There are several aspects to Australia’s approach to Anzac Day that make me feel a little bit queasy. I’ve asked around this week and found nearly no-one who can answer what seems to be to be the key question about the Anzac story, which is why, exactly, were these young men fighting against other young men from Turkey. Had Turkey invaded Australia, or threatened to do so? What possible threat to Australia did Turkey pose?
I have a horrible feeling that the answer is that the British (damn them!) decided it would be expedient to their prosecution of a larger war if the Australian troops at their disposal could have a crack at the Turks, and so condemned them in their thousands to a fearful, awful death.
One hundred years on, the quarrel seems so distant. Our old folks fly to Turkey now to commemorate the great tragedy, and can’t find a word to cross with the Turks they meet. Our old enemy Germany is a European powerhouse of finance and culture, and we glance through holiday brochures wondering if maybe this year we’ll try Vietnam.
All these wars, all that pain, such terrible fear and death. But since 1945 has there been a war which Australia has fought that fits the proper model – that being ‘Country A presents a clear and present threat to our home nation, and no alternative to a fight can be found’. I don’t recall the Viet Cong saying they fancied occupying Sydney. What the hell were we doing there.
To me, the central message of Anzac Day should be that war is failure, an utter disaster, and to be avoided at all possible costs. And that we should not trust politicians and leaders when they tell us that our sons and daughters need to travel abroad and fight. Fuck the man who said Australian men and women should risk their lives fighting in Iraq. Fuck him.
As it is, the people who really enjoy Anzac Day the most appear to be the type of people who think that flags are really important, and that the abject slaughter of thousands of terrified young Australians somehow represents this country’s finest hour.
I honour and salute the extraordinary bravery of those who were sent to fight. Placed in an impossible situation, many of their tales are of deeds that transcend the word heroism. But I wish Anzac Day was treated as a warning, that it’s slogan was ‘never again’, and that I was more confident that the lessons we should have learned will stop us from going to war, next time our leaders concoct a reason for others to fight and die miles from home.