ALISON BROINOWSKI. Anzackery and the preening peloton.

When John Kenneth Galbraith was Kennedy’s Ambassador to India in the early 1960s, he reported that he had inspected a guard of honour and they seemed to him to be fine. His dry wit was lacking when the Murdoch media reported the safe return from Afghanistan of Pauline Hanson, her  colleague Brian Burston and Labor’s Senator Kimberley Kitching. There they had inspected a Bushmaster MR6 multi-role armoured vehicle (built in Australia by the French company Thales, which makes a counterpart in Canada) and a Chinook helicopter (made in the US by Boeing). They were briefed on the ‘security situation’ and took a three-day intensive training course, including instruction on how to ‘handle firearms’ (The Australian, 20 April 2018: 5). 

Photos showed the One Nation leader ‘decked out in army camouflage and protective armour’ beaming at two soldiers. The ADF having abandoned Uruzgan in 2013, 300 remnant personnel are in Afghanistan training, advising and assisting the Afghan national army, as they have been almost continuously since 2001. Senator Hanson revealed that Australia must stay on to prevent the tentacles of Islamic extremism spreading ‘throughout the world’ (The Australian, 20 April 2018: 5).  Another Senator, a shadow minister, told me last year she too had been on the ADF parliamentary program, and from seeing it on the ground was similarly convinced. Labor evidently smokes the same hashish on defence and foreign policy as the government gives out.

In spite of the mansplaining they received, Senator Hanson and her fellow-travellers didn’t know or weren’t asked to say why, since Australia’s efforts in Afghanistan over 17 years have made no difference, we are still there doing the same thing and if that is value for taxpayers’ money. We remain ignorant about why the senators couldn’t have inspected the military hardware, had the briefing and done the three-day course in Australia, saving time and contributing to balancing the May budget. It is doubtful that Afghan soldiers need the ADF to help them shoot their enemies, which they have done for centuries. If they do, then visiting senators are a distraction. It is inexplicable why senators (apart perhaps from David Lyonhjelm) should want to be able to shoot anyone. Journalists in the mainstream media might investigate these mysteries, but they are either similarly hooked on the same free dope, or are too fearful for their jobs.

The media countdown to Anzac Day has begun again. ABC TV Gardening Australia had a poppy day special on Friday night, in the rubber boots lamentably vacated by Quentin Dempster. Over the weekend (21-22 April), Fairfax had Jonathan King mining the archives on Australia’s efforts at Villers-Brettonneux, and Matthew Bailey at Macquarie University questioning the ‘carefully curated process’ of what some now call Anzackery. But Murdoch’s ‘Anzac Day special’ had seven broadsheet (broadwhat?) pages including Kelly, Dalton and Lunn banging on about identity and mateship forged in war.

So it falls to others to challenge the bipartisan line. UNSW Professor Clinton Fernandes got in early in Crikey (18 April 2018) telling politicians they ‘should not just be able to stand beside soldiers, striking patriotic poses, and not have to take responsibility for sending them there.’  Views like his proliferate in online journals, where citizen journalists fossick for international stories whose existence Australia’s incredible shrinking newspapers ignore. We know the Russians and the Assad government have won the war against IS in Syria. We dispute the Anglo-allied official line about what if any chemical attack occurred in Douma, who released chlorine at Khan Sheikhoun, and if Sarin was used in Ghouta, and weigh up the evidence as best we can. Citizen journalists are trying to find out what toxic nerve agent was used in Salisbury on Sergei and Yelena Skripal, by whom, and who made it.

Eminent novelist Richard Flanagan abandoned fiction on 18 April and memorably told the National Press Club what questions real journalists should be asking before Anzac Day. Why is the Australian government, having hounded its predecessor about debt and deficit, spending $600 million on commemorating World War I? Why is it spending $1.1 billion on war memorials between 2014 and 2028? Why is it expanding the Australian War Memorial for $500 million? Why is it at the same time cutting foreign aid and funds for Australia’s cultural institutions? Instead, promoting what Flanagan called the ‘growing state-funded cult of Anzac,’ the Prime Minister will launch a war museum and ‘interpretive centre’ named after Sir John Monash at Villers-Bretonneux, which cost $100 million. The country that produced a leader like Monash, Flanagan warned, could find itself ‘suddenly entrapped in a new authoritarianism wearing the motley of the old lies’. We have a ‘preening peloton of potential leaders’ but no leaders (‘Our politics is a dreadful black comedy’.

But the Booker Prize-winner is hopeful. He believes the marriage equality vote showed that Australians are not ‘the mean and pinched people we had been persuaded and bluffed for so many years that we were.’ Ministers may be ‘small-minded bigots,’ but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are stuck in outdated prejudices and reactionary beliefs. Let’s hope he is right. Having proved this again with the Royal Commission on the banks, Australians have warned politicians not to prejudge them. Now all we need is a Republic and democratisation of the war powers.

