ANZAC Day 2024: Better balanced assimilation or war reports fatigue?

Apr 25, 2024
Australian national war memorial in Canberra at sunrise with bright illumination under blurred cloudy sky with nobody at dawn.

Perhaps it is my imagination, but in the days immediately preceding Anzac Day 2024, there seems to be less media exhortation to observance than has been usual in recent years.

I think that we can take it as given that those who march and attend at dawn will participate again this year with undiminished spirit of connection to those who served and died as a result (let us banish forever the appalling bowdlerisation of ‘fallen’ or ‘sacrificed’ to patronise death.) The personal commemoration of the Anzac spirit is an admirable testament not just to the memory of those who died, but also to the so many more who were bereft by the loss of their loves, family, mates.

Usually, in these last few days before the Dawn Service, those who shamelessly use the Anzac Cloak to generate column inches, click-bait numbers and audience volume estimations are in full flight. The Anzac Cloak doesn’t just cover egregious activities of highly questionable morality (yes, SAS operations in Afghanistan qualify) but it is a cash cow for ghastly merchandising and opportunistic media rewards.

It also underpins, often implicitly by relatively discreet support for war-aligned organisations [the list of supporting/associated companies reads like a who’s who of the armament manufacturers] but also sometimes explicitly as in the various well-advertised ‘donations’ to bodies such as the Australian War Memorial, the promotion of vast expenditure on materiel useful only for war.

While pro-militarisation posturing is a familiar chant from politicians (mostly) of a conservative stripe, of late we are being submerged in this adventurism – AUKUS is just the hideously rich poster-child to which it seems any organisation/individual that can see a quid in it for them scrambles for alignment.

So far at least, this year seems somewhat different. It would be uplifting if it were believably from maturity of understanding of the horror of war or even an upsurge of conscience mitigating the prostitution of the reality of Anzac service. We can hope for a greater role for honesty in our history.

I suggest that a major and possibly only reason for any easing back on the normal Anzac Cloak spruikfest is a product of the relentless exposure to the realities of war to which we all have been exposed by reporting of the Ukraine-Russia combat and especially the Israeli descent into genocide since October 7th last year.

We can take it that to a great degree the fabric of the Anzac Cloak was created by the measured reports of Charles Bean and the somewhat more evocative material from Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett.

Back here in Australia, we did not realise the extent of censorship that (perhaps) precluded the writing of more grisly details. It is likely that for many, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ was about as close to an exposition of war as they had. We have eminent historians who can, I am sure, draw a much better picture of the consciousness of the average Australian at that time to the realities of shattered bodies, ghastly wounds, slogging through the putrefying particles of shelled comrades in freezing mud.

Today, we have images of this sort of horror arriving in real time (plus latency, of course). We can watch the shooting of a grandmother trying to lead her grandson to relative safety while choosing between Cornflakes or Weet-Bix at the supermarket on our smartphones. We can instantly recall to our computers wherever we are the progress of selection as targets and murder of young men by a drone operator likely sitting somewhere comfortable and entirely safe with a can of coke and a bag of potato crisps at her/his command station. We can witness the unfathomable destruction wreaked on a hospital on Rafah while the spark of life is still draining away from some of the victims of the utter bastardry of unfettered military action unleashed.

We can see images of a poor, terrified and harmless Afghan peasant lying in a field being shot through the head by an Australian soldier from a distance of a few metres.

Images of this sort, once seen, cannot be unseen. The Anzac Cloak cannot deflect the self-evident, available truth and the obfuscation and glaringly obvious lies about ‘misidentification’, or ‘fog of war’, or ‘bad apple/rogue/outlier’ just do not cut it for any half-intelligent or more audience – other than of course, those prosecuting the atrocities or profiting from their performance.

And for once, Australian forces are not physically involved in the current major conflicts – though one might wonder if it would be so with a different colour of government, based on historical evidence. Perhaps distance is lending perspective…we can wish.

This Anzac Day, just possibly under the gravitas of the moment Australians might start to think that it would have been a far better thing if distance had lent preemptive perspective for so many of the ‘modern’ conflicts in which our military has been forced to participate due to the arrant, deliberate stupidity of several Prime Ministers.

Even better: Australians might start to act sufficiently strongly against the proliferation of weapons and infrastructure for which there is no other purpose than war/warlike action that it influences our damn fool defence hawks within and beyond government.

Now, that would be an achievement that would honour every Anzac far more than a patriotic march once a year.

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