Blogging Anzac Day
Emmerson, the benighted cartoonist for the New Zealand Herald, has marked this year's Anzac Day with a portrait of a soldier marching across the no man's land of World War One, above the caption 'Whatungarongaro te tangata tioto te whenua' ('People fade away, but the land remains'). That phrase was often used by Princess Te Puea, who led a Waikato campaign of resistance against conscription during World War One. Te Puea didn't understand why her people should have to fight under the flag of the empire that had confiscated several million acres of their land. I blogged about Te Puea's campaign of passive resistance back in 2008. I guess Emmerson wasn't reading...
In this post from 2009, I argued that the growing numbers of young Kiwis attending Anzac Day ceremonies were a sign that events like Gallipoli had passed from living memory, and had acquired a mythic character that makes them irresistable to a generation that has been raised in an era apparently devoid of truly significant events. Keri Hulme took issue with me in the comments box.
In a follow-up post, I suggested that Anzac Day ought to be made over, so that it becomes a commemoration of wars that have been fought on the soil of these islands, as well as elsewhere. This argument didn't impress everyone: the Marxist scholar John Edmundson felt that if New Zealand's nineteenth century history were made into a part of official Anzac Day discourse then it would be 'recuperated', and drained of its radical significance.
The one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Waikato War fell last July, and the last nine months have seen large-scale and sometimes dramatic commemorations of several of the most important battles of that war. This year's Anzac ceremonies, though, remain focused on the distant battlefields of Turkey and Western Europe.
Some defenders of the northern hemisphere focus of Anzac Day talk of the necessity of remembering the places where Australian and New Zealand troops were thrown together in battle. In this post, though, I argued that the very first Anzacs fought and died in the Waikato War, not in Gallipoli, and wondered why thousands of Kiwis visit Turkey to remember events in 1915 when they could drive along Auckland's Great South Road to the monument that honours the Aussies and New Zealanders who died in 1863 and 1864.
As well as being one of New Zealand's greatest intellectuals, Kendrick Smithyman was a rather unenthusiastic member of New Zealand's air force during World War Two. In a 2010 post I discussed a short and innocuous poem that Smithyman wrote about an Anzac Day service in the little Bay of Plenty town of Opotiki in the 1980s, and argued that this text concealed, in typical Smithyman fashion, a series of profound insights into history. My discussion of 'Anzac Day' ended up in Private Bestiary, an annotated selection of Smithyman poems published by Titus Books in November 2010.
As the storeman for a section of the air force stationed in Norfolk Island during the last years of World War Two, Smithyman suffered no war wound except a severe case of hemorrhoids. Keith Douglas, by contrast, saw some of the most spectacular fighting of the Second World War, and was sometimes so moved by it that he parked his tank, leapt from its turret, and ran about the North African desert lobbing grenades at the enemy.
Douglas survived the campaign against Rommel, but died shortly after the D Day landings, at the age of twenty-four. He is nowadays recognised as the greatest English poet of the Second World War, and I consider him one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. In this 2011 post I argued that, because of his machismo, Douglas gives us a far better insight into the reality of war than almost any pacifist writer. I'm not sure how such a claim is consistent with my celebration of pen-pushing Private Smithyman's insights into World War Two.
investigated the various accounts of a conflict between the occupiers and locals that ended with the death of a New Zealand soldier. There is an extended discussion of the sad fate of AE 'Shorty' Yealands underneath Ian Stebhens' photograph of the man's grave.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]