ADELAIDE - Dr De Maria has certainly unleashed some caustic criticism of the Anzac tradition, much of it well deserved.
I would argue, for example, that Paul Keating was right to say that the Kokoda campaign of 1942 was much more deserving of recognition as a seminal military event in our history.
The military operation we do recognise as giving its legacy to Anzac Day was a poorly led, poorly organised and ultimately unsuccessful imperial adventure in a faraway land about which most Australians knew nothing.
I think that on 1 January 1901, when Australia came into existence as a nation, the people and politicians of the day felt vaguely discomforted, perhaps even cheated, that the country was brought into being by protracted negotiations and a national plebiscite.
The drama and spectacle and bravura of events like the American or French revolutions was missing, so there was nothing seemingly notable about 1 January 1901 upon which to construct a unifying national mythology.
The fact that Australia's birth was a profoundly democratic and peaceful act was not, of itself, deemed worthy of much note.
Australia's search for a unifying mythology has for a long time been satisfied by the Anzac Day tradition but I think its ability to fulfil this need is diminishing, both with time and the changing nature of the country itself.
If you were born in India or China or the Philippines or Europe, the Anzac Day mythology is unlikely to resonate strongly.
And the signified national day, Australia Day on 26 January, is increasingly seen as being held on the wrong date for the wrong reasons.
I observe a good deal of sympathy for Australia’s Indigenous people who regard that day as symbolising an invasion and the start of a near genocidal disaster for them as a people.
As for me, I continue to participate in Anzac Day ceremonies because members of my family have fought, died, been wounded and suffered imprisonment and starvation in Australia's wars.
My daughter continues to serve in the Royal Australian Air Force and is a veteran of our most recent war in Afghanistan.
As is the case for many Australians, war looms over our family history like a malignant shadow, always there but mostly seen out of the corner of the eye, except on Anzac Day when it stands before us in stark relief.
I do not give a damn about national mythology but I do give a damn about those who have suffered in our many wars, irrespective of whether they were justified or not.
What is certain is that there will be more wars and more of our people will go forth to see, hear and do things that most of us very definitely do not wish to be part of.
The Anzacs knew all too well what war was.
If there is anything useful to be derived from understanding that first Anzac experience it is - as the brilliant but brutal American civil war general William Sherman famously said - "War is hell".
That is something for us all to remember this Anzac Day.
I want to thank Chris Overland both for this acute piece of prose and for drawing to my attention the exploits and many quotable words of General Sherman (1820–1891). Sherman had no fondness for journalists who he regarded as spies because their newspaper reports about the disposition of his Union forces were often in Confederate Army hands before he had a chance to attack. He said of them, "If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast" - KJ