Incite Politics is a subscriber blog, so I won’t re-post anything I write for them until a couple of weeks have passed. So, occasionally some of these posts might seem a little dated.
Australia has long been a markedly secular nation. Although Judeo-Christian values are the substrate of our culture, Australians have always been suspicious of overt religiosity. Our Protestant foundations have meant that Australian culture regards religion as strictly a matter of private observance. In such a secular culture even the great Christian festivals such as Easter and Christmas are as much holidays as they are holy days.
But over the past century one day of the year has become as close as this secular country has to a national holy day. Naturally, in their rage against the west, the Cultural Marxist left are determined to destroy it. But the shrill, escalating attacks on Anzac Day reveal their deep ignorance of both the day, and what it means to our culture.
The most obvious misunderstanding of the sneering left is their failure to understand the difference between celebration and remembrance. When groups of people shiver together in the pre-dawn dark at small-town cenotaphs around Australia and New Zealand, the mood is not rah-rah jingoism but solemn remembrance.
But more insulting, some leftist commentators have taken to denigrating the Anzacs themselves. Sneering on Twitter about “celebrating a flogging” shows an understanding of neither the meaning of Anzac Day nor the cultural spirit it embodies.
Saluting heroic failure runs deep in the Anglo-Saxon culture that is the bedrock of societies such as ours, founded on values inherited from our British ancestors (whether the left will admit it or not). Nurtured in the grim age between the Fall of Rome and the Iron Century of the 900s, Anglo-Saxon culture was deeply fatalistic and valorised the hero who stood tall against adversity even though he knew he was doomed. Beowulf, the Charge of the Light Brigade, Scott of the Antarctic, Burke and Wills, and Anzac are enduring cultural legends.
It is in this tradition that the ‘failure’ of Gallipoli is honoured. Even at the time the Anzacs regarded the Gallipoli campaign as a sideshow from the ‘real war’ in France they had enlisted for. Nonetheless, they repeatedly emphasised their determination to attempt the task given them. They were also well aware of the historic significance of their mission: soldiers’ diaries drew significant comparison to the ruins of Troy just across the Dardanelles strait. From the very outset, Anzac was self-acknowledged as history in action.
This is why academic historians who sneer about ‘Anzackery’ miss the point. This, not the leftist propaganda lionised by academic historians, is ‘people’s history’. It is history as it is understood and interpreted by the people, not academics. Alan Seymour’s 1958 play The One Day of the Year is testimony to the changing nature of the people’s history of Anzac day.
Seymour’s play was enormously controversial in its time and is still attacked by some conservative commentators for supposedly denigrating Anzac. To do so is to miss much of its nuance. Seymour himself acknowledged that, while he set out to query what he thought was “the essential hollowness” of the day, in the end his sympathies lay with the old soldiers. In the end the play’s protagonist, the fashionably lefty iconoclast Hughie, hears the Last Post and almost unconsciously stands to pay his respects to the fallen.
The One Day of the Year marks the evolution of Anzac Day to, in David Malouf’s words, “quietness, contemplation”. “It appeals, in the young,” Malouf said, “to what is serious in them. Asks them to attend. Invites them to take part in an occasion that speaks, at both a personal and communal level, for continuity.”
Laurence Binyon’s Ode of Remembrance, quoted every year on Anzac Day, reminds us that “To the innermost heart of their own land they are known.” This is what the ordinary people, wearing their little sprigs of rosemary in the chilly April darkness, understand and the left never do.
Instead, the left whine that Anzac Day is manipulated for political gain even while they try to manipulate the day for their own political gain. Opportunistically trying to hijack a solemn day of remembrance to fashionable lefty causes is not just disrespectful, it’s rank hypocrisy.
The left have opportunistically chosen to make Anzac Day another target in their relentless assault on our most sacred values. The people didn’t choose this latest skirmish in the left’s culture war, but they must fight it, with dignity and respect. They may not be interested in the left’s culture wars, but the culture wars are very interested in them: mocking and derided everything and anything they hold sacred.
So, while the mockers lob sneering jibes from the parapets of social media and taxpayer-funded sinecures, ordinary Australians and New Zealanders will quietly gather at the cenotaphs and the memorials, not to celebrate war or score cheap political points, but united in remembrance.