What follows is the text of Mervyn F. Bendle’s speech at the most recent Quadrant dinner, April 22, 2015, when his book, Anzac and Its Enemies: The History War on Australia’s National Identity, was launched.
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Australia is unique among all the nations that fought in the Great War because of the way in which the Anzac legend developed as a central part of its collective memory, national identity, and unifying historical narrative. It is also unique in the way in which it has been subject to continual attack.
Even while record crowds attend the Centenary Dawn Services across the country, the Anzac legend remains under concerted assault by the intelligentsia, a former prime minister, and academics in Australia’s elite universities and institutions, including the Australian National University, the Australian Defence Forces Academy, the Australian War Memorial. And, of course, Fairfax Media, the ABC and SBS also feel compelled to denigrate the tradition.
This campaign is part of a bigger battle over Australia’s national identity. This began to evolve after Federation around notions of nationalism, allegiance to Britain and the Empire, and a desire to rise above the country’s convict past and prove itself a worthy member of the family of nations. Within 15 years this quest became inextricably entwined with the experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front, and the emergence of the Anzac tradition.
The latter had its origins in Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett’s glowing descriptions of the Anzac’s conduct on the first days of the Gallipoli landing. It then took shape in the hands of Charles Bean, who declared that the main theme of The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 “may be stated as the answer to a question”:
How did this nation react to what still has to be recognized as the supreme test for fitness to exist?
His answer was precise. As he explained in his tract, In Your Hands, Australians (1918):
The big thing in the war for Australia was the discovery of the character of Australians. It was character which rushed the hills at Gallipoli and held on there.
Bean had come to the view that “the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born” on the 25th of April, 1915. In his later one-volume history of the War, Anzac to Amiens (1952) Bean described what the Anzac spirit involved:
Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valor in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat.
Also at the core of the Anzac spirit was the ideal of mateship. For the Anzacs, Bean knew, life would not have been worth living if they had betrayed the ideal of mateship.
Bean’s early volumes appeared during the nationalist first phase in the production of military histories of the war. As Jay Winter and Antoine Prost explain in The Great War in History (2005), such works were concerned with “the stuff of national character”, and Bean’s work in particular, “exemplified this approach to military history [as] the chronicle of the birth of [a] nation”. The perspective Bean offered on the Gallipoli campaign transformed “a complete defeat [into a] noble sacrifice”, worthy of a new country, making it “the backdrop to what was essentially a national foundation myth”. As Geoffrey Serle observes in From Deserts the Prophets Come (1973), Bean made “a fascinating contribution to defining Australian identity”.
The attack on the Anzac legend began at the end of the Great War when the newly formed Communist Party of Australia tried to appropriate it for propaganda purposes. When that failed, it turned violently against it. The ideal of the Anzac easily swept aside the competing model of ‘Soviet Man’ that the Left wanted to impose on the Australian people. This was a major ideological defeat and the failure festered on the Left over the decades, provoking streams of invective against the tradition. This reached a torrent at times, especially during the Cultural Revolution of the Sixties (c.1965-74), when the iconoclastic rage of the Vietnam War era very nearly destroyed the Anzac tradition. Stigmatized, it was effectively driven underground. Meanwhile, the triumphant Left began its long march through academia and other vital institutions, entrenching its bleak ideological hegemony over our political, cultural and social life.
The tradition was only resurrected two decades later, after the lamentable success of the Left’s onslaught against the 1988 Bicentenary left a cultural vacuum at the core of Australia’s nation identity. Inexplicably for the Left, this was filled by the Anzac tradition as it re-asserted its role as a civil religion, giving expression to ideals and aspirations deeply held by the Australian people. As such, it once again offered a vision of Australia as a nation-building society, unified around the positive values of liberty, democracy, initiative, courage, tenacity, resourcefulness, loyalty, mateship, honour, pride, and sacrifice. It is against this vision that the campaign by the anti-Anzacs is presently directed.
THE CENTURY between the Gallipoli landings and their present commemoration is neatly cleaved in half by the Sixties, which produced a chasm in the social, cultural and political history of Australia. On the far side was the first half-century dominated by two world wars and the onset of the Atomic Age. There was almost universal recognition of the immense threats Australia faced, and respect and gratitude for the efforts and sacrifices of the original Anzacs and those who followed them into the greatest military conflicts the world has ever seen.
