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Thursday, April 26, 2007

ANZAC - For Whom? By Shane Elson

For the last ten years I've been trying to work out why I have lost interest
in the ANZAC day memorials. I attended my first when I was 15 and played in
the Municipal band. We played at a Dawn Service and my dad, a WWII vet, took
me down to the war memorial. It would be almost 20 years later that I spoke
to him about his war time 'adventures' and found out what his experience had

It wasn't until many years later that I started to discover the truth about
the ANZAC legend and the wars Australian service people had died in. I
started to find out about the way our governments treated the widows and
families of the dead they supposedly 'honoured'. I started to find out about
the non-physical injuries our service people carried and how these injuries
tore apart families and how the dying continued in the garages and back
yards and in the cars and off buildings and cliffs and how the number of war
widows and orphans continued to grow long after the last shots had been

And then along came the Howard government.

There is no denying that Howard is a populist. Any balanced and reasonable
commentator or political observer will tell you this. He is a man blown
about by the winds of fortune and change as much as he is, as some describe
him, a 'cunning' politician. One of the first moves by the Howard government
was to open up the ANZAC day memorials to a form of insidious privatisation.
I'll try and explain what I mean.

Howard's agenda is not at all removed from the neo-conservative push being
resisted around the globe. This ideology believes that each of us is solely
responsible for our own lives. These neocons believe that if you're born
into poverty then there is nothing a society can do to help you. You must
get out of your poverty solely by applying yourself to moving up the
economic ladder (sound familiar?). This same philosophy applies to every
aspect of our individual lives.

These neo-conservatives are not stupid. Far from it. They know how
ridiculous this sounds. In order to take our minds off thinking about how
ridiculous their proposals are, they try and find ways of distracting us.
The three main ways of doing this are highlighting crime, sex and
nationalism. They embark on literal crusades against crime and rail about
'deviant' sexuality, be it homosexuality, youth sexuality, pensioner
sexuality or whatever. If all that fails they turn to nationalism, the most
destructive of all tendencies among societies.

But here they face another dilemma. They have told us for so long "there is
no such thing as society", to quote Lady Thatcher, that we almost believe
them. Our so called leaders have told us that the only ones who think in
terms of society are 'lefties' and 'radicals' and other nefarious types who
will, if we allow them, break into our houses (crime), rape (sex) our women
and burn our flag (nationalism). In short, its only bad people who think in
terms of society.

Having convinced enough of us to keep voting them back in, Howard's bunch
had to find a way of 'uniting' us even though their campaign and policies
are about dividing us. To achieve this end they had to find something that
crossed state borders and tapped into the basic good within us. They had to
find something, to use the psychoanalytic term, by which to sublimate our
needs. That is, to provide some new form of activity that would distract us
from our real need. ANZAC provides just the right amount of 'goodness' and
nostalgia to become something by which Howard wanted to define himself.

Seeing himself as Churchillian type leader, Howard unleashed the chains, not
only of the GST, but also of the 'creatives' in the PR and image management
industry to have a go at 'modernising' ANZAC. What has evolved over the last
few years is a bastard child that on the one hand wants to convince us that
war is peace and on the other, that to not embrace the remembrance of war is
to be unpatriotic. Orwell would be proud of what is being attempted as our
collective consciousness is sucked down the memory hole and burnt to a

It was only a couple of years ago that it finally dawned on me why I had
lost interest in attending the ANZAC memorials. It was when I saw a McDonald's ad featuring the most egregious display of corporate sentimentalism I have ever seen. I watched this ad with my jaw literally on the ground and realised that the sacred had been turned into the profane, that ANZAC was now a fully commercialised venture.

What? Do you mean they'll soon be charging all those 'wonderful young
Australians', who John Howard says he won't have a bad word said against
them, an entrance fee to access Lone Pine and Anzac cove? You betcha. When
we allow the memory of a society to be sold for crass commercialism we
really need to ask ourselves some questions!

As far as Howard is concerned we can't be allowed to focus on the misery and
deprivation that hundreds of thousands of Australians face each day due to
the policies implemented by his government. We can't focus on the grief and
anger of veteran's families denied compensation for death or injury caused
by military misdeed. We can't be allowed to focus on the disintegration of
our society in the face of the privatisation of everything. We can't speak
about the loss of our national soul under the impost of the dollar. These
are the reasons I have become disillusioned with the memorial of ANZAC day.

All ANZAC day does for me now is leave me feeling empty. I want to
understand what it was like for the diggers. I want to embrace these men and
women and tell them how grateful I am. I want them to be able to tell me how
they feel and what it is they fought for.

I think I would be right in saying that most of them fought to make our
nation safe and a better place to bring up their and our kids. I think I
would also be right in saying they certainly didn't fight to allow the
commercialisation of their memory to be aided and abetted by their elected
representatives. I wonder if we, those of us still young enough, have the
true "spirit of ANZAC" and will do what Howard says we should do and fight
to make sure that we look out for the war widows and their families. And not
only them but also the poor, the disabled and the downtrodden. After all, if
that's what the diggers fought for, shouldn't that be the ANZAC legend we're
supposed to embrace?

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