Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I really want to know

Anarchafairy and Span have both written about how left-wing people should respond to ANZAC day. I'm going to write more about that tomorrow. But Span's comment thread puzzled me, and I wanted to respond to the predominant feeling there first.* As Stef said:

I think that ANZAC day is about honouring the soldiers, not the politics of the day.
I don't understand why it is we honour soldiers, when we don't honour so many other groups of people. We don't honour the people who died in the influenza epidemic, that followed the war. We don't honour people who die in their workplace. Those deaths are just as senseless, just as cruel, and just as much a result of our fucked up system, as the ANZACs.

We don't have an annual holiday to honour all the women who have died in childbirth. Who really did die so the next generation could live.

Why are soldiers special?

* I'm not even going to go near the idea that we need to honour the ANZAC soldiers because they died so we could be free. I understand (and don't necessarily agree with) the argument when it comes to World War 2, but World War One? What freedoms is that supposed to have won.


  1. The reason I think Anzac Day has become so trendy recently is that people can see another totally stupid, futile, bloodsoaked war going on right now, and part of "honouring" the NZ soldiers who died in Gallipoli is related to compassion for the soldiers who are being sent off to die for no good reason in Iraq. At least, that's the only reason I can see for the upsurge in interest over the past few years.

    That said, I didn't go to the Dawn Parade either, and not just because the faintly nauseating Hayley Westenra was singing at it.

  2. I thought it was obvious: soldiers die gloriously in the service of our rulers, and women don't count.

    The politics are kind of interesting today, when we have a "volunteer" military made up of full time professionals and don't really need cannon fodder any more. But when we did, it was necessary to motivate all men to accept conscription, and accept the need to die because some monkey in a uniform wanted them to. So glorifying the military was necessary propaganda.

    Today, I think it's partly a legacy (are you willing to tell your grandfather than ANZAC day is a crock of shit?), and partly that we still need people to accept shitty pay for very real risks. Especially when soldiers are increasingly required to be intelligent, educated people. Getting someone to accept $60k to serve as a target in Afganistan when they could earn the same money doing similar work in NZ, but without as much chance of dying? Hmm, intelligent but not smart, perhaps.

  3. Thanks for continuing the discussion Maia, I need to think a bit more about why you have written, but I largely agree.

    Just a quick note - April 28th is Workers' Memorial Day, about people who die on the job, but of course it doesn't get much publicity outside the CTU website.

  4. Anonymous3:22 pm

    I have always wondered if people who object to ANZAC day were in some way nazi sympathizers....I may be wrong of course but many left wing people I know seen to have a great appreciation of dictators and totaliarian states.

  5. It is not about ANZAC day being trendy.

    War, struggle, killing, is all part of normal human behaviour, and always has been, and always will be. Sad but true.

    Soldiers generally don't die gloriously - it's usually mind-numbingly dull, then moments of panic and agony.

    It's tragic, and the pain that is done to those who die and to their families is immense - that is what is being remembered - the human cost of war.

    And my generation, and those following, those born from the end of WW2 onwards, in this country at least, have been immensely privileged in not having to fight.

    It won't always be like this - war, carnage, destruction, is inevitable, it's part of what humans have done to each other from the start.

  6. I've been reading a few academic papers about social representations lately, and the research has found that when people think of the most important events in history, they overwhelmingly think of wars and major political realignments.
    (Whereas specialists tend to think of technology changes and other things that don't form easy narratives.)

    This seems to be a cross-cultural effect, suggesting that it is human nature, for whatever simple or complex reason, to see wars as massively important. So I think the answer to your question is easy enough - "That's how human beings are wired, to see war as massively important" - but it does just beg the question about why that should be and whether we should celebrate or mitigate this tendency.

  7. Anonymous11:08 pm

    People are honoring and remembering the dead. People don't go to war, governments do.

    But it's the people who die.

    If you can't see ANZAC ceremonies for what they are - a marker of the horrors of war - not a glorification of war, then you're a fu**ing moron.

    Their sacrifice deserves respect.

  8. I find it curious that people who enjoy the rights of a relatively free society, and who have never lived under the tyrannies of murderous expansionist states like Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan, can question honouring those who fought those regimes.

    New Zealand is so lucky it wasn't where Korea is, or the Netherlands, and didn't suffer the deliberate genocidal brutality of those regimes - and it is lucky because of the men and women who fought and supported those fighting against it.

    If you fail to see that you are either a fool or sympathetic to such totalitarian brutality. Neutrality in the face of Nazism is neutrality in the face of orchestrated mass murder and racism.

    Of course World War 1 was a tragic legacy of NZ's place in the British Empire, and the men who fought that are virtually all gone.

    It is worthy of noting that only totalitarian regimes uniformly glorify past wars - North Korea still celebrates and glorifies the great victory of "winning" the war, with much militarist symbolism. I have yet to see anything remotely like that on Anzac Day or memorial days in the UK or the US.

  9. Maia,

    Unlike childbirth, war is was a national collective act rather than a personal act: hence the desire for a national rememberance. Both lest we forget that when we sent some poor sods off to die for no real reason: and lest we forget those who laid down their lives for our nation in an hour of real national need.

    But I think your starting premise is wrong because "Honouring" is not the word I'd use. The day is about rememberance.

    And I think it's importance that our day of rememberance is based on a failed campaign in a pointless, imperialistic war.

  10. Sean starts to raise a good point. If this was about glorification or honouring; we wouldn't choose Galipoli.

    This is all about remembrance and ensuring that we continue to see the stupidity that it was

  11. Anonymous10:10 pm


    > North Korea still celebrates and
    > glorifies the great victory
    > of "winning" the war

    Are you serious? As in, the Korean War??? Huh, must be soothing to live in a world where you write your own history books.


    I think we're on the same page w.r.t. WW1 - which was an evil waste of life in which New Zealand should never, ever have been involved - but WW2?

    How can you possibly not agree with the idea that soldiers fighting Imperial Japan and NAZI Germany died so future generations (i.e. us) could be free? Are you claiming that the level of freedom we enjoy, while admittedly far from perfect, is equivalent to that we'd have enjoyed under either of those two regimes?

    I'd be quite interested to read your thoughts on the matter.

  12. Anonymous4:43 pm

    I, myself, am an Australian, of whom stumbled across your blog page while researching for an 'ANZAC Day' based assignment. After thorough research, I come to beleive your comments are far off the mark. Australia and New Zealand may be a multi-culturalist society, but we certainly can't forget our history.

    ANZAC Day commemorates the day thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops lost their lives in the effort to free our country from attack. We were going hand-in-hand with the British, as they were the mother country (although we have become very much independant in the last several years).

    What we celebrate today is not the glories of war, or how right it was, but we come together to remember those thousands of young men, and few women, who gave their lives in the hope of giving their country a better way of life. And they succeeded. We are a very free country: we have the freedom of race, religion and numerous other things.

    ANZAC day is not a trend, nor an attempt to honour war, it is a small time, out of our busy schedules, to reflect and remember the people that gave their lives. We can't turn our back on our past and walk away from it. We stop in respect, and I think your comments are very much disrespectful to those thousands of dead soldiers, who stood for everything right: courage, pride and honour in all they did. The remainders of those that fought in all those wars would be disgraced. They can't return to their normal lives after going to war; they deserve to be remembered for what they did for us.

    "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them."