There has been a rash of articles this year talking about Anzac Day and how it has become Australia’s national day. My grandfather was an Anzac (a New Zealander – this has never been just about Australians). He wasn’t at Gallipolli, but he spent a few pretty horrible years in France on the Western Front, where he was pretty lucky to escape intact. So in one sense, I feel part of the Anzac tradition.
But in other ways, the Anzac day traditionalism excludes a whole lot of people – Larvatus Prodeo has a post today that says this better than I could. E’s grandfather also fought in World War I – as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army. E’s father fought in World War II – as one of Tito’s partisans in Croatia – nominally on our side, but by the time he came here as a Displaced Person, Tito had become a communist and therefore bad, and E’s father was excluded from right-thinking Anzac celebrations. So E has never felt particularly part of Anzac Day – although his other grandfather fought in World War I on the British side, it was simpler just to forget the whole thing.
So in some ways Anzac day can become a bit of a celebration of old Australian nationalism – have a look at the celebrated young faces in the crowd at a dawn ceremony, and it won’t look particularly multicultural. But with a bit of imagination, it doesn’t need to be that way. One of the best things about Anzac Day has been the way that, by being based on a losing campaign, it was about the futility of war. And the Anzac tradition, today, celebrates some great things about the Australian character – the daggy celebration of people who were willing to have a go and the ability to separate the heroism and sacrifice from the sometimes questionable political decisions that made them necessary.
And there are many Australians, E’s father included, who are here because of the stupidity and futility of war. The RSL has got a lot more sensible about that in recent years – allowing soldiers of other countries to march. I’d like to think that Anzac Day will evolve to be simultaneously a celebration of the heroism of soldiers around the world, and a mourning of the lives cut short by the stupidity of war.