Should we embrace Anzac day as playing a formative role in Australian nationalism?
Military achievements are exalted above civilian ones; events overseas are given priority over Australian developments; slow and patient nation-building is eclipsed by the bloody drama of battle; action is exalted above contemplation.
What’s Wrong with Anzac? The Militarisation of Australian History’, p.173
It’s important to commemorate the sacrifices of soldiers past and present. But for me, ANZAC Day refers to the unique experience of male soldiers on the frontline, driven to extremes by force of war and survival. How can the figure of the ANZAC – a white, Anglo-Saxon male – be seen to represent what it means to be Australian in 2013, when this image excludes women and the diverse racial groups that make up contemporary Australian society? The ANZACs were men of their time, representatives of an Australia which still strongly identified with the British Motherland and supported the “White Australia” Policy. Furthermore, as war heroes, they are far from unproblematic national icons. The glorification of the ANZAC spirit of mateship and heroism obscures the shocking realities of wartime conduct.
While historically significant, our focus on Australia’s military past tends to overshadow other formative events. Why did I grow up knowing about the ANZAC legend but ignorant of Australia’s historic leadership on issues of social justice? Australia was progressive on labour rights, introducing the ‘eight-hour day’ as early as 1856. We also led the world on gender equality, as one of the first countries to give women both the right to vote in federal elections and the right to be elected to parliament. Instead of placing such emphasis on a military myth, we should look to alternative national traditions that give pride of place to equality of opportunity and the pursuit of social justice.
The original Anzacs could not have known at the time that their service would leave all Australians with another enduring legacy – our sense of self. The Anzac legend has helped us to define who we are as Australians.
John Howard, 24 April 2005
In a diverse multicultural society, Australian nationalism is something that is truly hard to define, but ANZAC Day, amongst other national public holidays, plays a constructive role in the creation and maintenance of a collective Australian ethos. ANZAC day is observed every year to honour and remember those Australian servicemen who have fallen in military engagements. While the date represents the anniversary of a bloody and ultimately unsuccessful military campaign which saw massive casualties on both sides, ANZAC Day is a time where Australians can solemnly remember and honour those who have paid the ultimate price for their country. At Dawn Services and public marches across the nation, Australians turn out in massive numbers to pay respect to veterans and current servicemen. The ANZAC Day tradition represents the mythologising of the Australian and New Zealand spirit. The Gallipoli campaign saw the emergence of an Australian and New Zealand ethos, which is something that all Australians can respect and identify with. Nationalism and respect for fallen servicemen is important for the Australian psyche; and ANZAC Day plays a crucial role in facilitating this. All Australians should make a better effort to embrace ANZAC Day as playing a formative role in Australian nationalism.