Saturday, 28 April 2007

On A Serious Note ... ANZACs, Turks, and Japanese

On the day after ANZAC Day, I watched Andrew Denton's ANZAC Day special, in snippets. He'd been to Gallipoli; his father had written a book on the Boer war and he had taken a significant role in ANZAC ceremonies and made a documentary on it.

In the documentary, he said his response was not sadness but anger at the waste of lives. But what was more poignant to me was when he asked one man whether he was aware of the difference between respecting the flag and having national pride, and the dangers of wrapping oneself in the flag and being driven by nationalism.

The man recounted a story about listening to a young man from the Allied Forces, having been told that the Turks suffered so many more tragic deaths than the ANZACS, said proudly, "Yeah, we really kicked their butts, didn't we?" The man said this was a rather dangerous attitude, and pointed out that these people, too, were people with real lives who had suffered as well.

Too right.

When it comes to ANZAC Day, I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. One of the reasons I am not too eager to get involved in much of the marching hype is because I'm not too sure about how what it is meant to represent. There has been some confusion about whether it is more meant to represent the futility of war or the glorification of the military. For instance, the marching of conscientious objectors has been prevented, which puts forth the notion that it is more about the honour and glorification of the military.

While I acknowledge that people in the military suffered terribly, this does not mean I really feel that they were the only ones who did suffer - nor that we should see them as the foundation stone of Australian history.

But even more importantly were the mixed feelings about nationalism I have about it. The comment about the "nationalism" that the man on the documentary made brought back some memories.

When whaling began as a hot topic in the news, I read a few letters to the Editor saying that it was just typical of the Japanese to whale, and what could you expect since they'd tortured Australian Prisoners of War. I also read a few letters suggesting that Australia not give any aid to Japan should there be a natural disaster (such as a hurricane or tsunami) and no Japanese person was deserving of Australian help, considering the way "they'd" treated Australian Prisoners of War.

Will people never get over a wartime grudge? When I even called it a grudge, (and I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking it sounds like some petty playground grudge) some people got mad as hell at me and told me to "read my history books, march on ANZAC Day and be proud". Proud of what? That I can hate someone a bit more?

Yes, people did some awful things in war - it's pretty disgusting. Every side does some pretty awful things in war. You look back at the deaths and destruction and it's an indictment on both sides - humanitarian-wise.

(Note: When you say "well, plenty of innocent people in Japan died horribly from atomic bombs dropped by the Allies" there's always a large number of people who will jump up and tell you that these were necessary to be dropped to end the war and gain peace, and therefore somehow 'more humane', whereas torturing PoWs was unnecessary and therefore brutal.

Note to those people: Dropping atomic bombs was not more necessary in itself, it just happened to work. The Allies' technique happened to work and the Japanese technique did not, but there was no agreement "If I bomb you, you will surrender, but if I torture your Prisoners of War, you won't". Both sides simply heaped on brutalities - upon people with real lives - with both sides suffering terribly, and waited for one side to give in.)

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