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Are nations really made in war?
They were quite certain, even emphatic, in their views. And it seemed there was little dissent, although not everyone spoke. I had been asked to talk to a group of bright, enthusiastic senior high school students about Anzac Day and had begun by asking them to tell me why they thought it was important. Two ideas dominated their response. The Anzac landing had made Australia a nation and the young diggers had shown a spirit that was inimitably Australian. These answers didn't surprise me. It was, indeed, hard to imagine how a class like this one anywhere in contemporary Australia would have come up with other answers, so pervasive was the common view and so constantly repeated in speeches, articles, lectures and lessons.
Leaders in all walks of life affirmed this interpretation of the Anzac landing, even if they disagreed about many other things and they had been doing so across the years. The interpretation had been sanctified by reiteration. As leading war historian Peter Stanley observed recently, the Gallipoli campaign
occupies a central place in Australia's national mythology, identity and memory. The landing on the Peninsula has been portrayed by commentators across the political spectrum as representing the place and time when Australia became a nation.This view is now so powerful and so pervasive that it is rarely questioned. To do so is to show inexcusable disrespect for the dead. Dissent in such a case has rarely been tolerated and as we have noted has provoked accusations of treason. But the idea that the Anzac landing made the nation has raised so many questions and is such a problematic claim it's a wonder that it has remained for so long beyond the reach of criticism. I suggested to the class that the proposition they favoured could only be tested by considering what had happened both before and after the landing and by an assessment of how and when nations are made and the role of war in that process.
Publication titleWhat's Wrong with ANZAC? The Militarisation of Australian History
EditorsM Lake and H Reynolds
Department/SchoolSchool of Humanities
PublisherUniversity of New South Wales Press
Place of publicationSydney
Rights statementCopyright 2010 University of New South Wales Press