What is Anzac Day but a media farce?

Friday, 20 April 2007 

There is something slightly insulting in the surprise from some of the commentariat that Australian voting intention was not significantly moved by the silly little episode over Rudd’s Anzac Day appearance on Sunrise. Rescheduling the dawn service to suit media timetables does no more than illustrate that Anzac Day is already the very definition of media spectacle; a playing of images, visuals and symbols with very little content.

The myth of Anzac’s landing at Gallipoli was originally intended to drum up support from a reluctant Australian public for the Empire’s war effort. It is not surprising that the massacre of Australian troops resulting from English ineptitude failed to persuade and the Australian public twice rejected the introduction of conscription for what was seen as a European civil war. After WWI, the returned servicemen and the Anzac tradition formed a backbone of pro-Empire conservative politics reaching a crescendo with the formation of the far right New Guard and its rise in NSW during Lang’s tussle with the English bondholders.

The Anzac tradition underwent a sort of rehabilitation on the Kokoda trail with the broad consensus for the Asian War of 1941-1945 and held on to it for a couple of decades but still clearly identified with the conservative side of politics. However, that consensus collapsed with the disaster in Vietnam and Anzac Day fell into irrelevance.

The decline of political tensions in the 1980s saw a revival of the Anzac myth but not with the content of the past. It now became a compromise between the right’s acceptance of foreign ventures with a left view of Australian soldiers as victims. The resulting mish-mash does not mean very much. It may help the political class develop some sort of national identity but portraying Australian soldiers as innocents at the mercy of major powers is unlikely to inspire broader support for military action (although it may at least provide comfort when thing go wrong like in the current mess in Iraq). Even for those most prone to such national myths, the isolated and the young, there are limits, best shown by the annual backpacker carnival on the Turkish coast and the rubbish left behind on the sacred shores, like any rock concert.

This election will not be determined by voter views on personalities and whether they think Rudd is a media tart or Howard a liar. Despite the prejudices of some of the media, Australian electoral concerns are not trivial but, as for any modern democracy, determined by international factors and how they translate in the domestic realm. Australian politics may seem parochial sometimes but that is because the political class often bends over backwards to make it appear so and avoid the embarrassments caused by Australia’s subservient position in the world, shown so well by the glorious Anzac tradition.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 20 April 2007.

Filed under International relations

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