On the near side we have witnessed the half-century since, where threats have persisted but the consensus has fractured. This period is dominated by the Left intelligentsia and the adversary culture that it nurtures and sustains. It sees itself as the champion of various victim groups, social causes, and the Third World. And it is fiercely iconoclastic, despising both Anzac and Australia,
Whereas the first period nurtured a nation-building narrative and sustained a unifying positive national identity, the present period is dominated by the divisive ‘black armband’ historical narrative of a genocidal and ecologically rapacious settler society, promoting a negative national identity based on guilt, shame, and despair.
THIS NEGATIVE national identity is the way it should be, according to the anti-Anzacs. This has been made clear by Mark McKenna, a professor at the University of Sydney. According to him, Australia lacks a legitimate foundational history and it is vital for the Left to keep it that way. This view is echoed by Carolyn Holbrook in Anzac: the Unauthorized Biography (2014). She rejects John Howard’s suggestion that a coherent national narrative is essential for a proper historical understanding. Such an aspiration, she insists, harks back to a dark “earlier era of professional history writing” she associates with British imperialism. Nowadays, she explains,
The contemporary history profession [is] more concerned with detailing the experience of the disempowered and disadvantaged than with describing the triumphant sowing of British civilization in Australian soil.
No recognition is to be given to the astonishing nation-building achievement that has occurred on this continent over the past two centuries. Instead, that history is denounced as a literally unspeakable interlude, largely excluded from the education system. This was made clear in the Introduction to the so-called People’s History of Australia published for the 1988 Bicentenary. Australians should have no illusions about the historical depravity of their nation or about its transient status, it decreed:
This history … rejects myths of national progress and unity. It starts from a recognition that Australian settler society was built on invasion and dispossession [and that] the last two hundred years [was] but a brief, nasty interlude.
McKenna returns to this theme in the new Cambridge History of Australia (V.2, 2013, pp.562-3), where he welcomes the eradication of Australia’s British heritage. He claims non-indigenous Australians suffer from a “history anxiety” as they long for the “deep past” that only indigenous Australians can ever have. He believes all attempts to implant an Anglospheric civilization in Australia were doomed from the start. He compares them to the weeping willows introduced by the first settlers. These, he claims, now clog the nation’s waterways and are being up-rooted and destroyed as the country is returned to its native state.
Consequently, as John Hirst has observed Sense and Nonsense in Australian History (2005), these are “truly the dark ages, for students are cut off from the knowledge of British and European history without which their own society is unintelligible”. Instead, they are taught about a modern Australia that floats in an historical vacuum, depicted as a genocidal settler society. Whatever its superficial achievements might be, it is eternally tainted by the original sin of colonialism, and its attempts to construct a ‘deep past’ based on its links with Britain and Western Civilization are denounced as futile, pathetic, and even disreputable.
Australia’s historical sense is therefore characterized by a “sense of impermanence, fragility and anxiety concerning the past”, McKenna insists, and especially by a “self-consciousness [and] extreme sensitivity to the convict birth stain [and] frontier violence”. Denied a ‘deep past’, left rootless, and hovering over an historical void, Australians are “constantly … straining after conflict, trial, sacrifice”, that constitute “a proper history”, of which they can be proud.
It is this vacuum at the core of Australia’s national identity that fuels popular interest in the Anzac legend. It offers a positive, heroic vision of our history, one that is “immutable, sacred and free of rancor and political division”, McKenna observes. Therefore it must be debunked, ridiculed, and destroyed, the anti-Anzacs believe, so that Australians can be forced to recognize the rootlessness of their society and the wickedness of their nation’s history.
Australians must be forced to embrace the “cathartic purging” of national guilt exemplified by Kevin Rudd’s speech of apology for the ‘Stolen Generations’ in 2008. McKenna lauds the Sydney Morning Herald’s description of this as “a nationwide emotional release … a gesture of atonement for the full disastrous history of indigenous relations since 1788”. According to McKenna, Rudd’s speech gave voice to a nation “wrestling with its own soul”. It was “an acknowledgement of wrongdoing [and] a cry for absolution” that would bring “an end to the history anxiety” crippling Australia.
