Nothing signals the end of the Australian summer like ANZAC Day. The leaves are changing colour, the nights are getting cooler, and somewhere a brown person is being lynched in the media for daring to question “Australian values“.
It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, Australians simply invaded the nations of those being offensive; to commit murder and rape; and pillaging their lands at the behest of a more powerful ally, first Britain, then the United States.
But, this is beside the point; there is no other day in the Australian calendar like ANZAC Day. All sides of politics revere it, going to extreme lengths to ramp up the mythologising in the weeks surrounding April 25. While debate is permissible on January 26, or the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, no one can question the sanctity of the ANZAC narrative.
Of course, it comes with a few addendums; despite the alleged sanctity of ANZAC Day, the only two days where retail is shut down are actual religious holidays; the only wars commemorated on April 25 are those deigned worthy by the white ruling classes – including a call this year for Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton’s Border Farce to receive their own memorial; and any actions that fail to fit within the narrowly defined purview of acceptable nationalist fervour are condemned in the extreme. Prime Ministers can demand journalists are fired from their jobs, citizens are driven out of the country by media campaigns, and any discussion of the Frontier Wars are summarily dismissed.
What a great day.
In the last few years, a number of social media protests have sprung up around ANZAC Day, as medium-profile journalists, alleged comedians, and media ‘personalities’ have sought to put their stamp on this day, in vainglorious attempts to enhance their personal brand. Of course, they’re entitled to the point they are making, and in many cases they’re not wrong, but the net effect is devastating to what they are trying to achieve.
Here’s the problem with this approach: it achieves nothing. Yassmin Abdel-Magied was chased out of the country for calling out racist and inhuman treatment of refugees by our government, because she had the audacity to declare it racist and inhuman on ANZAC Day.
On a day overwhelmed by nationalism and celebration of Australians going to war, putting their lives at risk to protect foreign lands and people from incredible threats, she dared to point out the way Australia now treats those fleeing war and violence.
Copying, pasting, and tweeting is nothing. There’s safety in numbers (there’s safety in skin colour too, but more on that later).
How about attending an actual protest, engaging in political discussion with those around you, calling or writing to your local MP or Senator?
What if thousands of us were capable of independent thought and actually criticised inhuman government policy, instead of parroting what has clearly become an empty catchcry inspired by a genuine protest?
This is worse than those who think signing a Change dot org petition will save the world, because it’s deliberately empty, needlessly combative, and really has a negative effect on the case you’re trying to put forward.
Yassmin started a conversation with her comment, this approach ends it.
Beyond that, it’s well worth mentioning the fact that Sally Rugg is white, from her skin colour to her name, and while she may be a gay woman, any prejudice directed against her for this comment would be more of a stretch than the deeply bigoted vitriol fired at Sudanese-born Australian Muslim woman, Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Lest we forget what Caucasian mediocrity looks like, Twitter answered Rugg’s call, with the whitest people on the internet declaring their hollow victory in this chapter of the culture wars. These and related posts were enough to generate only the mildest outrage in a country desperate for a martyr; as social media users basked in the glow of their likes, shares, comments and retweets, they were safe in the knowledge that they had safely resisted “the man” from the comfort of their Kmart-decorated apartment or barstool the two-up circle at their local. Y’know, Australian heroes.
For the longest time, anti-war protests aside, the greatest issue anyone took with ANZAC Day was the fact that it is a time of year deeply committed to whitewashing our history. The Frontier Wars were the wars fought by Indigenous tribes and protectors as they resisted the British invasion. They were the first wars Australia was involved in, as they defined how this country would exist for the rest of its history.
In the genocides, the massacres, and resultant subjugation under colonisation, Australia managed and erased Indigenous lives and cultures, and by dictating their narratives, white Australia created a nation resistant to even the thought of changing how its history is written, and by whom it is written. The fight to recognise the Frontier Wars is the great fault of the young left, we forget that there are long-standing battles yet to be won, even as we seek to focus on shutting down anti-PC movements.
Using social media to call out the problems with Australia is fine, 364 days of the year. On ANZAC Day it becomes that much more cynical, overtly hijacking what is, ostensibly, a day of mourning, with attempts to create a reputation one way or another. These are sentiments that are not so precisely time-sensitive that they must be expressed within a 24-hour period. By tying it to ANZAC Day, these patriotic protesters wilfully ignore the only opportunity to recognise and remember the First Australians to die for their Country. So brave.
The abject hypocrisy of ANZAC Day is what should be protested. The corporatisation of the ANZAC mythos, leading to incredibly tone-deaf media campaigns like #FreshInOurMemories, has become an incredible distraction every year, keeping the conversation of Australia’s wars and history away from what should be discussed.
The conversation always centres on what is respectful, appropriate, or suitably subservient to the ANZACs.
Don’t get me wrong, those drafted, pressured or deluded into going to war deserve their day in the sun. War is hell. War is a racket – the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. Australians have been sent to dozens of wars and their lives have been ruined. In the abstract, their actions should be sanctified, because it requires incredible selflessness to give your life for the freedom and safety of others. Most people going to war are not doing it because they want to kill, rape, or pillage; they’re going because they have no choice in the matter. But, of course, war crimes and atrocities still occur, and they are to be condemned. They are criminal actions and aught to be treated as such.
But attacking the whole notion of remembrance is fucking stupid. Attack those who sent these boys and girls to war. Condemn the actual aggressors, not those dodging bombs and bullets, watching their friends drown in blood and mud. Condemn the individual actions of perpetrators, but don’t attack those who would seek to memorialise their dead.
At the same time, the inviolable protections extended to the ANZACs and their long, evolving legend doesn’t help anyone. Mythologising warfare is dangerous, and can lead to insanity – such as that seen around the relentless campaign to destroy Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Notions of bravery and heroism are also the key recruitment tool for the Australian military, without which they would need to reintroduce the draft. If they were forced to be honest about the damage wrought by warfare, only the antisocial, psychologically unstable and abnormally aggressive would sign up.
Furthermore, Australia’s involvement in wars have been complicated; we were the aggressors in Vietnam; our sovereignty has only ever been under threat once; we’ve been an incredibly lucky country since Federation; and yet we’ve managed to fight in almost every major global conflict since 1901. By intertwining the romanticised ideals of the ANZACs with the national identity, we’re lying to ourselves, and those who needlessly fought and died in the wars.
And while we’re at it, the behaviour of most Australians on ANZAC Day, many of whom have been lucky enough to avoid being forced to fight in a war, is repugnant. Describing ANZAC Day as “bogan Halloween” is not entirely inaccurate, but it is an incredibly stupid thing to say, as the day is not defined by alcoholics and problem gamblers seeking to write themselves off in the middle of the week.
One last thing, the verbosity employed on ANZAC Day is dumb. As political leaders and media hacks seek to outdo each other in their grandiose statements about what ANZAC means, we should consider the contemplative silence of those who returned and those who did not. ANZAC Day isn’t about you or me, or anyone working for Rupert Murdoch. It’s about the men and women whose lives were shattered by wars in which Australia fought.