I owe the inspiration for this blog to a number of people.
Last year my niece wrote an article which questioned why the celebration of ANZAC Day is characteristic of our nation’s psyche. Then there’s a good friend who doesn’t celebrate ANZC Day as he’s opposed to any even oblique celebration of war. Third there’s a young colleague from my Nauru days who posted this on Facebook: As we honour our soldiers from wars past and present, may we also honour those who have had to flee war; may we mourn for those who’ve been detained for seeking asylum. On a day that we remember the atrocities of war, may we create room in our hearts and countries for those most affected by it.
Growing up my family didn’t get involved in ANZAC Day much even though Dad was a veteran of WW11 – we may have watched the Sydney march on TV but that’s all. It wasn’t until my children were old enough to get involved via Scouts or school groups in country NSW that it became a regular part of my yearly diary. ANZAC Day, and especially the Last Post, brings tears to my eyes and makes my heart swell with pride.
But this year, influenced as I am by other’s thoughts, I’m asking my own questions around ANZAC Day and why it’s the ultimate national day for Australians. My biggest question is this: if a day in which we as a nation were horribly defeated, in which young men were lost to an insane war that solved nothing, is the epitome for us of nationhood, what does that say about us?
We’re told that ANZAC Day highlights the value of sacrifice. That’s OK, but how is that being played out in our national psyche today? And it must be if this is something we value. Our government doesn’t seem to value the sacrifices our current pensioners made to build this country when it threatens to cut aged pensions. Sacrifice doesn’t seem to be valued when we punish people who have sacrificed everything to leave war-torn countries to try and seek asylum here.
Another thing we say we value is the idea of mateship, of being there for your friends and country. A man asked a young rabbi centuries ago, who is my neighbour/mate? I think the answer is now as it was then – whoever needs my help, regardless of race or faith or colour. Is that really a value we show across the board in Australia or are we blinded by our own prejudices (judging before we know all the facts)? If mateship is something we value it can’t come with strings attached (like as long as you come to this country in a specific manner or have a religion that we’re OK with).
This year’s ANZAC Day has unsettled me and I’m OK with that. If I say I’m an Aussie who values sacrifice and mateship then it has to play out in my life, in our national life, every day, not just on April 25.
PS here’s the link to my neice’s article – very much worth a read: “Lest We Sentimentalise” (http://issuu.com/adelaideuniversityunion/docs/ondit_edition6_web/30)