McKenna concedes there is another path forward. This would build upon a positive vision of Australia as a nation-building society embracing the values exemplified by the Anzac legend. This must be rejected, he insists. The “conservative nationalism” associated with Anzac, with its connotations of “honour and pride rather than guilt and shame” is to be ridiculed. It is all “saga” and “myth” promoted by cynical politicians “delivering misty-eyed speeches [at] choreographed spectacles that resemble concert entertainment”. The Anzac legend is a bogus attempt at “a history that could justify the existence of the nation”, and therefore it must be demolished.
THE SUCCESSFUL ruination of Australia’s Bicentenary celebrations in 1988 is the coup the anti-Anzacs wish to emulate. This spelt out in What’s Wrong With Anzac, edited by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds (2010). According to this collection of essays, the present commemorations are to be undermined by promulgating a negative counter-narrative, mobilizing victims’ groups, utilizing oppositional front organizations, exploiting the media (and now the Internet and social media), and deploying sympathetic politicians. This strategy of ideological de-legitimation had been pioneered by the CPA in 1938 when it promoted the ‘Day of Mourning and Protest’ to undermine the Sesquicentenary, focusing on the convicts, the Eureka uprising, Indigenous issues, and other matters then fashionable on the Left.
For the Bicentenary, the Left promoted the notion that the day commemorated a crime against Indigenous Australians – the day of celebration was to be turned into a year of mourning. Australia Day was to become Invasion Day. McKenna describes their success: “Protesters marched from Redfern to Circular Quay under ‘Invasion Day’ banners”; “No one could be sure exactly what was being ‘celebrated’ ”; “The media overflowed with reports of an increasingly polarized debate … Feature articles discussed ‘white guilt’ and ‘national shame’”. Ultimately, the Left reduced the occasion to farce, leaving the vast bulk of the Australian population with the ashes of what was meant to be a celebration of national achievement and pride. Afterwards, the Sydney Morning Herald was able to revel in the “ideological vacuum” that the debacle revealed lay at the core of Australia’s national identity.
This strategy was reiterated in July, 2014, by the veteran Marxist agitator, Humphrey McQueen, in “Anzac: A Class Struggle”, posted on the Honest History website, a major internet vehicle for the anti-Anzac campaign. McQueen applauded the “wounds that Indigenous Australians and their supporters had inflicted … when we rained on the 1988 Bicentennial parade”. The Bicentennial debacle left the Australian people with little sense of pride. Indeed, “we are now all citizens in the Kingdom of Nothingness”, proclaimed the ubiquitous Manning Clark, who had become the unofficial Bicentenary Historian.
In a similar fashion the anti-Anzac activists want to construct an ideological vacuum lying at the core of the Anzac legend. They are determined to imprison Australia’s national identity and the Anzac tradition within ‘the broken nation paradigm’. This is epitomized by Broken Nation: Australia in the Great War (2013), by another leading anti-Anzac, Joan Beaumont of ANU. According to this view of history, Australia is a fractured society, riddled with conflict, whose past is largely a tale of imperialism, capitalism, violence, exploitation, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and now, Islamophobia, the newly contrived thought crime.
Because the Anzac tradition offers a positive counter-narrative that opposes this bleak dirge of national shame, it is denounced as an instrument of ideological manipulation.
Indeed, Beaumont, like other anti-Anzacs, portrays the Anzac legend as an ideological tool of “the hegemonic class”, playing a ‘top-down’ “political role, articulating a view about the nature of Australian identity and historical experience which was intended to promote an illusion of national cohesion” and unity, when Australia is really a fragmented, broken nation, as she claimed in a ABC Four Corners report on ‘The Great History War’.
The anti-Anzacs ignore an alternative theory about the origins and nature of the tradition. Such an approach uses the concepts of collective memory and civil religion to view the Anzac legend in an organic ‘bottom-up’ fashion, as a form of grass-roots remembrance that emerged amidst the trauma of the war, and subsequently became embedded in Australian culture through the impact of human loss and grief on a massive scale. Instead, Beaumont, committed to the ‘broken nation paradigm’, insists that the Anzac tradition is an instrument of conservative ideology:
In the last 20 years the memory of war has been used to project an image of unity and cohesion in Australian society [and it was seen by government] as advantageous to have a kind of unifying narrative.