Dr Alison Broinowski is Vice-President of Honest History and of Australians for War Powers Reform


Dr Alison Broinowski AM is Vice-President of Australians for War Powers Reform. She joined the Australian Foreign Service in 1963, lived in Japan for a total of six years, and for shorter periods in Burma, Iran, the Philippines, Jordan, South Korea, the United States of America and Mexico, working alternately as an author and Australian diplomat.

Since leaving the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, she has received a PhD in Asian Studies from ANU, and has continued to lecture, write, and broadcast in Australia and abroad on Asian affairs and cultural and political issues.

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3 Responses to ALISON BROINOWSKI. Anzackery and the preening peloton.

  1. Avatar Deb Campbell says:

    My grandfather HAM Campbell – later editor of The Age – won his MM on Anzac Day eve 1918 at Villers-Brettonneux. Serving with the 13th Ambulance, he was injured but refused to leave his squad, carrying on his work ‘with the greatest courage and endurance until ordered off duty by his Officer Commanding. His fine example was a great encouragement to the rest of the bearers at a time when their endurance was strained to the utmost pitch.’

    So for me, in 2018 just this once, in all the regular ANZAC ballyhoo, there is actually something and someone to remember – an act of courage by a man I never knew but wish I had.

    But such feelings are unusual for me. Since first reading Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year, and then later Bill Gammage’s The Broken Years, my attitude to ANZAC Day formed and then changed, and changed again. While Richard Flanagan blamed Hawke for starting the current hagiography of war, for me it is Howard who is guilty.

    Twinning love of war with racism, he used both to start the Great Australian Divide – turning us on each other in new ways and for new ends: atomisation, the end of community, every man for himself.

    But I would like to use these issues: memorial and race to achieve quite different ends

    I am struck by the use of ANZAC as distractive and destructive decoyism.

    Increasingly I see it all as the chosen means to ensure that we Australians DO NOT see our real history.

    While Brendan Nelson is thrilled to propose memorialising our most shameful recent and unnecessary piece of militarism [], he and his allies are also saying’ nothing to see here’ about our real history of invasion and attempted genocide.

    Instead, what we should be considering and funding is something like this:

    As PBS reports
    ‘A new memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, looks to confront one of this country’s greatest shames: its brutal history of racial terror and the systematic lynching of thousands of African Americans.

    The National Memorial to Peace and Justice is a tribute to those victims. It’s the brainchild of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson and his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that offers legal representation to the poor and those wrongfully convicted.

    “Most of us have no understanding about the legacy of slavery, we have no understanding about the era of lynching,” Stevenson told the NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown. “Black people were routinely pulled out of their homes and hanged, and burned, and drowned, and mutilated, and tortured, sometimes on the public square with thousands of people cheering on that torture and violence.”

    The memorial is made up of more than 800 rusted, steel columns that are suspended from the ceiling. Each represents an American county in which a lynching took place between 1877 and 1950. Etched on each of the markers are the names of victims and the dates they were killed. Some have only a few, others have dozens.

    Stevenson says instead of facing this period in our history, we’ve ignored it and its legacy. In doing so, he says, we’ve been unable to meaningfully address the racial injustice plaguing America today.’

    As far as I know my grandfather never glorified either his own MM or the Great War itself. I am told he was no enthusiast for war. Australians do not deny the courage and commitment of our military men and women. That does not mean we must buy into the nonsense we are peddled about how and why our nation embroils itself in conflicts. As a starting point we, or at least our Parliaments, must have a say in when and how we commit our troops to fight.

    Would that we Australians could have enough courage to do something like the Lynching Memorial, instead of endless glorifying nothing but a[nother] invasion of land to which we had no rights whatsoever.

  2. Avatar David Maxwell Gray says:

    So much expenditure to construct and in some cases, concoct, an identity for Australians, albeit a largely Anglo-centric one!

    Part of a richer narrative about our Australian identity should be built around those who contributed in a non-military way during the times of conflicts. Those who argued that it was not our war; those who contributed to saving the smashed-up young men, many of whom have suffered without clear links to Australia’s interests. Those who were the doctors, nurses, medics treating wounded and sick soldiers and those who tended their physical and psychological scars when they came home.

    My Roll-Call of honour on ANZAC day includes my paternal grandfather, John Douglas Gray, first generation born in New Zealand from migrant Scots who went as children in 1860 to the South Island of New Zealand (in case we forget that the “NZ” in ANZAC has a meaning). John Gray was a conscientious objector on religious grounds to the involvement of New Zealand in the foreign war that was the First World War. He believed, with many others of his religious persuasion, that killing, and learning to kill others, was only defensible morally – if at all – when enacted in the strictest self-defence of one’s family and oneself. This precluded fighting for the Empire across the sea. His extreme courage was to face charges of cowardice from his peers and actual charges of sedition from the NZ government – no kidding, the NZ legislation defined conscientious objectors as committing sedition! As Bob Dylan once sang: “the reasons for fighting, I never did get”.

