Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is it time to revise Anzac Day?

Timepanner has responded to my recent post on the semi-secret Anzac history of Drury with some thoughts on the lacunae of Anzac Day:

I agree that the events around the Land Wars here on our own soil should have more significance (and, in my opinion, they do) than those on Gallipoli...The Land Wars are portraits and painted scenes in corners of museums, a piece of scrimshaw, the occasional diorama...

I've been kicking round the idea of starting a campaign to reform Anzac Day, so that it commemorates troops who served in New Zealand's Land Wars in the nineteenth century, as well as those who went overseas in the twentieth.

If we really want to remember and discuss the wars that shaped this country on Anzac Day, shouldn't we consider Hone Heke's war in the north in the 1840s, the Waikato War of 1863-63, the long-running Taranaki Wars, and the guerrilla war between Te Kooti and his colonial and kupapa adversaries that lasted from 1868 to 1872? There are already monuments associated with these conflicts scattered around New Zealand, but they seldom attract large numbers of visitors. They would make good locations for Anzac Day events.

An Anzac Day which remembered the complex and divisive conflicts of the nineteenth century would be far less susceptible to the sort of jingoism and historical revisionism that unscrupulous politicians promote. John Key's absurd claim that Gallipoli was a battle for freedom which forged a New Zealand national identity would founder against great rocks with names like Rangiriri and Orakau.

Back in the 1970s some young members of the Maori activist group Nga Tamatoa tried to leave wreaths for victims of the Land Wars beside Anzac monuments during dawn ceremonies; they were usually beaten up for their troubles. Today there is greater awareness of New Zealand's nineteenth century history, and of the consequences of the Land Wars for Maori. I don't think the argument that the Land Wars should be remembered on Anzac Day would be an impossibly hard one to make, especially given the fact that Anzac history begins in the Waikato. A well-organised campaign committee could use the media, the internet and public meetings to build support for its cause. Even if the RSA and the government aren't convinced, a campaign could still resonate quite widely and contribute to awareness of and debate about our past.

Tell me why I'm wrong.


Anonymous Keri Hulme said...

Anzac Day means nothing to me - and my great-uncle, Peter Miller (halfMaori despite his name) was blown to bits at Paschendaele.) He's a name on a monument, I am told by family who've visited that awesome deathly silence.

His 2 brothers came home...

I dont like Anzac Day, and I do not think it made us a nation.

What made us a nation was a thousand thousand sweaty embraces, Maori, Pakeha, others, and a thousand thousand children growing up - being imprinted - living with - being nurtured by - this, our lands. Our lovely archipelago. All we've done & been here, vile,nasty, wonderful, good-

I dislike any kind of celebration of the miliatristic side: I would willingly help celebrate the enduring good side of human life - those that survived. Those that lived. Those that created-

7:08 pm  
Blogger Country Lane said...

I'm always conflicted about the ANZAC Day thing. In the end I feel ok about commemorating he lives of the people that had to go into the various hells we sent them. I do feel it all feels a bit militaristic nd agree with Keri about celebrating the birth(s) of our people.
But the idea of starting a movement to commemorate some of the events that happened on NZ soil really appeals!
And I agree that the time seems right. The resurgance of interest from young people in their forebears that's been apparent in the ANZAC days recently could easily translate to an interest in their country's true history.
And basing the movement around the existing monuments would work. So would using the landscape and the stories.
I have just written a sort of pre-travel piece about the Forgotten Highway and loved researching the story of the King Country - the stories are powerful - could be as powerful as the stone.
One model could be the way Matariki has eased itself into the national consciousness - who led that process. Was it "led". That could be model.

8:02 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you an idiot? BURN THE FLAG!


9:57 pm  
Blogger Dr Jack Ross said...

I'm inclined to agree with Keri that endless celebration of wars is the reverse of revisionist - it just swaps grievances.

Finding new ways (& preferably not just anotehr bunch of concrete plinths) to celebrate the people who chose not to go to war would seem to me far more revolutionary.

8:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If anything, middle NZ turned to ANZAC day so markedly in the last few decades because they find it more comfortable than Waitangi day.

Asking mainstream NZ to "commemorate" colonial violence is a bit naive. Look at the ways white majority populations can and do commemorate it in the US and Australia. Probably not what you have in mind.

The fact that even someone as far left as you is still using the misleading term "Land Wars" shows we have miles to go before we are able to engage with this in a constructive way.

-titus fan

1:49 pm  
Blogger Martin Edmond said...

You might be interested in this, Maps: An excerpt from Jeff Hopkins-Weise’s book Blood Brothers: The Anzac Genesis (Wakefield Press, 2009) was printed in the Australian Literary Review of April 1, 2009. Weise locates said genesis in the NZ bush in the mid 1800s.

2:35 pm  
Blogger maps said...

'The fact that even someone as far left as you is still using the misleading term "Land Wars" shows we have miles to go'

I'd be interested to know wy you consider the term 'misleading', Titus Fan, and what you'd use instead.

Martin: thanks very much for that reference!

3:35 pm  
Blogger Timespanner said...

I'm not comfortable with the militaristic atmosphere around Anzac Day, either -- which is why, on that day this year, I chose to post about the conscientious objectors during World War 1 instead. I'll think of something else next year if I'm still blogging. As I've said back on my blog (thanks for the link, Maps) -- if folks want to have Anzac Day as a "New Zealand Day", then yes, I think that remembrance of wars prior to Gallipoli, and the issues around them, should be included. Not so much commemoration and glorifying, but more recognition that we are who we are in NZ because of them.

As for the term "Land Wars" -- misleading? How so? They were wars and conflicts, fought over the issue of land. The older term Maori Wars is what has fallen out of favour. When referring to the war in the Waikato, part of the greater conflict period, I use the term "Waikato War".

4:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If your going against Anzac Day you shouldn't be doing things with the internet after all we wouldn't have it without them

5:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is notification that I am to boycott the Workers’ Party’s national conference – Workers’ Resistance – being held in Wellington over Queen’s Birthday weekend.
Conference posters advertise that I will address this conference in my role as President of the Wellington Branch of the Tramways Union, about last years’ lockout of bus drivers by Go Wellington management.

Not only will I not be doing this, but I will discourage any other member of my union speak at this event.

This boycott is in protest to the disgraceful action taken by the Workers’ Party against long serving Party member Jasmine Freemantle. Last week the Workers’ Party expelled Jasmine Freemantle for actions in her current role as President of the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA).

Jasmine’s account of her expulsion can be found at:

I am willing to reconsider the boycott of Workers Resistance, but only if the following occur:

a) The Workers Party overturn their decision to expel Jasmine from the Party,

b) The Steering Group of the Workers Party issues a public statement of apology for the disgraceful way they have treated her.

The Workers’ Party’s expulsion of Freemantle demonstrates the lack of political seriousness of the Party, and that in its current form is not fit to lead workers’ struggles. I hope the Party seriously reconsiders this poor decision.

Nick Kelly

2008-09 President, Wellington Branch of the Tramways Union
2008 Worker’s Party General Election List Candidate
2007 Workers’ Party Mayoral Candidate
2006-09 Organiser, Wellington Branch of the Workers’ Party
2006 President, Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association
2004 Workers’ Party Mayoral Candidate

For further information or comment contact:
Nick Kelly
Cell: 021 58 42 94
E-mail: socialist42 (at) hotmail.com


6:00 pm  
Blogger John Edmundson said...

I find it hard to believe that such a change would make much difference in this period of downturn in struggle. Rednecks would just ignore the change and still bang on about Galipolli being a fight for freedom, liberals would feel better about commemorating ANZAC Day and imperialism would be better served by a more "inclusive" approach. I think changes like this one have to follow or be part of a more general radicalisation rather than lead it. Otherwise they just get incorporated.

8:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I have always felt that ANZAC day is hypocritical nonsense - a form of subtle glorification of war (which is mostly murder and the butchery of [mostly civilians] legitimised) disguised as some "heroic" struggle for "freedom" - as if fighting for some large Imperialist power meant we had been admitted to some holy Grovel Club.

[The US impose freedom by dropping Napalm on civilians who REALLY want freedom!!]

I feel we should only pay great attention to the events of NZ - IN NZ - if we are to be remembering anything.

We Europeans have done many great wrongs to Maori - the least we can do is to attempt to understand the history - this is one reason I read this Blog...and I went with Maps to Drury and we saw where Maori resistance fighters were stationed at times - they traveled so far in those days to get food and they actually worked very very hard to survive in this land...there is a huge amount of NZ history I don't know - but as for the enormous stupidity of the Ist WW - it should not be commemorated - we should be all mourning our stupidity - the conscientious objectors were some of the most courageous people around in that war.

Remember that even in the days of Swift there was a huge movement against standing armies which Swift himself was a party to - he attacked the Duke of Marlborough (an ancestor of Churchill the warmonger) for his savage and rapacious wars on Holland etc - where basically the British raped and looted the Dutch and massacred many others - to increase their wealth (and Marlboroughs's) - the British interestingly - have generally been more cynical attitude toward war - they booted Churchill out after WW2 -

this doesn't mean that wars of self defence such as the great war by the Vietnamese against the French, the British (yes the British were involved in Vietnam in 1945) and the US, and New Zealand and Australian murderers and invaders are not to be commemorated. [ I say a prayer now for all the dead in Turkey, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and China - not for any Kiwis.] We should have commemoration of those who die in wars of revolution or in strikes or in wars of independence ... Or the Chinese War of Liberation against Japan, or the Soviet struggle against the Nazis.

The heroic struggle of Maori against the European invaders is worthy cause also...

We should honour only those who are intelligent in regard to war...

But not Kiwis murdering young Turks or Iraqi or Afghanistani people.

9:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Maori Wars" -> "Land Wars" -> "New Zealand Wars" (the current favourite)

More accurately:

Wars of Resistance
Wars of Rangatiratanga

(see Tom Brooking)

7:15 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Is 'New Zealand Wars' the current favourite, though? Danny Kennan uses 'Land Wars' in his new book 'Wars Without End', which is the first full-length study of the conflicts written by a Maori scholar. He first chapter is devoted to defending his reasons for using 'Land Wars' - it's well worth reading.

9:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Land Wars is the one most Maori use.

New Zealand Wars is more James Belich and them.

2:21 pm  
Blogger WY said...

Sorry if this is late, but I was doing research about conscientious objectors during WWII when I came accross your blog.

I have to say I don't agree with you about changing ANZAC day to include the Land Wars and other such fights between Maori and Pakeha in a Remembrance Day. Actually I think it's a SHIT idea, because you know what those wars are? They're exactly what I said before, fights BETWEEN Maori and Pakeha.

I think it's an incredibly stupid idea because NZ is meant to be united, we are meant to be multi-cultural. How are we meant to do that if some idiot wants us to celebrate our Land Wars, where the two supposedly 'united' faces of NZ, were pitted against each other in horrific battles??

And I think you're missing the point of Anzac day, you say it's a way to glorify war, and act like its a bad thing to commemorate the lives of the people who died. You obviously haven't been to a morning service, you ungrateful prick. It's solemn and it's beautiful.

Well let me ask you this, why would glorifying the freaking Land Wars be any better?? Anzac day is a reminder to NZ of the terrible mistake that cost us the lives of thousands of good New Zealanders and Australians. Gallipolli was a terrible fight, but it was a fight where both Maori and Pakeha showed bravery, tenacity and loyalty to their country by not deserting and doing what they thought was what needed to be done together. It is not the soldiers fault that their superiors in England made the stupid mistake to send them there, or their fault that the boats landed at the wrong place.

