The myths of Anzac Day

AN ARMY is sent to invade another country to satisfy the ambitions of an imperial power. The army fails miserably in its mission, and ends up being cannon fodder.

Years later, the country which provided the armed forces is uttering pious slogans that this was the defining experience that shaped it as a nation. You would call that country a nation of losers, wouldn’t you?

Yet this is modern Australia. And the military fiasco that is said to define the country is the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops in Gallipoli during World War I. Tomorrow, there will be much talk about the Anzac spirit – as though the spirit in the Australian army ranks at that time was any different to that which pervaded the German and Japanese ranks during World War II.

A lot of this drivel is driven by politicians who strive to find anything behind which they can unite a fractious nation and prevent people from asking questions that will expose the hypocrisy of the political class. People who have no idea of the horrors of war extol its virtues and are ever eager to despatch young men and women to serve as cannon fodder for the imperial power of the day.

Australians are now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as a bulwark for American troops who prefer to bomb from afar and expect Australians to do the dirty work. As indeed they do.

For some time, especially during the era of the Vietnam War, Anzac Day was largely ignored. It has been revived by politicians like John Howard who found a cause behind which they could hide. The Returned Servicemen’s League has cash by the bucket poured into it and statues of soldiers are erected at every street corner to glorify the killing and carnage that is never visible to the populace at large.

Americans have developed this worship of war to a fine art. No-one can question the deployment of troops to any far-flung corner of the world – it is sacrosanct. Many Australian politicians would love to have a similar situation, as a mask for their own shortcomings. Patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels – and Australian politicians squarely fall into that class.

There is also more than a touch of racism in this whole war fetish. As the comedian George Carlin pointed out once, America has invaded only brown and black countries since World War II. Never once have the Yanks gone into a white nation since the Berlin airlift.

Quite often the racism inherent in these adventures is revealed in behaviour by troops. Remember the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib? But that is dismissed as an aberration. After all, the politicians say, boys will be boys, won’t they?

Anzac Day makes me sick.

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