Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Various Thoughts on ANZAC day.

There has been some controversy regarding the meaning of ANZAC day recently. Over at Reading the Maps there is a rundown on the politics of the RSA, and the VUWSA has got itself in strife for refusing to lay a comemorative wreath, saying that to do so would be implicitly condoning war. In response they have got a slew of vitriolic comments.

I agree with their actions. The following delineates why, and is a summary of my comments made on both pages.

I think there is the draw of unassailable alterity at work here (in people's recognition of the day), and foggy ideas of 'duty' ...
Good on the VUWSA. It doesn’t matter whether ANZAC day ‘celebrates war’ or not, but the lack of understanding that goes hand in hand with its celebration. what worries me is precisely this erasure of history, and the unquestioned statements that our involvement in one of the greatest blunders of military history, where our troops were sent in as cannon-fodder by our colonial masters to attack an enemy that posed no threat either to us or to England somehow “cemented our national identity”. I don’t get it. Then there is the political history of the RSA (see Reading the Maps), which is very suspect, and (i hope) totally out of keeping with the ideals of any student union (or other union for that matter). Though i suppose we don’t have the very scary (and embarassing) rampant nationalism exhibited by our Tasman neighbours, as if Australian history was anything to celebrate…

And what of the dead in the Land Wars, on our (or Tangata Whenua) soil? noone mentions that because the politics are too difficult.

I Myself am in that age bracket (15-25) that seems most into the idea of recognising this holiday, and what worries me is the assertions of "NZ Identity" formation regarding the Gallipoli campaign, as I have stated earlier, and the ritualisation of the ceremonies with overtly militaristic overtones. There is a lot of rhetoric regarding the commemorations being about memory, honouring the dead, etc, and not celebrating war; but at the end of the day the overt militarism (involvement of the armed forces in their official capacity – uniforms, buglers, etc) undercuts this argument. It perpetuates the power imbalance inherent in any armed conflict, reifying the troops with little regard for the civilians who died, and mythologising the conflicts by perpetuation the official discourse on military history. One of our VC "heroes" fought in the Boer war. We had no business kowtowing to England and being involved in WWI. Without minimising the atrocities committed by the Axis forces, The Allies committed war crimes in WWII as well - the US use of Atomic weapons was unnecessary and simply a show of power against the Soviets, and the RAF and USAF at Strategic Bomber Command's decision to bomb Dresden was a crime against humanity, as were their callous targeting of civilian food supplies. All of this deserves very serious thought, and the manifestation of ANZAC day services as pseudo-religious occasions stifles any real debate, as can be seen by the knee-jerk reactions of many to the actions of the VUWSA. This is dangerous.

Nothing is ever as simple as it is made out to be.

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