Apr. 26th, 2010

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A weekend where I saw my whole family, which is getting a lot rarer nowadays than it used to be.

ANZAC day today, which was different and a little odd, going to a small town ceremony again, after years doing the big city version. And with my soldier-sister, in uniform. I expected to be somewhere else entirely this year, and the fever probably didn't help.

I think my favourite thing I read or heard today was this from NZ Army chief Major General Rhys Jones -

"It's not a commemoration of victories that gained independence for our country or a great battle that established our name on the international arena. Anzac Day is a time to remember and reflect on the sorrow, loss and sacrifice that is the obligation of nationhood, the cost of liberty and the price of freedom."

I've said for years that things like anthems and history and nation-specific holidays define countries - in NZ we mark a day of indigenous and colonial negotiation (however successful/not), the not really real birthday of a not really real sovereign and the anniversary of the commencement of a campaign that was struggled for and lost.

ANZAC day is special, because it's a completely organic remembrance day - the official one was Armistice day, on the 11th of November, but the one marked by veterans grew and grew and completely eclipsed it.

A lot of theories abound as to why the Gallipoli campaign came to be so significant to Australia and New Zealand - a lot of theories about national identity and colonialism and disenchantment and natural cycles and innocence lost and really, you name it, some historian or sociologist has come up with it.
Some I agree with more than others.

And some of what's really interesting is not why, or how, but what that meant later. What does it say, that the digger's holiday was chosen over the official stamped and signed and matching everyone else's one?
Why a lost battle, a failed and not terribly significant campaign, for the ANZACs the first painful elongated skirmish in what would be a drawn out bloody war fought nearly to a standstill?
What has that written on our national consciousness? I think there is something there - probably something about the key thing being how you get the job done, about the people on the ground and the realities being more important than whatever shiny veil is drawn over things later.
Maybe a whisper of something else too, something about solidarity with soldiers not being the same thing as agreement with war aims, about remembrance and glorification being different things.

Maybe one of the key things about Gallipoli, though, is that it's not so much the end of something and the beginning of something else but rather, like most historical events, merely an easier to see point on a continuum.

The NZ national anthem (or at least, the one we use all the time) was written some 40 odd years before the Gallipoli landings. It was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, adopted as a national hymn in 1940 (during wartime) and became a national anthem in the 1970's. If you bother to read past the first verse, which is mostly all that's sung now, it says, I think, quite a lot about the nature of our national identity. YMMV, of course, and different people have different feelings about the religious nature of it. My point, really, is that it's not about Glory or Patriotism with a capital P, and it seems, at least to me, to have it's priorities straight. Peace before war, guard from dissension, hate, corruption, good before great, just and right causes, a spotless name, freedom.

Nation building is not a finite concept - every country chooses over and over and over again what kind of country it will be. If we can try to live up to these kinds of standards I personally think that would be a good thing.

God Defend New Zealand )


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