The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Anzac Spirit

anarchafairy has an interesting post up entitled ANZAC Day must be opposed. He is of the opinion that Anzac* Day is a celebration of the NZ military and a source of growing nationalism in our country. I can understand his points, but I guess it's just not what I see in Anzac Day.

When I hear the words "lest we forget" I do think of the violence and destruction that characterises war. I can't help but visualise the young men suffering in the trenches of WWI and the many women who are inevitably victims in times of conflict. Maybe it's just me, but I'd actually formed the impression that one of the reasons turnouts were swelling was a view in Aotearoa, held by many, that the price of war is too high, and it must be avoided. That we gather on Anzac Day to acknowledge past sacrifices made, but also to remind ourselves that we do not want to go there again.

As for the growing nationalism, to be honest I feel as if New Zealand has become less nationalistic in the last decade, not more. Perhaps that's reflected more by the people I hang out with now, and my own change away from being mindlessly proud of our little slice of the landmass? My perception is that as we become more multicultural, both in terms of our population and our surrounds, we are slowly breaking away from thinking something is always better for being Kiwi. I think we have more to fear, in terms of growing nationalism, from the All Blacks winning the World Cup, than we do from Anzac Day.

anarchafairy writes:

It is a bizarre situation, then, that those on the left, even those claiming its
radical margins, are unwilling to oppose in any meaningful way the ceremonies of
ANZAC day. They fear offending those mercenaries of the State in attendance.
They fear disrupting what is in fact a near-sacred national ritual. They,
apparently, lack an ability to compare an act that merely offends with
systematic and legitimised murder, armed patrols, nightly curfews, military
checkpoints and all the other associated tactics of the New Zealand military.

I won't oppose Anzac Day ceremonies because for me they aren't about glorifying war, they are about facing the grim reality of it and not sweeping that under the carpet because it is so gruesome and seems so far away. I feel that this is a motivator for many who attend, and particularly those who take their children along.

I don't fear the mercenaries of the State (although perhaps that's because I'm not sure who they are) but I do agree that April 25th ceremonies are becoming near-sacred. They are a time when we respect those who have fought, but don't necessarily agree with the reasons for the conflicts. For me at least, it is a time of remembering that in at least some of the wars NZ has taken part in the politicians have not always been honest about the reasons for engagement, and have often followed immoral strategies to encourage the country to sign up to war. On many occasions (if not all) those who have enlisted, and those who have supported the wars at home, were victims too.

On the issue anarchafairy raises about recognising the "enemy", I agree, we do ignore them. We also ignore the war had within NZ too. I would like to see that change. When I visited Gallipoli last year I had the embarassing realisation that I hadn't really thought before about who we were fighting, or the horror they had faced too. This was reinforced at St Martins in York. The church was almost completely destroyed in a bombing raid during WWII and yet it had been rebuilt as a chapel centred on forgiveness - primarily of those who bombed it. I am not a religious person, not at all, but in that church I could almost say I felt the presence of something god-like. To me it was a radical notion, this forgiveness of the invisible, dehumanised enemy**, and one I hope I can make a part of me, to replace that blind Kiwi pride I used to hold so dear.

This Anzac Day I may not make it to a ceremony - I haven't since before I got sick. But I will reflect on war, and the tragedy that it is. I won't glorify it, and I won't support it, and I won't forget.

Taken by the author at one of the Turkish memorials, Gallipoli.

* I know it's an acronym but I always feel like it shouldn't be.
** Something we pol bloggers could all learn from I feel.


Gerrit said...

I would go one step further and say that the very freedom that lets anarchafairy make the comments to oppose Anzac day, without him being persecuted, was fought for by his grandfathers generation.

So while on one hand he has the freedom to be a critic of Anzac Day, on the other he owes a debt of gratitude (a debt he does not need to pay for but to think about at least).

So I rejoice in his freedom to make the statement he does. As I rejoice in my freedom to observe Anzac Day.

Your comment on the innocent victims struck a note. I was bought up not long after the war in what was an occupied country. Every day going to school had to walk past a brick wall in front of which stood a large white cross. No plaque, no notices, just a white cross. Marked a execution site where innocent men and women were shot in reprisal raids.