Moreover, the Anzac legend is “a myth … invoked to legitimate current military actions” in Iraq and Afghanistan. McKenna agrees, declaring that Anzac Day served to “silence dissent over the Iraq war … Anzac Day is now entrenched as a symbolic extension of state authority”, according to McKenna (“Patriot Act”, The Australian, 6/6/2007).
In mounting their critique of the Anzac tradition, its enemies depict it as a major component of what they see as the hegemonic ideology dominating Australian society. According to this model, the masses are continuously manipulated by the state and the media, popular consent to government policies is ‘manufactured’ through propaganda, and cultural phenomena like the Anzac legend are really oppressive ideologies serving the interests of capitalism, the patriarchy, and militarism, and are imposed on the masses by the state and the ruling class in a ‘top down’ fashion.
In fact, its origins lie not in the malevolent ideological machinations of militarists, but in the experiences, grief, and memories of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families, the millions of letters exchanged with the front, the formal making of solemn promises, innumerable acts of remembrance, ceremonies, marches, parades, and processions, the observance of special holidays, the erection of cenotaphs, arches, memorials, and avenues of honour, the formation of associations to perpetuate the memory of the fallen, the work of poets, novelists, historians, and the development of a unique and evocative symbolism and mythology that has lived on for a century.
The latter model helps explain the resurgence of the Anzac tradition in the 1990s. Ironically, it appears that the successful campaign against the Bicentenary in 1988 created a vacuum at the core of Australia’s national identity that was then filled by the popular re-discovery of the legend, as it re-asserted its role as a civil religion after the iconoclastic onslaught it had faced in the Sixties and began once again to play a central part within Australian culture.
IN TERMS of military history, the anti-Anzacs have only one simplistic, nihilistic view: Australia was dragged by Britain into an imperialist war in which it had no stake, and Anzac is a bogus and reactionary ideology designed to justify and obscure class, gender and racial oppression. Above all, the anti-Anzacs refuse to validate the massive sacrifices of the Anzacs by placing them in the context of the titanic struggles of the Western democracies against murderous authoritarian and totalitarian regimes over the last century, consuming over 200 million people. Instead, they breathlessly repeat the same nihilistic refrain: all the sacrifice was in vain; these men wasted their lives, the conflict and the costs were pointless, meaningless, tragic, nationalist, imperialist, capitalist, racist, sexist, and the commemoration of Anzac only glorifies war, and so on.
Paul Keating has given a high-profile expression to this view. He was promoted as the spokesman of the anti-Anzac campaign by the Council of the Australian War Memorial. According to Carolyn Holbrook in Anzac: The Unauthorized Biography, (2014), the Memorial’s director, Brendan Nelson had “fallen in love with Keating’s speech” given upon the interring of the Unknown Soldier in 1993. This was at the height of the History Wars, when Keating was trying to remake Australia’s national identity by deriding Australia’s links with Britain and the Empire and promoting our affinity with Asia. Above all, he wanted to marginalize Gallipoli and the Great War in favour of Kokoda and the Pacific War. As Keating declared, Anzac is all nonsense — “I’ve never been to Gallipoli and I never will.”
Consequently, Keating delivered a scathing keynote address at the 2013 Remembrance Day ceremony, regurgitating the nihilist view that the Great War was pointless and futile and that the Anzacs and the other soldiers were naïfs who died for nothing – the traditional default position of the Left. He dismissed the war as the product of European tribalism, ethnic atavism, nationalism, and racism in which Australia had no stake. This is particularly inane, given that the war arose from deeply-rooted and irreconcilable conflicts between the greatest economic and military powers in the world, with profound implications for Australia.
Keating’s fevered rant was yet another rendition of the nihilist depiction of the war that has reigned supreme since the Sixties. This is now often dismissed by historians as the ‘Blackadder’ view, named after the British television comedy series. According to this the war was fought, as the doomed Captain Edmund Blackadder put it, so that General Haig could “move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin”.