No. We celebrate NZ to remember the lives of the soldiers that died, and to reflect upon the atrocities of war. In comment someone said, "I do not think it made us a nation. What made us a nation was a thousand sweaty embraces... by-this, our lands."

That is nothing to celebrate. Why the hell would we celebrate the fact that we grew up on NZ soil, and hugged family and friends? I suppose it's meant to show how 'together' we are in NZ. Not.

ANZAC Day is a day worth celebrating, because you know what, GALLIPOLLI brought NZ together. It's a day where we can offer comfort and love, and embrace the people who lost their loved ones during the war (and hopefully not freaking sweaty embraces.) ANZAC day was the day when the whole of NZ mourned for our soldiers, and brought us together as a nation, offering mutual support to the people around us.

Anzac day is a way of saying that we will be there for each other. That we remember our fellow countrymen, and that we mourn for each and every one of them lost in that stupid campaign. And it's not just Gallipolli either. Anzac day is remembering everyone we have lost in war. It's a way of showing that we stand united, and that we will remember those who fought in the name of our country. If you don't respect that, then you shouldn't be a New Zealander, how can you be so disloyal and frivolous about the death of our people?? What if it was your grandad that had died? I'm sure you'd want to have a day to remember him then wouldn't you? Try and feel more empathy towards those who draw comfort knowing that NZ is behind them, and remembers their family or friend's sacrifice.

10:41 am  
Blogger WY said...

I had to split my comment into two parts. So here's the second part:

Finally I'd just like to point out that again, changing ANZAC day to remember the Land Wars is an incredibly shit idea. Can you imagine what people in NZ would say? Especially the people who lost loved ones. There'd be a bloody riot! And can you imagine the thoughts of Pakeha, and even Maori, who are resenting Maori activists already with all their land claims? People are already resenting the fact that Maori are getting all these extra benefits; water rights, health and education benefits, a whole fund set aside just for Maori! That's hardly fair to the Pakeha children. I've heard a lot of people calling Maori ungrateful, because you know what usually happens when a larger force wins a war over another, the smaller force loses, is treated like shit, and just has to adapt. IT'S A BLOODY WAR. When Germany won the war over Switzerland because they had a bigger force, did Switzerland say, you bully, give me all the land and money you took away from me when you won? NO. Because they LOST.

I do admit that to do this to Maori would be completely stupid and a complete waste of magnificent culture, but Maori aren't grateful for all the Gvt's done to try and fix things! They just want more and more and MORE. People who are of this opinion will just say that including the Land Wars in a remembrance day is just another way for Maori to try and make the Gvt. feel guilty and get more money from it.

You can't deny there are these feelings. Even teenagers know whats going on. For example on the facebook page NZ Memes, there are several photos with a Maori doing a pukana with the caption, TAKE ALL THE LAND!!

10:42 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for your comments Marie. I think it's great that you've got such strong opinions, but it might be worth remembering that what seems rather obvious to you isn't always so to somebody else, especially when they come from a different culture or hold a different political belief.

I doubt whether the descendants of the Tainui and Tuhoe Maori or the Pakeha trade unionists who refused to fight in World War One, and were often jailed as a result, would think about Gallipoli in quite the same way as you, for instance.

If you take a look through the archives of this blog you might encounter perspectives on issues like race relations and various wars which are different from the ones you hold. The answer to difference of opinion isn't to shout and swear: it's to dialogue and (where necessary) critique.

Anzac Day is not a simple, static ritual. It has evolved in the decades since Gallipoli, and is still evolving. There have been all sorts of arguments about what forms it should take, ever since 1915. My suggestions, then, are part of a tradition of discussion about the meaning and forms of the day.

I don't advocate celebrating any war, and I think part of the problem with Anzac Day lies in the celebratory and propagandistic edge its ceremonies can sometimes acquire. My view is that we ought to make a distinction between commemoration and celebration. I argue that we should commemorate the wars of the 19th century so that we can understand our history. I make this point at some length here:

See what you think of my argument.

11:02 am  

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