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anzac day: what does a myth do?

As ANZAC Day comes upon us again many Australians find themselves, for a variety of reasons, in an especially reflective mood.

Last year I reflected on the myth of violence inherent in ANZAC Day, and I don’t think it necessary to tread that ground again this year. What I am thinking about in 2012 is the function that the ANZAC myth plays in Australia (not by any means a unique thought).

There has been a reasonable amount of commentary floating around that suggests ANZAC Day was and is a reinforcement of common identity in Australia. In Eureka Street on Sunday, Benedict Coleridge wrote:

By paying tribute to the Anzacs, Australians reinforce their sense of common identity: in doing so the Australian nation is imagined as a sovereign and limited community defined by certain ideals.

Arguably this focus on ideals is what makes Anzac Day so popular. Day to day political affairs and cultural and social debate is often antagonistic — democracy as a process of public argument rather than public reasoning. And in the realm of morality, modern life is defined by a plurality of moral perspectives so that it is difficult to form a moral consensus on a wide variety of issues. Anzac Day, by contrast, is an occasion for public concord and consensus — it is marked by displays of solidarity.

I can’t agree more. My recent post on political disillusionment in Australia made similar points – nihilism has so pervaded our collective life that there is no foundation on which to build a common future.

In comes ANZAC Day, a commemoration that has the potential to bind us together under a common history of struggle and sacrifice for freedom. The only problem is that this is a historically problematic conclusion. Read the rest of this entry

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