Such black humour — while very effective – is quite derivative. It has its roots in the iconoclasm of the Sixties, and especially in Joan Littlewood’s highly successful play and film Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), which depicts the war as a music hall performance. The historical advisor to Littlewood, Raymond Fletcher, later conceded that the script for Oh! What a Lovely War was “one part me, one part [the military historian] Liddell Hart, the rest Lenin”. This is literally true, as Fletcher (a British Labour MP from 1964 to 1983) was later revealed to have been a long-term Soviet agent. His ideological activity helped ensure that the official Soviet interpretation of the war as an imperialist struggle was embedded in popular culture and educational curricula. This ‘imagined war’ provides a fantasised narrative whose elements are quite familiar: the war was an unnecessary disaster; an imperialist conflict, fought for no good reason; it wiped out a generation; the men were lions led by donkeys, and were sacrificed en masse; its ill-conceived attacks achieved nothing; anyone who objected was shot; the survivors were a pitiful bunch, living a lifetime of trauma; only the defeatist war poets revealed the terrible truth; it resolved nothing; its only legacy was another war, and so on.
This simplistic narrative has been stripped of all credibility. Germany’s grandiose territorial ambitions for the war have become clear since the 1960s after exhaustive archival research and analysis pioneered by the German historian Fritz Fischer’s study of Germany’s Aims in the First World War, (1967). Fischer and his followers assembled a frightening picture of the future that a victorious Second Reich intended to impose upon the world. At the core of this was Mitteleuropa, a massively expanded Reich, five times the size of present-day Germany and encompassing all of Central and Eastern Europe. Germany was to be a global superpower. France was to be permanently crippled by colossal indemnity payments and deprived of vital industrial regions and ports. Britain was to forfeit her navy and also be crippled by massive indemnities. Above all, she would lose her empire.
Fischer’s work was a bombshell that initiated an historiographical revolution, refuting the nihilist view and other simplistic theories about the war. As Dan Todman explains in The Great War: Myth and Memory (2005):
In recent years, historians have argued persuasively against almost every popular cliché of the First World War … The war is not now seen as a ‘fight about nothing’, but as a war of ideals, a struggle between aggressive militarism and liberal democracy.
This assessment has been supported by a recent symposium of prominent historians addressing the proposition, “Why Britain was right to go to war in 1914’, published in BBC History Magazine, February, 2014. All have recently published major works on the Great War, and all were unanimous that the war had to be fought. Margaret MacMillan, author of The War that Ended Peace (2013) observed that a German victory “would have been disastrous for Britain economically and in every other way”. Peter Hart, author of The Great War: 1914–1918 (2013), pointed out that “the invasion of Belgium, the possibility of outright defeat for France and the threat to the Channel ports were challenges that … could only be answered by war”, a view supported by David Reynolds, author of The Long Shadow (2013). Nigel Jones, author of Peace and War: Britain in 1914 (2014), makes it clear that “Germany’s brutal, unprovoked and unnecessary invasion of Belgium” was “a bestial action” that foreshadowed the horrendous atrocities of the Third Reich. Consequently, “the prospect that such a barbarous militarist power could dominate Europe” left Britain with no alternative to war. “War is less costly than slavery”, he concluded.
As Gary Sheffield, author of Forgotten Victory: The First World War – Myths and Realities (2001) concluded: “For Britain to stand by while its fellow democracy, France, was defeated, and an authoritarian, aggressive Germany gained hegemony in Europe would have been a strategic catastrophe”. Eventual war with Germany would have been inevitable, and Britain, “having betrayed its friends in their moment of deepest need” would have been without allies as she confronted an immeasurably stronger Germany. Failure to respond to German aggression in 1914 would have been disastrous for Britain.
It would also have been catastrophic for Australia. Australia was seen as a strategic outpost of the Aryan race, ripe for colonization by a new Teutonic ruling class. Left gutted by wartime manpower losses, military expenditures, reparations, and with our agricultural and manufacturing industries expropriated, Australia would have been a new fatherland for war-hardened German colonizers – such as those who joined the paramilitary Freikorps after the war and went on to be foundation members of the Nazi Party, the SA and the SS.
