When I was growing up in the 60s that Empire was finally coming to its undignified end. By then Australia had a new great and powerful friend, the United States. And, of course, we were again involved in a foreign imperialist war now on Washington's behalf, over there in Indo-China. I can rememebr the dominos discourse and the Red Peril (superseding an older Yellow Peril). And I can remember how the ANZAC mythology was used to try and mould us young males into cannon fodder for the imperial ruling classes. It was potent, deadly and noxious but luckily for many of us there were different anthems in the air and, ironically, as in the days of ANZAC's birth there was a growing and vigorous anti-conscription movement in this country. And just as in WW1 the anti-conscription forces would be victorious, and, more, we got this country out of Indo-China several years before the US defeat there.
In those days I was part of a Christian anti-war group. We used to go out and pamphlet churches against the war and against conscription. On a number of occasions I would meet WW1 veterans coming to of those churches. Pretty much all of them expressed their support for us being there and campaigning against the war and conscription. I still one old veteran who shook my hand and sayng he wished there'd been more like us back when he was young, back in WW1. The WW2 diggers were different, more hostile, much more imbued in the ANZAC mythology and probably more confident that their's was a just war. I also met Vietnam veterans in those days. The Brisbane anti-conscription movement had a number of Vietnam veterans very much involved and active against both the war and conscription. I heard all sorts of stories from them about the horrors unfolding in Vietnam and Indo-China.
But ANZAC continues. I personally depsise the day and try to ignore it as much as possible. It does not honour the dead but continues to conscript them in a national military cult that blasphemously parodies the Christian mythos of Good Friday. But then the mythology of the old Empire was very much one of muscular Christianity, homophobic and homo-erotic all in one.
I am a gay man who loves and apfreciates young men. The thought of putting them through the mincing machine of war revolts and appals me. But it's not only soldiers who die in war and the wars of the 20th century have been marked by the mass slaughter of civilians. It was probably THE century of mass slaughter in the history of humanity. Disturbingly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show that war in the 21st century will most likely continue the bloodletting tradition of the last century.
So ANZAC Day is one holiday I would do without. I could accept Armistice Day provided it is de-militarised and turned into a day to remember all those killed, raped and brutalised in war - lest we forget - and vow never again, never again. Lets trample those swords into ploughshares.
And so finally I want to mark the national ANZAC Day death cult with a marvellous piece of anti-war poetry that is also biblically based. Indeed it is a most profound reading of the story of Abraham and Isaac. I am of course referring to the 'Parable of the Old Man and the Young' by Wilfred Owen, who sadly did not survive WW1. Today we would call him gay; he was definitely a lover of men.
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
You can find more of Wilfred Owen's poems here.
UPDATE I nearly forgot to link to a marvellous piece by Marilyn Lake, professor of history at Latrobe University on the exclsuive and exclduing nature of the ANZAC myth and why Australia must move on from it: We Must Fight Free of Anzac, lest we forget our other stories.