No commemorative service even comes close to the feeling you get, at these revered places, of the injustices in war.

Luckily in New Zealand we dont have sites like that.

che tibby said...

i think anarchafairy might have confused "jingoism" with "nationalism".

the former is aggressive dickheads talking about having and using guns. the latter is just mutual feelings of belonging and shared identity.

it's a very easy mistake to make.

stef said...

I think that ANZAC day is about honouring the soldiers, not the politics of the day.

Whether it was WWI or Iraq, I have very little bad to say about the vast majority of the soldiers serving over there as they don't get a choice as to where they serve. Save the anger for the politicians, not some poor 20 year old who's life is destroyed.

LJM said...

Just read this post and my first suggestion is that anarchafairy go along to an ANZAC service and listen to the speeces that are given. Most people are pleasantly surprised the the main theme of those speeches is how war is terrible and must be avoided at all cost.

Span said...

I think living in NZ we have the luxury of being largely ignorant when we are on battlefields, where much blood has been spilt and bad things have happened. Not so when we travel, and it is a Good Thing that Gallipoli is becoming a regular part of the Kiwi OE. But I hope that most NZers, when they go to Europe, make time to go to a concentration camp too. The Nazis are not the only people in history to practice genocide, nor to have concentration camps, but the ones they left behind are some of the few places where you can start to feel some of the horror, so that you don't forget it.

Stef I agree that the target of criticisms of war(s) should not be the soldiers themselves. Just as I wouldn't blame a worker at McDonalds for the decisions their management makes. I apologise if my post made it seem otherwise.

stef said...

My comments were more in response to those in the linked post rather than yours.

Sanctuary said...

The post only goes to prove that New Zealand, unique amongst nations, has both its left and right elites allied in opposition to any expression of patriotic sentiment or national pride in our nation and its achievements. From the right its easy enough to understand the movitations. They've moved smoothly and seemlessly from being little Englanders who regarded everything from "home" as intrinsically better and everything native as contemptible to being globalised mercenaries who prefer a dispirited, disorganised and deflated branch office economy they can farm for profit. From the left, we have an equally globalised intellectual elitism combined with a fawning post colonial-guilt complex which at its heart dispises popular expressions of pride in our nation and damns all patriotism as the start of a slippery slope to fascism. The making of common cause by our elites against the popular sentiments of the people is quite nauseating in my opinion, and it has serious consequences for our national psyche. Putting aside its merits or otherwise, look at the scorn poured on the very idea of celebratory public architecture in the Auckland waterfront stadium debate. Our lack of self esteem translates to mean spirited public investment and is partially why our infrastructure is characterised by ad-hoc and incrementalist band aid solutions. Nowhere are we allowed to celebrate our achievements of nation building. Instead New Zealanders are berated from the right for their worthlessness compared to (for example) Australia and chastised from the left for daring to show a sense of achievement in what we've built here. So as a country we stagger from one manic-depressive boom bust cycle to the next.

The left needs to seize on the undoubted so far under expressed sense of patriotism and national pride held by New Zealanders. A sense of nation and community could be effectively harness to resist globalised capitalism. And a little bit of patriotism will no more lead to nationalistic militarism than a going to church gala will turn you into a raving fundy.

ZenTiger said...

Nice post

Anonymous said...

As Maia notes on her blog WWI was not about defending our freedoms - it was abouta complex set of alliances. Its a classic example of how we can let little things spiral out of control because no one is willing to be the bigger man and make the choice that avoids disaster.

One could ask the question is joining an army somthign to which we should show reverence? I'm inclined to say the US and NZ armies are big enough already to serve their required purpose. Cast the same cynical eye through which you would view the salesman and the capitalist towards those people.

Mainly Politics said...

I felt honoured to be able to attend the dawn service here in London. The thing that struck me was the age of the crowd - they were all about my age. This is partly a reflection of the kiwi demographic in London, but it is also partly a reflection of our gratitude to those who died in our name and gave us the freedoms we enjoy today. I've often heard people talk about 'our boys' going off to fight the war and thought how odd it sounded given they would all be old by now. But that's the thing, they didn't grow old, many of them didn't even live to my age. To them, I would be the adult. It's a sobering thought.