This is the type of future that the Anzacs fought against, and not once but twice, in two vast global conflicts. Nevertheless, Keating insists the Great War was “devoid of any virtue”. He rejects virtually every aspect of the Anzac tradition, as Holbrooke reveals. Beginning with the idea that it served as a “national foundation myth”, Keating insists it was “deeply flawed and wrong”. The people who embraced the Anzac tradition were “classic Austral-Britons”, contemptible “hat-doffers”, “lickspittles”, “crawlers”, “snivelers”, “tin-tookies”, and “hard-hatted imperialist militarists”.
Similarly, Humphrey McQueen insists that the Great War was an imperialist onslaught directed, in Australia, by a ruling class “dictatorship”, acting under the direction of international capitalists. Consequently, “the Dardanelles campaign was [really] aimed against the Russian people” and their revolutionary zeal, and not Germany and the Central Powers, and he rejoices that the Anzacs and the allies “were driven into the sea”. For him, Anzac Day is merely “celebrating slaughter” and ignores the so-called ‘frontier wars’, which were “the real battle for Australia”.
McQUEEN’S tract was posted on the so-called Honest History website, which promotes anti-Anzac publications, public forums, speakers, and activities, as well as curriculum and teaching materials for schools. It also provides a running critique of all the Gallipoli commemorations, denouncing what it calls “Anzackery” and “the vacuousness and vanity of [the] overblown, jingoistic, agenda-driven commemoration-celebration”.
Honest History is run by a committee whose president is Peter Stanley, a professor at Australian Defence Forces Academy. He is also a former principal historian at the Australian War Memorial. There, he recently confessed in his article “Monumental Mistake” (2012), he drafted speeches and talks for public figures extolling a version of Australia’s military past that he regards as untenable. As he says: “No longer required to advocate the claims of military history for my daily bread”, he now feels free to debunk the Anzac tradition and other aspects of Australia’s military history. He has also taken to whitewashing the despicable campaign of sabotage carried out by communist and other unions during WW2. For Stanley, Anzac is “the bastard son of war and nationalism”. He insists, “there’s always an ideological pay off for official sanction or official support for a view of history”, and Anzac has “been harnessed to serve the purposes of the state”, especially in the war on terror.
Stanley began his rise to academic prominence with his opposition to the proposal to designate the ‘Battle for Australia Day’. This was intended to commemorate the efforts of Australian service personnel who served in the military actions fought during World War II against the Japanese. Stanley derided this idea in “Threat Made Manifest” (2005), claiming that Australia has never faced any threat of invasion, denouncing such beliefs as “rather pathetic”.
Stanley believes these “pathetic” concerns about external threats arise from the mass psychology of the Australian people. Australians, it seems, are consumed by xenophobia and paranoia not only about the Japanese, but also the red peril, “boat people”, and “people smugglers”, and other “chimerical foes”.
A chimera is, of course, a bogeyman, a fanciful monster rooted in fear. Like the other anti-Anzacs, Stanley uses military history to depict Australians as delusional, paranoid, frightened, xenophobic, and parochial people, filled with an inflated sense of self-importance.
Stanley is also worried about Anzac and multiculturalism. According to him, Anzac Day unfairly favours “old Anglo-Celtic families” whose ancestors fought and died in the war, and excludes others who ancestors didn’t. This is a view echoed by Joan Beaumont who recently complained that “some immigrant groups … had difficulty embracing the Anzac legend”, and called for it to be made more inclusive by commemorating all losses in all wars for everyone. Stanley similarly insists that the nation’s efforts to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives in war should be matched by similar efforts to commemorate those who died in all sorts of other ways, including car accidents, cancer, drug abuse, and suicide. It is because the anti-Anzacs see Anzac instrumentally, as a state-sponsored tool of ideological control, and not organically, as a civil religion with deep roots in Australia’s collective consciousness, that they believe it can be readily manipulated by social engineers in this fashion — a plaything of the therapeutic nanny state.