    This roll-call extends to my father, Sydney Maxwell Gray and his brother, my uncle, Geoffrey Gray MBE, who both were conscientious objectors in the Second World War. Geoff nevertheless served as a non-combatant YMCA representative with the 26th Battalion of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. His role was a pastoral one, to distribute parcels and letters from home to front-line troops and offer emotional support, tinged with his religious convictions. When these duties were done, he used his YMCA jeep to ferry wounded soldiers to treatment in the field hospital and subsequently to more substantial treatment further from the front line. He served in the Middle East, including Tobruk, and subsequently in Italy. His MBE was a civilian award for bravery. The incident cited was when he dragged a wounded soldier back under fire from snipers, going from cover to cover over several hours. Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli brought back wounded for three months: my Uncle Geoff did it for three years until finally he was badly wounded in Italy. He survived to later become a doctor. Incidentally, he will soon turn 100!

    But I have a strong hope that our nation’s narrative – our way of understanding “who we are” – turns from the senselessness of war, to the features of the new community we are forging. Its elements include our indigenous brothers and sisters, whose proud and complex heritage we should embrace, discover and honour. Another element is the rich tapestry woven in our new way, resonating with the wonderful personal journeys of migrant Australians of many cultures – Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Eastern European, African, Pacific Islanders, and many more who have made this place. There is so much to learn about mutually, to celebrate, and to forge.

    The living reality of indigenous art, music and culture held out before us in plain sight, needs to be grasped to our bosoms, held to our hearts.

    Are we mature enough as a society to honour the tens of thousands of indigenous dead (perhaps well over 100,000): those who fought in vain to hold their land against the invading British? On ANZAC day, I will reflect in silence on their losses, as well as honouring the soldiers who died in the name – if often not really the interests – of Australia. May any future deaths of our soldiers be only in our nation’s defence, narrowly conceived. May their examples of courage transmute and then inspire us into the moral courage required to admit past wrongs, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to embrace the “other”, the stranger: the courage to transcend the constructed and concocted narratives and to decide with clarity about our involvement in future conflicts.

  3. Avatar tasi timor says:

    Here’s my Anzac Day contribution, pulled from a Meekatharra paper 1925. The editor ran a ballad ‘Dinna Forget’ by ‘Returned Ringneck,’ opining not a single flag had been raised in the town – a town that had shown such pride in the number of locals who’d volunteered. Later that year he ran another local ballad ‘The Stockman’s Death’ by JHW written ‘for this journal.’

    ‘Iv’e ridden him far in the days of drought and nights when the wild winds wail,
    And in that rough ride with his speargashed hide when the blacks were on our trail,
    Ah that was the time you saved my life and laid their leaders low,
    When our rifles spoke through the drifting smoke as we turned and faced the foe…’

    There had been of course two concurrent wars, WW1 and a Frontier War, fought by the same generation, and the men who fought them had written verse about both.

    But this is ANZAC Day, so here is ‘Dinna Forget’ –

    What have the Boys of the A.l.F. done? It seems a very strange thing,
    We fought to defend our country, our honour, our home, and our King.
    Were our mighty battles fought vainly? Carried through in mud, desert, and crag,
    Oh, shame on you, shame Meekatharra, you hoisted not one single flag.

    On Anzac Day in Meekatharra, our glorious anniversary passed,
    And you made no effort to honour, your boys who fought to the last,
    Gallipoli remains but a memory, a bad dream as it were, quite a drag,
    Too much to be worth recognition, by flying our National flag.

    You’ll see in the Fire Brigade station, a Roll of Honour this day,
    Engraved with the names of our comrades, who fell on the field far away,
    On the twenty-fifth day of this April, I gazed, whilst my spirits did sag,
    On a gaunt flagpole reaching upward, stripped bare of the sign of a flag.

    As I looked my memory wandered, to the storming of Gallipoli’s heights,
    To the rain soaked trenches of Flanders, and the bitter cold Somme winter nights,
    And I thought of the laddies who lie, and sigh, whilst my footsteps did lag,
    Their noble deeds passed by unhonoured, by raising a solitary flag.

    Again I say shame Meekatharra, you gave of your bravest and best,
    They did their job to the utmost and lie in their last long rest,
    But we who survived to rejoin you, feel their sacrifice fruitless, a drag,
    They lie unrevered, quite forgotten, by you, you raised not a flag.

    Returned ‘Ringneck.’

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