Brief 2, ANZAC day deconstructed.

One hundred years on, it appears from the perspective of a citizen that ANZAC day has changed drastically since its earliest days as a way of recognizing fallen soldiers and the sacrifices they made. The celebration of ANZAC is in fact a glorification of violence and imperialistic values. But further, the campaign at Gallipoli was a complete failure and a tragedy that shouldn’t be celebrated. Try as we might to hide it, it is undeniable that ANZAC day is a quasi-political celebration. ANZAC day has become ‘Americanized’ in the approach taken towards soldiers and servicemen/women. Americanization is the reverence and borderline zealotry shown by the public to those in active service.

If you are to view the Gallipoli offensive as the premise of the ANZAC holiday, the Gallipoli campaign of 1915-16 was the result of a failed attempt by Allied naval forces to control the sea channel between Europe and Russia.  The land offensive that ensued, ordained by Sir Ian Hamilton, was a complete disaster.   During the April landing and the August offensive the systems put into place to evacuate wounded soldiers was overloaded and as a result fell into disarray.  Hamilton wrote in his summation of Gallipoli that an estimated total of 15,000 New Zealand soldiers landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in the months of April, May, June and July.  A total of 7991 were either died or were wounded within the time frame of landing ashore on April 25th – 15 Decemberth 1915 when the ANZAC’s when evacuations began.  The resulting casualty rate was shown to be a frightening 53%.

An Australian officer visits a comrades grave (Australian War Memorial G00149)

(An Australian officer visits a comrade’s grave on Gallipoli)

This directly relates to my claim that ANZAC day is a glorification of violence and imperialistic values because the statistics shown are in stark contrast to the portrayal given by the Returned Services Association (RSA), which is quoted as saying the Gallipoli offensive should be remembered as ‘darkness breaking into sunrise’ This is important to my argument because it displays the nationalist ideas and the glorification of violence that ANZAC day encapsulates.  It is also important to take into account that initially the government suggested church services together with recruiting meetings were an appropriate means of commemoration for fallen soldiers.   The relevance of this information is that even after suffering such massive losses, the newly formed RSA believed it paramount to continue sending soldiers.

Anzac Day, 1916

(Anzac Day, 1916)

On the surface ANZAC day is represented as a day for remembrance and memorial.  But, if you delve into the colourful history of ANZAC day it is apparent that it is a quasi-political celebration promoting imperialist and nationalist values.  During the Vietnam War there was a public outcry against the war as a direct response to New Zealand’s own army involvement in suppressing the National Liberation Front.  This led to ANZAC day being deemed disgraceful in the eyes of the public.  This is shown by the events that took place on ANZAC day in 1967 (when New Zealand had reached its peak involvement in the Vietnamese war) as Members of the Progressive Youth Movement in Christchurch attempted to lay a wreath following the dawn service to pay respect to those killed by imperialism in Vietnam. The group were immediately detained and charged with disorderly behaviour.  The New Zealand military was discredited in the years following the Vietnamese war.  Anzac Day was then revamped to promote New Zealand’s involvement in future warfronts as a peaceful force.

(Magazine cover from June 1971)

This ideal was betrayed when, from 2001-2011 New Zealand SAS troops were, among other things, used in the detainment and imprisonment of Afghan war prisoners.  According to Jon Stephenson’s (winner of the Bayeux-Calvados Prize for War Correspondents) Metro magazine article from May 2011, Jerry Mateparae (whom serves as Governor General) was directly linked to the authorisation of New Zealand troops in Afghanistan handing over innocents to US forces for torture.  Mateparae has been quoted as saying in his 2014 ANZAC day address that we should all aspire to have “the commitment, courage, comradeship and spirit of all our service men and women, who exemplify the true Anzac spirit.”  These events and quotations directly relate to my claim that ANZAC day is being used as a quasi-political celebration and is a glorification of violence and imperialistic values.Jon Stephenson (far left) with Band e Timur villagers detained in the 2002 raid. Mohammed Wali is second from left and Abdul Wahid is far right.

(Jon Stephenson (far left) with Band e Timur villagers detained in the 2002 raid. Mohammed Wali is second from left and Abdul Wahid is far right)

ANZAC day celebrations have become ‘Americanized’ in the approach taken towards soldiers and servicemen/women.  John Key in his 2015 address has been quoted as saying“The values of courage, comradeship and commitment shown on the battlefields of the First World War remain the foundations of our Defence Force today.” And “As we honour this Anzac spirit, 100 years after it was forged, we can be proud of those who served then, just as we are proud of those who serve today.” This directly reveals both the imperialistic values still held firmly today and also the apparent nationalistic views instilled into the public. Mateparae has also been quoted as saying in his 2015 ANZAC day address; “what observance of Anzac Day helps to affirm, are the qualities we prize: courage, compassion and comradeship – qualities which were displayed by our troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula and by our armed forces in subsequent conflicts.” This further solidifies the claim that ‘ANZAC day has become ‘Americanized’ in the approach taken towards soldiers and servicemen/women’ because, if you are to compare both John Key’s and Jerry Mateparae’s speech to an excerpt taken from an address to the American people by Obama on July 4th in which he states; “Defending our nation and our freedoms with strength and with sacrifice is your daily charge.  And it’s the charge of all of us — the charge of all who serve worldwide, including our troops that are still in harm’s way, and their families back home.  They serve, too.” They convey similar messages of nationalism and glorifying violence which links back to both the ‘Americanization’ of ANZAC day and also my initial point.

(Obama making his independence day address July 4th 2013)

(John Key making his ANZAC day address March 25th 2015)

Some would argue that ANZAC day in its entirety is a day of remembrance and the symbolism that can be derived is entirely implicit and unintentional in its nature. However, whilst ANZAC day is a cultural celebration of great importance it is culturally insensitive to use it as a double entendre to justify imperialism or glorify violence.

The evidence shown about the nature of both the events that shaped Gallipoli and its continued legacy have been laid out in the previous paragraphs. It is irrefutable that ANZAC day itself is a quasi-political celebration that promotes nationalism and rallies support for imperialistic views. It has also been made apparent that in recent years the culture surrounding ANZAC day has become more ‘Americanized’ in its approach to celebration and is detrimental to the celebrations intended message.

One comment

  1. charlenevcooper · May 7, 2015

    This is most certainly a controversial topic. I totally disagree with your opinion but I think you have raised some valid points to back up your side of the argument. I think the phrase “lest we forget” truly sums up what Anzac day is about for most New Zealanders. I think perhaps some of the younger generations have lost sight of the true meaning of Anzac day and as you said, it may have become more of a quasi-political celebration for certain people. However, the hundreds of people who attend the dawn service every year certainly don’t see it this way. I think it’s a stretch to call it a ‘celebration’ as the mood at these services commemorating our soldiers is sombre and anything but celebratory. While national pride and attachment to the British Empire has lessened in New Zealand, it is nevertheless important to remember the great tragedy that occurred at Gallipoli. As you mentioned it was a complete and utter waste of life but this point only makes it more vital that our generation and future generations pay respect to those who fought for us and to remind ourselves to never let such a tragedy occur again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s