Honest History was also a convenient platform for Stanley to defend a controversial but entirely predictable feature on Gallipoli run on ABC television in 2014. This was based on Stanley’s book Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny and Murder and the Australian Imperial Force (2010). By ransacking various archives and other collections, Stanley compiled a range of stories about Anzacs and Diggers allegedly being insubordinate and disobedient, malingering, and contracting STDs, as well as committing serious crimes. While regrettable, this is not surprising, given that 332,000 Australians served in the 1st AIF.
The feature’s broadcast provoked the Liberal member for Bass, Andrew Nikolic, a former Brigadier, to question the propriety, as the Centenary approached, of the ABC “honour[ing] the opinions of those who trawl through the history of 1915 Cairo brothels”.
Another prominent anti-Anzac is Henry Reynolds. Like the others, he argues it is not Gallipoli, but the ‘frontier wars’ that should be commemorated, and in “Are Nations really made in War?” (2010), he has described how he took this anti-Anzac message to a high school. It must have been an ironic scene, as the elderly professor confronted the eager young faces, given that the Anzac tradition is one of the few cultural forces in Australian society that nurtures a cross-generational sense of national identity. Unperturbed, Reynolds relieved these young people of any illusions they may have had that they could share in a heroic national narrative. Instead, he provided them with some “necessarily and inescapably confronting [and] troubling thoughts”, debunking the idea that the inspirational efforts of the Anzacs provided a foundation for a sustainable national identity. He insists instead that nations like Australia are best formed on the basis of an acceptance of guilt and shame.
Reynolds was contributing to What’s Wrong With Anzac? (2010). This is a collection of polemical essays that he edited with Marilyn Lake, another highly influential professor of history and a former president of the Australian Historical Association. Lake is particularly concerned that Anzac Day deflects attention from her own preferred victims groups. And, in“We must fight free of Anzac, lest we forget other stories” (2009), she offers her own version of Australian military history, focusing on the so-called ‘Black Wars’, and highlighting “the perpetual state of warfare … entailed in the colonization of Australia” and the genocidal “nation-building project at the heart of Anzac”.
Like the other anti-Anzacs, Lake insists the Anzac legend is a myth promoted by the Howard government to achieve the “militarization of Australian history”. Under this conservative political sponsorship, “war stories have figured ever more prominently in our culture, our school rooms, on our TV screens, our bookshops”. Peter Stanley even condemns teaching youngsters the drums as “the militarization of children”.
This paranoia is typical of the anti-Anzacs. Indeed, all the work of the anti-Anzacs is characterized by hyperbole that frequently verges on the hysterical. Consider this book’s full title: What’s Wrong with Anzac?: The Militarization of Australian History. It appears the anti-Anzacs feel we live in some twenty-first century version of Wilhelmine Germany, a new Second Reich, on the way to a new Third Reich under the Southern Cross. They seem to believe that commemoration of the Anzac tradition is transforming Australia into a clone of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, obsessed with the Fuhrer, or a God-Emperor, for whom the entire country is mobilized for conquest on a continental scale, rampaging about and seizing vast chunks of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific.
Such a vision is, of course, absurd, but it particularly egregious in Australia, where military personnel, and even school cadets, are warned not to wear their uniforms in public for fear they might be attacked by jihadists.
Other contributors to What’s Wrong With Anzac? claim the present commemorations are based on “a nineteenth century concept of nationhood” that barbarically demands “the sacrificial blood of its young”. The Anzac tradition is denigrated from one end of the book to the other, being condemned, for example, as “White Australia’s creation myth”, and as “the vehicle by which the ideas of Edwardian militarists are preserved and passed on to a new generation”. “The cult of Anzac” is denounced as a sinister force of social division, while Anzac Day is dismissed as “an Imperial, masculine, militarist event”, and as “the last hurrah of the white Australian male”. It is also “a means of inflating national pride” while promoting forgetfulness of the nation’s past crimes and wickedness. It is a cynical “counter-narrative” designed to distract the nation from “the history of Aboriginal dispossession and cultural annihilation” practiced by Australians throughout their history. The aim of the authors is to have Anzac Day replaced by National Sorry Day as the principal focus of public observance in Australia.
More recently, the ABC Radio National presenter, David Rutledge claimed there are “strong parallels” between the Anzacs who left for Gallipoli in 1915 and the jihadists who are leaving present-day Australia to join the Islamic State death cult, while the SBS presenter, Scott McIntyre, tweeted on Anzac Day that the hundreds of thousands commemorating the occasion were “poorly read … drinkers and gamblers”, and that the campaign was an “imperialist invasion of a foreign country”.
