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A Mature Peoples

March 26, 2014

25th April 1915: “Baptism of Fire” was the title on a page in a highly used NSW history text book. Whilst the text was in quotes, the text was clearly insinuating that ANZAC Day was the birth of Australia as a nation. As historians and educators reading this, we can get in to all sorts of debate about the role of the ANZAC legend in White history but the average mid-teen student is going to take the message from that page, from our political leaders, from the media and from the annual gathering of their community in remembrance that the ANZAC’s were a force for good, that they were people to look up to, indeed, we encourage our teens to aspire to be like the ANZAC’s. The same year in high schools that they are taught specifically about the ANZAC landings, they are exposed to “Defence Career” talks, where career advisors everywhere breathe a sigh of relief because for an hour or two, someone else will do all the work, complete with flashy images and graphics and the promise of living up to that elusive ANZAC Legend, an image of something good and as a society we say to these young people ‘this is the ideal to live up to’. Not only do they get to aspire to the ANZAC legend, for poorer kids, a career in the Forces offer a way out of their poverty and seeming dull lives. From history books to civic identity to respectable careers we encourage our young people to join the army in the ANZAC Spirit. For many religions, baptism represents the entry into adulthood, a mature acceptance of one’s responsibilities. So how do we as a nation fare up in our responsibility to the young people we clap and cheer when they decide to don the slouch hat and bear our nation’s burdens? A quick look below the glossy text of history shows that when soldiers of the ANZAC campaign returned home, they were not adorned and looked after by our society. They were ignored, left to live in poverty many suffering mental health issues from what was then called shell shock. Its only since the 1980’s hit (ironically anti-war) movie “Gallipoli” that we have seen a rise in the idolisation of the ANZAC as an ideal in itself that we encourage our young people to aspire to. Today, we have a new generation of young people returning from what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


“We are law-abiding members of the community; to use PTSD as an excuse for inexcusable actions is not right,’’ so said CEO of QLD Returned Services League Chris McHugh. McHugh was responding to a case reported by the Courier-Mail of Brisbane. An ex-soldier who had served in Afghanistan was pleading guilty to assault in Townsville, and cited PTSD as a mitigating circumstance. The magistrate in the case chastised the ex-soldier saying “public generosity for this sort of thing is chipping away, the more you use it, the less there is left”. PTSD is an invisible plaque on our returned vets. It is severe, with symptoms resulting from being unable to process violence or trauma experienced or witnessed, than, in the case of Veterans, attempt to re-enter a normal society. The men and women who join our Defence Forces are highly encouraged to from school years. The Federal Government spends millions on recruitment and selling the image of the military as a noble and respectable career. As someone who never quite made it in the military and who grew up buying into the myths of honour, glory and Anzacism, I can hold no ill-will to those who choose to join our military services. But if as a society, we encourage our kids to join up and fight and die, don’t we have a greater responsibility to those soldiers? PTSD is a very serious, very real result of being exposed to combat. In the United States, more veterans have committed suicide than were killed in conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Australia, little research has been done on the effects of PTSD on our veterans, but a spate of suicides, with little reporting from our media that is quick to beat the drums of war or play-up the significance of the ANZAC Legend indicates that this is manifesting and will continue to manifest as the health issue of the 21st Century for vets who have fought in wars that have left them the walking wounded. We encourage young people to go to war on our behalf and when they come back broken we collectively tell them to suck it up, whilst offering virtually no services or counselling. The history textbook called ANZAC Day our baptism, but if baptism means an acknowledgement of taking responsibility for our societal actions, than Australia’s was not in 1915, it is yet to come.

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One Comment
  1. In Canada the mythology goes that we were born as a nation at Vimy Ridge. The truth is, until we cease the oppression and genocide of Indigenous peoples, nationhood cannot be possible.

I would be honored if you espoused your narrative here.....

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