Saturday, 26 April 2008


I was traveling yesterday, so did not attend any ANZAC commemorations. However it meant that I heard quite a bit on the radio and also read some interesting articles in the paper. The most interesting analysis I heard was the suggestion that up until the 1980's ANZAC Day was a glorification of war, specially when the ex-servicemen who did not see much action got together with their mates. The argument was that since then the day has involved the  wider community far more and has become a day of reflection on war rather than a celebration. I can remember as a teenager in the 1980's being critical of what ANZAC Day stood for, and playing  Midnight Oil "US Forces" in  protest. I have moved on from then, and I think much of the rest of Australia has as well. One of the interesting interviews I heard last night was with Karen Throssell the granddaughter of Hugo Throssell , the Gallipoli veteran with a VC who returned home a pacifist. His antiwar views had been carried on by his family and they refused to be part of ANZAC Day. However Karen now sees the Day as "a day to remember what happened not just to our own loved ones and to remind us of what should never happen again."

Christians have a mixed response to ANZAC Day. There can be some sentimental religiosity which has nothing to do with the gospel and war can be accepted too readily (even if not glorified). On the other hand ANZAC Day remembers something important and in a properly sombre way. Those who fought did so with a sense that they were serving their nation, and most of the wars in which Australia has fought have had some justification. Australia is a better country for remembering than if we didn't. I think Ian has a different view, and he may want to put that.

There was an interesting article on the church contribution to the ANZAC ceremonies in Pacifica last year. John Moses argues that the Brisbane clergyman who most contributed to the form of the ceremony was aiming "to commemorate the fallen, console the bereaved and call the nation to penitence for the sin of war.You can see the abstract online.

1 comment:

Ian Smith said...

Hi John,

Thanks for that comment and some helpful reflections.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, most of us knew World War II veterans - they were the parents of many of our friends at school. We also knew many World War I veterans, and we were living in the midst of conscription and the Vietnam war. I guess that means that war was a reality. Out of respect to those who returned from war, we did not speak about it too much - for they didn't. It was the "black hole" to which they did not refer.

Now that we are more distant from war, its reality and sheer atrocity is forgotten, and it has become a national spiritual identity. On Anzac day I heard that a trip to Gallipoli has now become a "pilgrimage". I heard the War Memorial in Canberra referred to as "hallowed ground". And yet amidst all this religious terminology, I do not hear words like "repentance" for the atrocities suffered by many, whether in Vietnam, or in the trenches. I did not hear of the waves of refugees who are disinherited by every war. I did not hear that conflict is a result of the Fall.

It has often been said that the victors write the story. Although we lost the battle at Gallipoli, we won both the World Wars - and sometimes our telling of history is not as accurate as I would like. Yes, there were good reasons for fighting some of the wars - but not all of them. As children we were told that we fought in Vietnam to keep out the "yellow peril"!

Our wars have defined who we are as a nation. I am the married to the daughter of a German Jew. My daughter is married to the son of Vietnamese "boat people". But I am not convinced that the mortality rate at Gallipoli made a nation come of age. When the mortality rate among our indigenous people is the same as for non-indigenous people, we may be coming of age.

My family is full of those who fought in both World Wars, and those who died in the service of their country. I am thankful for their sacrifice and the freedoms I enjoy. But I think that even they might be a bit concerned with what we, in our safe bubble are doing to the memory of their service.
Rather than our current focus on war, a better focus to define our national identity would be to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God