Wednesday, 29 April 2009

ANZAC Day thoughts

(Written on ANZAC day)

Every year, the news on ANZAC day leads with growing numbers of young people attending dawn parades.

And on Twitter this morning, it was people in their teens and 20s encouraging us all to remember ANZAC day.

Why? Why is this solemn occasion such a hit amongst younger people?

Here's my theory:

  • We have deformalised much of our society, and missed out the opportunity to feel completely in awe. The closest thing we have is a music concert, and often that is limited to a particular age group. ANZAC Day is a rare occasion to gather as a whole community and contemplate something truly awesome - the utter destruction of war. (By awesome I don't mean good, I mean something that strikes you speechless)

  • We have ignored our European/British/Western heritage, and we hunger to understand it better. ANZAC Day ceremonies are full of distant memories of the past - uniforms, cenotaphs, Bible readings, brass bands, traditions. Where did this all come from? Even when I was at school I learnt more about New Zealand and American (!) history than the British Empire from which New Zealand came. And while I'm a statistical minority for growing up in church and understanding the history of Christianity (somewhat), I'd guess most young people these days know very little about this religion that really defined the Western world. So taking part in an ANZAC ceremony must be a mixture of the familiar (celebrating our basic New Zealand-ness, or even Antipodean-ness) with some aspects that are as unfamiliar as a Hindu or Buddhist ceremony.

Other observations:

  • ANZAC Day is not about glorifying war, but it is about celebrating soldiers. Might be a difficult distinction to make. I think what unites us is the sheer emotion - the realisation that war is crazy, and maybe some wars shouldn't have happened, but these men and women were incredibly brave to go through what they went through, and they need our help and recognition to heal.

It's also set off a lot of thoughts in my mind about why war memorials are as formal as they are. War is certainly not formal. It's chaotic, violent, unpredictable. Maybe the solemnity and formality of our ceremonies is part of the healing.

What do you think?

(Image courtesy of Hugo90)


Jason King said...

I think that because we are now exposed to much more information via the internet, historical documents, movies, documentaries, as weel as being able to share and communicate efficiently with our global peers, we have realised the true cost of a war, the true demorilisation of humanity it brings.

Imagine what the path of world war two would have been if a jew was able to get out a last tweet of "Going into the chamber now. Why wont anyone help us". Imagine if we could jump on youtube and watch up to date and un-censored versions of the events as they unfolded. The decisions of the public, im sure would have been different.

I think that is why the young now take so much interest. We understand the cost, we would never want to experience it, so we use the day to give thanks to those who went before us, for everything that they gave, and hope that we do not pass the same burden down onto our children.

Paul Matthews said...

"ANZAC Day is not about glorifying war, but it is about celebrating soldiers. Might be a difficult distinction to make. I think what unites us is the sheer emotion"

I definitely don’t think it’s about glorifying war. As someone who has attended dawn services with my grandfather for as long as I can remember, I believe it's a chance for us to actually take a step back from war in it's fighting form, and recognise the sacrifice made by those men and women who did as their country asked of them and, as a result, paid the ultimate sacrifice.

It's also a chance for us civilians to get as close as we can to the devastation that war creates and leaves in its wake, without actually having to experience it first hand.

For the soldiers of the past it's an opportunity for them to see that the service that they gave wasn't completely in vain. To feel somewhat vindicated.

With regard to war memorials, I think they are formal because we are giving them the respect that they probably deserve.

Finally, I think that the resurgence in unity we are seeing around ANZAC Day services might be attractive to so many Kiwis because it's one of the only chances as a nation that we actually can unite together. Maori, Pakeha, Asian or whatever, they all fought together which gives us that opportunity to grieve/celebrate together.