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Digital Classroom: Commemoration and Rememberance

We’re at this endpoint of a series of
centenaries of Australian involvement in the Great War. James Brown, writing in
2014, I think, estimated that the Australian government is spending about
200 percent of what Britain is spending on an centenary commemorations. Which
is quite remarkable given the much smaller population. There’s a sense in
Australia, at least among some people in charge of, you know, giving out government
grants and such, that this is very important and it should be remembered. There is more conflict, or there is more
dissent, about how to remember the war right after the war, I think, than there
is now. You know, don’t forget that for example in Australia, right through the
interwar years I mean Catholics don’t get involved in
Anzac Day services, like priests won’t because they said no this is a clearly
Protestant religious ceremony that you’ve got going on here it’s not really
secular so we’re not coming. And also there are these fissures in Australia
you know because the the referenda in ’16 and ’17 over
conscription are in fact very divisive as well. So there’s more division at that
time, but the way we tell the story now is totally unified. Now what do you think
most people think about when there’s the minute’s silence or whatever at an Anzac Day ceremony – what are they thinking about? Cos you’re meant to think of
something, you’re meant to think about the war, and it’s one thing to think about
the war, or think about someone you’ve lost when you were there or you you lost
someone you love. But it’s completely different to think about the war a
hundred years later – what do we think about? Because the thing about any sort
of remembering or understanding the war people often remember it through the
story of their family.So they’re going to remember a very specific our
experience one side sort of story like when great-uncle Jim went to XYZ place
and that is so different from somebody who’s studying it and looking at a
question about it and is looking at everybody and you’re not looking
necessarily at one side The way the popular media tells the story of the
First World War, I think, is deeply problematic. You don’t want to
necessarily tell any of the really difficult stories that nobody wants to
hear. Australian troops were involved in a riot where they burnt down a huge part
of the red light district of Cairo in 1915 after a dispute over payment.
Australian soldiers were famously ill-disciplined and other armies
commented on this at the time but you know these are the sorts of stories that
in popular media you don’t get a lot of and partly
it’s because it complicates the story it goes outside the story of the nice boy
from around the corner who went off and you know did his bit and came home. That
it in some ways elides the fact that ‘doing his bit’ means killing people. He
might be a victim of something big and horrible called the war and he comes
home without a leg or something but it glosses over the moral complexity of it
where a soldier can be a victim and a perpetrator at the same time and it
becomes about their personal narratives and it takes away the ‘what the hell are
they doing there in the first place?’ You know who are they fighting against? Why
does this matter? What has this got to do with great power politics at the time?
But when we told the story it’s like very much narrowed down Anzac should
include the New Zealanders but they barely get a look in when we tell the
story and we completely forget everyone else who was there all the context in
which it’s which which it’s happening The way we tell the story it’s almost
like we weren’t invading anywhere, which we were. As we should remember, the entire
campaign was such a disaster that the British ended up having a parliamentary
inquiry into it and Churchill who was the First Lord of the Admiralty and came
up with the idea, resigned, you know, but all of that – we
miss all of that when we when we only focus on the human story. The whole logo ‘Anzac 100 The Spirit Lives’, right, that’s not just saying it’s a hundred years
since the First World War, that’s making a value statement and the subtitle of
‘the spirit lives’ implies that there is such a thing as an Anzac spirit and it
has particular components. If we’re telling a historical story we’re meant
to be consciously thinking about evidence facts documents multiple points
of view trying to look at the past from a range of directions
and to discover what happened and why Memory – well memory is a faculty we have so
it’s something that we have we have a memory and psychologists could write
about that but and then there’s remembrance and remembrance is a thing
that we do having that memorial there and having
people interact with it. Having ceremonies their wreath layings, reading
poetry, that is an act of remembering and that is not about the evidence of what
happened it’s about how we feel about the past.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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