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Saturday, 25 April 2009

Anzac Day Sport and Religion

Anzac Day is as much about forgetting, forgetting about the horror of war and those both civilians and soldiers who were scarred by what they experienced and saw as it is about remembering.

"Lest we forget" is the mantra - lest we remember is probably a truer and more painful call.

And the sacred comes back in Australia, not as in the United States civil religion and nationalism glossed in a pseudo-Christian language, but in a strange unthinking blend of straining for national identity in which sport becomes "conscripted" - the Anzac Day AFL game at the MCG being a good example.

Ruby Murray provides some helpful perspective:

In a country as hungry for a founding mythology as Australia, it doesn't take long to establish traditions. The annual Anzac Day football match between Collingwood and Essendon began in 1995. By 1997 it was already 'traditional'.

Fourteen years on, the symbolism and hype surrounding the match has accumulated to the point that 'The Anzac Day Clash' has reached near-sacred heights, with every possible chance taken to exploit the links between football, war, and the Australian national identity.

Asking what it means to have football played on Anzac Day is almost as risky as wondering why the Digger has become the most powerful expression of Australian identity.

The privileging of both football and the Digger as positive statements of what it means to be Australian involves an incredible amount of forgetting on a day supposedly set aside for remembrance.

There's nothing new in worrying that the kind of Australian identity glorified by Anzac Day is restrictive. Over the last century, various groups and individuals have questioned what it means to have reified the 'Anzac Tradition' to the point that discussion of the complex trauma and evils of war is neglected.

The morphing of Anzac Day into an unthinking and religiously untouchable celebration of national identity is a problem and particularly with the ongoing co-option of the churches as chaplains to the nation state and the melding of the language of sacrifice in way with the Christian account of the killing of Jesus.

Ruby Murray argues that:

... Anzac Day is not a festival of nationhood, and as we stand in the MCG amid the yelling fans and perform its most recent 'tradition' we are letting it slide uncritically into a day of celebration. While remembering the dead is important, it's also important that we remember that not all wars are the same, that war in itself is ugly, awful, and traumatising.

It's important that when we applaud nobility in conflict we remember that we are applauding it not because noble behaviour is the norm, but because it is the exception.

It's important that we remember courage in all its forms: the courage of those who stay at home in times of war and conflict, the courage of those who speak out against violence and war, who refuse to be silenced, the courage of the bereaved, the courage of the traumatised, the courage of those who return with the memories of the atrocities committed by both sides.

No matter how we try to romanticise it, the trauma of war stays with those who fight in them, and those who are caught in the middle. Acts of war are only romantic in the florid writing of sports reporters. It's when we forget to remember the complex horrors of war that we risk turning Anzac Day into a celebration of nation.(The False Nationalism of Anzac Day and Football - Eureka Street)

1 comment:

Matt Stone said...

G'Day, dropping in from Was interested in your thoughts on Anzac Day.