One of Australia’s foremost military historians says that Australians no longer feel an authentic sense of grief or loss when commemorating the 1915 Gallipoli campaign.
Professor Joan Beaumont, from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, says that the way we remember the landings of April 25 1915 is changing with time.
“There's a general acceptance in the military history field that after 100 years the whole resonance of a war with a population changes,” said Beaumont.
“And I think that the original inspiration for commemoration and the rituals associated with Word War 1 like Anzac day was grief and loss and a compulsion on the part of the families who had lost men in those wars, to give meaning to that loss.
“Today you don't know your great uncle or grandfather who died in World War 1, so whatever your emotional response to the memory of his death might be, it is not grief. It is something else. It might be a much more sentimental nostalgia about the past.
“We have arrived at a point where I think we don't have anybody who feels genuine grief.”
Beaumont, who is an expert on war memory and heritage, added that the sands of time had eroded the original meaning of Anzac Day.
This would fundamentally alter the way we commemorate the event in the future.
“In my mind there is the question of what are going to be the wellsprings of commemoration as we get further and further away from, for me, that quite authentic sense of grief and loss.
“None of us know, but I think it is a big question as to how it will shape the future of commemoration.”
But while the way we commemorate the Anzac legend is changing, Beaumont doesn't believe that it is disappearing from Australian society. She thinks that it has found resonance in different ways.
“I would argue that Anzac has now become what I would call a civilian myth. We see the four values of Anzac – courage, endurance, sacrifice and mateship – used to describe people from non-military areas in today's society.”
These include police officers, fire fighters and victims of terrorist attacks like the 2002 Bali bombings.
“There's a lot of evidence that we now use those values to honour other people who are willing to sacrifice their own personal interest for the good of society, or the good of the nation,” said Beaumont.
The phenomenon even extends to Australian rules footballers in the nation's annual Anzac Day match between Essendon and Collingwood.
“A couple of years ago, the losing side were berated by their coach as 'having let the Anzac spirit down',” said Beaumont.
“So although you might think that this is a dilution of the Anzac legend, it is probably something that has helped to maintain it and perpetuate it.
“It's because it is now mobilised and evoked not just for strict military personnel, but for any victim of war or somebody who has manifested the willingness to serve the collective good.
These people now have the potential to become an Anzac.”
This article if from the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific.