Anzac celebrates the battlefield as a realm entirely removed from political life. The Great War spurred an unprecedented degree of social polarisation in Australia, and yet the obsessive retelling of the Gallipoli landing never corresponds to any equivalent interest in, say, the populace’s remarkable rejection of conscription in two ballots in 1916 and 1917. The Bush/Blair/Howard War on Terror rendered that period more relevant than ever, since obvious parallels can be drawn between the hysterical patriotism of the ‘Freedom Fries’ days and the jingoism during which most Australian cities renamed their streets (if you live in Victoria Street, there’s a pretty good chance it was once called Wilhelm Road), while the state-sanctioned suspicion of Arabs and Muslims after 9/11 corresponds to the widespread persecution of Irish and Catholics in the wake of the Easter Uprising, and the unparalleled freedom granted to security agencies echoes Billy Hughes’ promulgation of the open-ended War Precautions Act.
Yet Anzac Day functions not to celebrate but to prevent that kind of history. It lauds bravery yet allows no room for what Bismarck called ‘civil courage’, a trait that many non-combatants showed in abundance when, against all the newspapers, politicians and mainstream political parties, they opposed the slaughter in Europe.
Again, in these endless discussions about the young men of that time, how often does anyone point out that Australians saw one of the very first anti-war protests anywhere in the world, when the Industrial Workers of the World called a rally on the Domain the weekend the conflict broke out? Everything that the IWW predicted about the war came to pass, just as everything that the official jingoes said proved entirely wrong. But amidst all the Anzac headshaking about the horrors of Gallipoli, there’s no room to mention those who tried to stop the killing taking place.
-fuck yeah jeff sparrow.