Has ANZAC Day caught the 2010s’ most contagious disease?
“Dafuq, Exile,” I hear you exclaim. “I thought you liked ANZAC Day. Didn’t you write all this a few years ago?”
Public opinion of ANZAC Day in Australia has apparently swung back and forth as different conflicts and wars, and associated protests, have gone on but these days (and I can only go on the few years I’ve been here) a good balance seems to have been found. For instance there was a time when there’d be no sport played but now ANZAC Day is a special fixture for both Aussie Rules football and Rugby League, and there are two minute silences and playings of The Last Post before traditional rivals square up and knock seven bells out of each other. … So I find ANZAC Day can be tricky to describe – it’s solemn without being sepulchral, it honours members of the armed forces without there being any glorification of war, it’s respectful without being overly deferential, it marks the loss both of individuals and of a nation’s sons and daughters, but without it turning into a day for grief and mourning. For some it’s fallen heroes, for others it’s missing mates. It’s sad and beautiful and formal and informal all at the same time. … Like I said, I think just the right balance is struck and so ANZAC Day is one of those things that set this corner of the world slightly apart.
Well, yeah, I did and for the most part I stand by it. But in the last couple of years it feels like another element has started to creep in, and while it may spring from the best intentions I’m not sure the effects are what I’d call edifying (pics link to articles).
Now as a Johnny Come Lately who wasn’t born in Australia and has spent only the last decade or so here I’m absolutely prepared to be shot down in flames about this, but is ANZAC Day really supposed to be about butthurt over who gets to march where, posing questionably with medals and badges that you may not be correct in and/or entitled to wear, and above all, whinging about disrespect to the Essendon footy club and to Kevin Sheedy because he pushed for the creation of an ANZAC Day game? There seems to be a lot of people whose main worry is where they fit in on ANZAC Day and who want to protect their role in the occasion. Forgive me for asking where the poor bloody soldiers are supposed to fit in.
And this is where I feel one of the decade’s most virulent social diseases has started to creep into the occasion: virtue signalling. Everyone does it a bit because we all like to think we’re nice people and to be well thought of by others, but in the last few years the importance of that second part seems to be getting a lot bigger than it should be. Whether it’s buying flowers for a dead singer whose most successful album you bought (or possibly just pirated) and haven’t played for five years or joining in the twitch-hunt of a complete stranger who made a near the knuckle joke online or shot a supposedly world famous animal that you’d never heard of, it’s a bit weird and it’s about you rather than them.
Sadly I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it feels like there are now a few people around who want to be seen to do ANZAC Day better than average. I don’t just mean people who’ve seen exactly as much military service as me (i.e. precisely zero) wanting to be part of a march because someone who died before they were born was shipped off to get shot at a century ago. I don’t just mean people posing with the wrong badges because it looks cool, let alone those epic bellends who buy medals and uniforms and pretend to be veterans of some war or other despite the inevitable rage and abuse it draws from genuine veterans. I don’t just mean people in football complaining about disrespect to their clubs on a day they said was special because it was paying respect to war dead and veterans past and present.
I also mean those coma inducing bores who love to tell you how many dawn services they’ve been to, how early they got up to drag the kids out of bed to get a good place at the Shrine of Remembrance, how it was a much better spot than they’ve had before but how next year they reckon they can get much nearer the front, how cold it was first thing, how wet and cold it was last year although not as wet as the one they went to ooh when was it must have been in 2008, and did you go oh don’t tell me you didn’t go, what’s wrong with you, don’t you do ANZAC Day properly?
It’s good that you want to show respect but here’s the thing: you’ve started to make it about you. Not the guys who died and not the guys who are dying and not the guys who are living with the aftereffects of whatever war they’ve come back from. You.
You have already have a day that’s about you, and I suppose there’s a 1 in 365 chance that it also happens to be on April 25th, but even if it is the bit where you pay respects to ANZACs and surviving veterans is not it. It’s about sacrifices by current and former soldiers, not what a goddamn fucking great guy you are for doing it every year. It’s no more You Day than it is Kevin Bloody Sheedy Day.
And if you’re upset because you’re the great grandsomething of one of the poor unfortunate guys who fought, killed and possibly died in World War One, and you’re telling people it’s ANZAC Day not Veterans’ Day, and dammit you want to march because many decades ago someone promised someone else it’d be family tradition forever, then I have two points I feel I should make.
First, the original Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was disbanded after the withdrawal from Gallipoli and split into two other corps, neither of which kept the name all the way to the end of the war. If you’re that hung up on the name and your ancestor served after 1st November 1917 you just disqualified yourself. If not then at the least your argument would exclude descendants of anyone who served only in the last year, as if their sacrifices are somehow less for being made as a member of the Australian Corps.
Secondly, there’s a way to tick both boxes and honour your family promise to march on ANZAC Day as a descendant of a World War One soldier as well as satisfy those who say marching should be done by those who have or are actually serving in the Australian Defence Force. Just click this link to begin: http://www.defencejobs.gov.au/recruitment-centre/how-to-join/