Anzac must honour values of peace, not war
Funding quirks make it hard to put smiles on faces

A day to remember that 'war is hell'


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.

HellThis is history's ghastly lesson and one from which we mostly studiously avert our gaze, hoping against hope that it will not happen again.

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


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Burnie Gough

War is unnecessary in every circumstance. I disagree.
Try telling that to Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, the Kaiser, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Saddam Hussain, Taliban, Ghaddafi, Kim Il Sung etc,

When they invade, war becomes necessary.

Chips Mackellar

Chris, your comment, "The Civil War still echoes through American politics to this day", was certainly true during the 2016 US presidential election, when all the Confederate States voted for Trump.

Quite an irony of history that the South had revolved 180 degrees to seeing the Republicans, the party of the Unionists who had delivered them such a terrible hiding, as their own - KJ

Bernard Corden

One of my favourite books covering war and journalism is the late Phillip Knightley's 'The First Casualty - The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq'.,Phillip%20Knightley%20shows%20just%20how%20right%20Johnson%20was.

Phillip Knightley was up there with the great Wilfred Burchett.

Chris Overland

General William Tecumseh Sherman was one of the most important Union commanders of the American Civil War.

Along with generals like Ulysses S Grant and Philip Sheridan, he understood that the Confederacy could only be crushed by being simultaneously defeated both economically and militarily in a hideous war of attrition. He therefore set about this task with grim resolve.

His famous March to the Sea of 1864 was calculated to destroy the capacity of the South's civilian population to support their armies and so help bring the war to an end.

As his army smashed and burned its way through Georgia and other southern states, Sherman was privately appalled at the carnage but unwavering in his determination to crush the South once and for all.

He burned Atlanta to the ground in scenes famously repeated in the movie "Gone with the Wind" and thus fulfilled his promise to "make the South howl".

Even today, Sherman's memory is reviled by many in the South, especially those who still cling to the white supremacist ideas that underpinned the slave trade.

The Civil War still echoes through American politics to this day.

Much of the behaviour of the modern Republican Party that spawned the contemptible and risible Trump presidency is a last desperate attempt by reactionaries to resist the development of an America that is increasingly dominated by people from a non-Caucasian background.

For those interested in the cause, course and consequences of the American Civil War, I strongly recommend Ken Burn's fabulous documentary "The American Civil War".

This long (12 hours or so) but fascinating study of probably the most destructive civil war in history will help the viewer to understand a good deal more about how modern America came to be what it is today.

Philip Fitzpatrick

War is unnecessary in every circumstance.

It is the ultimate irony that mankind expends its greatest brilliance and ingenuity on producing weapons to use in the pursuit of its greatest stupidity, war.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)