiers on both sides died, but a myth was born. According to this myth, Australians are tough, honest, irreverent towards authority, fiercely loyal and possess courage of legendary proportions. Further, these virtues are embodied in the ordinary Australian "digger". And, according to this myth, these qualities are uniquely Australian.

Imperialism Today, Australian Style

Today, Australian soldiers are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, minor players supporting the failing U.S. "Global War on Terror". These actions are insurance premiums on the Australian alliance with its great and powerful U.S. friend, and are unrelated to the pretexts advanced for these imperialist wars. Australian troops also occupy East Timor and the Solomon Islands and have recently returned from occupying Tonga. These actions are about maintaining Australian control of its smaller neighbours and the Pacific islands.

Patriotism and Militarism

It's hard to miss the patriotic and militarist propaganda these days. Both the Howard Government and the ALP are determined boosters of the military and the worst criticism they can make is to call someone "un-Australian". By supporting militarist myths and patriotic propaganda, they are trying to make it impossible to criticise the military in any way and to compel support for imperialist wars.

Workers can end war

War is endemic in capitalism. Each national capitalist class employs its military to promote its interests at the expense of its own working class and that of other capitalist classes. Workers in Australia, however, have more in common with workers in other countries than with "our own" capitalist rulers. We have nothing to gain from supporting the Australian Government's imperialist wars. As in every country, we do the fighting and the dying, while the bosses stay safe and reap the benefits. But we can end war by refusing to support governments that go to war. By refusing to supply military forces. By refusing to fight in their wars. And we can make a revolution to put an end to capitalism, to all governments and all armies worldwide. We can have a world of freedom, peace and equality.


Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group
25 April 2007

Hmmmm... unlikely. In Australia, the only action taken in opposition to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by workers qua workers (with very few exceptions) has been to rally in protest. The largest such rally was held in Melbourne in February, 2003, at which police estimated 150,000 people took part, while others up to 250,000. On the other hand, the number of Australian casualties has been miniscule: a product, in part, of the token nature of Australia's military commitment; it, in turn, largely the result of the state's alliance with the US and its role as lieutenant in the Asia-Pacific region, and the US desire to provide some kind of impression that such adventures have broader, 'international' support.

Over the water and electronic seas, the following essay, 'ANZAC Day: Occupation Afghanistan and the propaganda system', describes both the significance of the ANZAC myth to war-making and its role in counter-acting public distaste for militarism:

As ANZAC Day 2008 approaches, it is worth considering the role the corporate media plays in maintaining public support for New Zealand's contribution to the NATO-led occupation of Afghanistan, which is over six years old. As the New Zealand Herald calls for the public to send Anzac messages to overseas troops, it's worth noting, as the following article does, how closely New Zealand's corporate media conforms to a propaganda model.

A Peace Action Wellington member has a High Court appeal on Tuesday, 29 April, for burning the NZ flag on ANZAC Day last year. She was convicted of 'offensive behavior' and was fined $500 plus court costs of $130. This is in addition to the 6 hours in the cells on the day of the arrest for a charge that does not carry any term of imprisonment. A second activist was also convicted of obstruction and resisting arrest.

There is also a new web site 'Lest we forget: remembering peacemakers on ANZAC Day' which provides information and resources marking the honourable actions of those individuals who believe war is wrong, and who have risked physical harm, their freedom and their reputations, to bring their message to others that war is never right...

Mark McKenna also had some interesting remarks to make on the subject of Anzac Day:

Patriot act
The Australian
June 6, 2007

The uncritical and self-serving embrace of the Anzac legend by both sides of politics has serious implications for Australia's future, writes Mark McKenna

ON Australia Day last year, I saw English violinist Nigel Kennedy perform at the Sydney Opera House. Kennedy, who cultivates the appearance of a slightly punkish busker-fiddler and is always keen to please his audience, came out on stage and immediately proceeded to play 'Advance Australia Fair'.

As he began, everyone rose to their feet and sang the national anthem. This could not have happened 10 years ago. Then, the traditional understated Australian patriotism would have held sway. The audience would have sung along, almost half-heartedly, but now they stood in unison and sang with gusto. What had changed?

One of the defining features of John Howard's decade in power has been his ability to encourage a greater feeling of national pride in the Australian community. During the past 10 years, a new form of Australian nationalism has emerged: unreflective, earnest and often sentimental. Patriotic display has become a civic virtue. Journalists and academics have commented on the new national mood -- the flaunting of the flag, the commercialisation of feel-good patriotism -- most dating its emergence from the mid-1990s, about the same time that Anzac Day began its resurgence...

And the same time (1995) the now 'traditional' ANZAC Day football match between Collingwood and Essendon was inaugurated.

The moral of this story?

"Our home is girt by sea."

"A bayonet has a worker at both ends."

See also
: Fredy Perlman, The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism