Tuesday, April 28, 2015

No one's celebrating anything (plus many many links)

I mostly stayed off the internet over the long weekend, but I saw a thing go past on Facebook which I feel needs addressing. One of my friends said they'd been to see the Te Papa exhibition about the Gallipoli campaign and "no one's celebrating anything". This is a response to an objection to ANZAC Day on the grounds that it celebrates warfare. When my kid's teachers received the news about us not attending their ANZAC ceremony, their response was remarkably similar.

The thing is, I have yet to hear someone make that particular objection*.

All of the objections to ANZAC Day I've seen (including my own) have been around the way in which the day is framed, and the ways in which competing accounts have been dealt with. Specifically, the objection isn't that ANZAC Day celebrates war - it's that it treats war as justified and necessary, and dissent is strongly discouraged if not actively suppressed.

My friend Daniel writes about the awful goals and conduct of World War 1, and the hypocrisy of using its rhetoric to justify sending New Zealand troops to fight ISIS. Strikingly, he also raises the point that without the international (legal) arms trade groups like ISIS would be far less dangerous and less sustainable. The White Poppy campaign funds research on this.

Russell Brown has a really interesting post bookended with his presence at the RSA he's a member of. The fallout of war is long-lasting and horrendous - this is why it's a bad solution to problems. Russell's post linked to the way in which the Herald used its gossip column to interrogate Lizzie Marvelly about her conflicted feelings about the day, and the way an Australian journalist was sacked for criticising ANZAC Day on Twitter.

It also pointed me to two documentaries: ANZAC: Tides of Blood, which is about Neill's family history with the ANZAC campaign, and the way the ANZAC myth developed; and Ngā Rā o Hune - The Days of June about Waikato Maori who refused to fight. I haven't had a chance to watch either of these but they look good, and notably both come from Maori TV.


On an entirely unrelated note Love and Pop has my review of the Jacques Tati box-set. It's suuuuuuuuuuuper loooooooooooooong (like the box-set itself) but Tati is a pretty interesting guy, and his films have the weird distinction of being highly-regarded, but hardly ever directly imitated.

*My friend, of course, may have - but I didn't see any specific mention of it in the Facebook thread in question.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lest we forget (again)

The poppies are starting to appear everywhere again.

I'm in the interesting position of  writing my kid's school a letter to tell them that neither she nor I will be attending their student-led ANZAC Day ceremony while (with my Board of Trustees hat on) trying to help them find a bugler or trumpeter to play the Last Post on the day.

On a recent bike tour around the South Island, my parents came across the Kowai Peace Memorial. It was built with private money in the aftermath of the First World War, as central government were only willing to fund "war memorials" in the traditional (triumphalist, militant) style. Built, I might add, by Charles Upham and friends (or at least in Upham's patch - so presumably with his blessing). It's difficult to find much reference to this written anywhere* but the caretakers at the hall talked at length about how many returned soldiers wanted functional memorials that were explicitly peace memorials and, how the government had refused to fund anything but militaristic and ornamental war memorials. A cursory google search suggests that this was not too uncommon.

This story neatly encapsulates the way I feel about the day. I acknowledge that many people who fight and die do so in the honest belief that it's their duty, but I feel like that's all we're allowed to publicly remember.

People don't just die in wars, they kill, and rape, and torture. All armies, not just the "bad guys" - because that's part of war and always has been. This is a thing that people who fight in wars need to find ways to deal with. This is a thing to remember.

World War 1 (the one we specifically commemorate on ANZAC Day) was not a "war for freedom". It was a war that made little sense even to its initial participants and involved the ANZACs only because they were dutiful colonials. It was a war that sowed the seeds for World War 2, which in turn created the conditions for many of the ongoing conflicts of the modern world - including the ghastly mess our government has just committed troops to. This is a thing to remember.

People, recognising the waste and futility of the war, struggled and suffered to protest it. This is a thing to remember.

Even now, people who threaten the official story about emerging nationhood and glory and sacrifice for freedom are attacked, and denounced as traitors. At the same time (as my old friend Dougal points out) the official version seems determined to hit peak marketing-kitsch. This is a thing to remember.

Any fitting memorial to the people who fought and died and still fight and die in the belief that they're doing their duty as good citizens of their country has to, in my mind, be one that commits to wasting as few lives as we can in future. To that end, I recommend the White Poppy campaign - the proceeds of which go to research into peace and conflict and militarism.

I'll leave you with Andy Irvine's version of Marcus Turner's** excellent meditation on all this. We can do better, that's a thing to remember.

*Apparently The Sorrow and the Pride by Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean talks about it, but I don't have a copy to hand and shan't before I want to have finished this post.The Wikipedia article on war memorials mentions it, but only in regard to Europe.

** I'd have played Marcus Turner's version but I can't find it online anywhere - so Andy Irvine is what you get.