Other recent anti-Anzac collections include Zombie Myths of Australian Military History (2010) and Anzac’s Dirty Dozen (2012), both edited by Craig Stockings, an ex-Army officer, and now a senior lecturer at the ADFA. According to Zombie Myths and Anzac’s Dirty Dozen, the military myths that need to be deconstructed concern virtually every war in which Australia has been involved. Indeed, the anti-Anzacs insist, the Australian people have fallen victim to “zombie myths” about their nation’s past, centred on “conceptions of national identity wrapped in the imagery of war”, specifically the figures of the Anzac and the Digger.
Far from being icons of courage and sacrifice, these symbols are depicted as “monsters of the mind” that have to be exposed and destroyed. Aside from the Anzacs at Gallipoli and the Western Front, these ‘zombie myths’ involve the alleged frontier wars, the Boer War, Tobruk, Kokoda, Vietnam, East Timor, the military prowess of the Diggers, their treatment of enemy combatants, the role of women in war, the threat of Japanese invasion, the central place of war in Australian history, and the cover-up of rape, pillage, and murder throughout Australia’s military history.
Of the 22 contributors to Zombie Myths and Anzac’s Dirty Dozen who carry out this assault, 17 are academic staff at the Australian Defence Forces Academy.
It appears their efforts and the efforts of the other anti-Anzacs committed to destroying the ‘zombie myths’ of Anzac and the rest of Australia’s military history have been very effective, judging by the testimony of an ex-army officer, James Brown in his polemic: Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of our National Obsession (2014). Claiming to speak for soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brown declared emphatically that they don’t want to be associated with the Anzac tradition:
They don’t want honour that rides with hubris. Or glory bestowed by a society that fetishizes war but doesn’t know the first damn thing about fighting it.
According to Brown, “this year an Anzac orgy begins. A commemorative program that would make the pharaohs envious”. Speaking on the ABC’s 7.30 Report in February, 2014, Brown mangled the metaphor, complaining that “we’re about to embark on a four year festival for the dead which in some cases looks like a military Halloween”.
Is this really the perspective of contemporary Australian soldiers? Do they really see the centenaries as “an Anzac orgy” or a “military Halloween”? Do they really lack all respect for a venerable tradition that seeks to honour the hundreds of thousands of their forebears who fought, died or were maimed in the wars of the past century?
If so, then the work of the anti-Anzacs operating in Australia’s elite institutions have been very effective indeed in instilling the nihilist view of the Anzac tradition that has been promoted by the Left for the past century.
THE PRESENT centenary redeems a solemn promise. It commemorates the Anzac troops, vast numbers of whom were killed or left totally and permanently incapacitated. Many lived out their lives on the TPI pension and in the wards of the repatriation hospitals across the country. Denied their youth, they grew aged, weary, and infirm, surrounded in their final years by a generation that was taught to ridicule, even despise them.
A century ago they had stepped forward when their country called and in return they received the promise that their valour, their sacrifice, and the nobility of their efforts would never be forgotten.
Now, a century later, the account is due. Around the nation countless efforts are presently being made to redeem this promise. People will shortly be standing in the cold early dawn commemorating those last few moments as the little boats delivered thousands of young Australians onto the bloody shores of Gallipoli.
This book shows how the Anzac tradition has been a perennial target of the Left, the radical intelligentsia and the adversary culture. Anzac was very nearly destroyed in the Sixties and its aftermath. It was stigmatized and driven underground by the triumphant Left, and only resurrected two decades later after the Bicentennial debacle left a cultural vacuum at the core of Australia’s nation identity.
Remarkably, this was filled by the Anzac legend as it re-asserted its role as a civil religion. It offered a vision of Australia as a nation-building society embracing the values of courage, tenacity, loyalty, mateship and sacrifice that the original Anzacs demonstrated as they scrambled ashore on that pitch-black morning a century ago, gazed upwards towards the steep forbidding cliffs of Gallipoli, and began their ascent into history.
Lest We Forget.