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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Reflections on Anzac Day

...A few useful reflections on a variety of perspectives that dug through to varying degrees the prevailing largely unself-critical accounts of Anzac Day.

Stanley Hauerwas in The Sacrifices of War though not directly about Anzac Day provided a good many insights into the character and language of Anzac Day. He makes the important observation that... it is a mistake to focus - as we most often do - only on the sacrifice of life that war requires. War also requires that we sacrifice our normal unwillingness to kill. It may seem odd to call the sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill "a sacrifice," but I will argue that this sacrifice often renders the lives of those who make it unintelligible. The sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill is but the dark side of the willingness in war to be killed.

We are, Hauerwas acknowledges ... fated to kill and be killed because we know no other way to live. But through the forgiveness made possible by the cross of Jesus we are no longer condemned to kill. A people have been created who refuse to resort to the sword that they and those they love might survive. They seek not to survive, but to live in the light of Christ's resurrection.

Bruce Skates in a comment piece in the Age, Gallipoli is a global calamity, argues that The futility of war is best acknowledged by mourning the suffering of all nations, not just our own and draws attention to some of the silences in our celebration.
As we approach the centenary of the Great War, we should remember that Gallipoli was a global calamity, one that claimed the lives of soldiers across the British Empire and the world. And we should go further than that. As the Anzac Correspondent knew all too well, battles don't end when the guns stop firing. In the 1920s, and for decades later, Australia and a dozen other combatant nations lived in the shadow of war. It was not just that war visited grief on countless thousands of communities. The trauma of war was not confined to the battlefield or the casualty lists.
Now is the time to broaden our focus and examine the plight of families and communities who cared for the legion of crippled, blind and insane. ''War-wrecked men'' they were called, and they carried the conflict home to their communities. Sadly, (as Marina Larsson's haunting study of repatriation shows) domestic violence, poverty and alcoholism were as much the legacy of war as the legends many celebrate today. Finally, what of the broken promise of Gallipoli? The men and women who served were told the Great War would be the war to end all wars. What a Great Lie that has been.
It is time to see Gallipoli for what it was: pointless and obscene. It is time to look beyond that narrow beachhead at Anzac Cove, acknowledge the futility of war and mourn the suffering of nations other than our own. The Anzac centenary offers the opportunity for new forms of remembrance that are balanced and inclusive: ''bigger'' and ''more historical'', as our veteran put it. 
Jeff Sparrow doubts that the new forms of remembrance that Skates suggests is not likely. In Memory and the Anti-Politics of Anzac Day. Sparrow explains why. 

Conservatives, and most liberals, tell us that Anzac Day stands above politics. That’s true, in a fashion. But the event’s not apolitical so much as anti-political.

Where Carl von Clausewitz defined war as the continuation of politics by other means, Anzac celebrates the battlefield as a realm entirely removed from political life. The Great War spurred an unprecedented degree of social polarisation in Australia, and yet the obsessive retelling of the Gallipoli landing never corresponds to any equivalent interest in, say, the populace’s remarkable rejection of conscription in two ballots in 1916 and 1917. The Bush/Blair/Howard War on Terror rendered that period more relevant than ever, since obvious parallels can be drawn between the hysterical patriotism of the ‘Freedom Fries’ days and the jingoism during which most Australian cities renamed their streets (if you live in Victoria Street, there’s a pretty good chance it was once called Wilhelm Road), while the state-sanctioned suspicion of Arabs and Muslims after 9/11 corresponds to the widespread persecution of Irish and Catholics in the wake of the Easter Uprising, and the unparalleled freedom granted to security agencies echoes Billy Hughes’ promulgation of the open-ended War Precautions Act.
Yet Anzac Day functions not to celebrate but to prevent that kind of history. It lauds bravery yet allows no room for what Bismarck called ‘civil courage’, a trait that many non-combatants showed in abundance when, against all the newspapers, politicians and mainstream political parties, they opposed the slaughter in Europe.

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