As I write this on the evening of Anzac Day knowing that more New Zealanders than ever have turned out for dawn services around the country, I wonder at the commemoration of an event that saw New Zealanders used, as political scientist Colin James points out, ‘as a pawn on one side in a war of empires’ (Dominion Post 25 4 09).
For New Zealanders of every hue, it seems Anzac day brings an opportunity to focus on national identity and perhaps on the futility of waging war to achieve peace.
New Zealand hymn writer Shirley Murray’s powerful words to the ‘Hymn for Anzac Day’ written in 2005 with Colin Gibson, emphasise the pervasive impact of war. Along with a call to weep for the dead and the bloodshed, Murray’s hymn focuses on the grisly underbelly of war perpetrated by ‘powers of violence and greed … the deals done in the name of need’.
It is heartening to see included in this lament for those lost at the front, an acknowledgement of the conscientious objectors who ‘suffered in prisons of contempt and shame, branded as cowards in our country’s name’.
The hymn’s fifth verse calls for honour for the dream and vision of those who died for ‘peace known in freedom, peace the only way’.
Unfortunately peace is often sacrificed in the quest for control of resources that is at the root of modern-day conflicts. Pakistan-born writer Tariq Ali says in the introduction to the 2003 publication of his book The Clash of the Fundamentalisms that US imperialism is the most dangerous ‘fundamentalism’ today.
While the rest of the world succumbed to the rhetoric of Iraq as a dangerous nuclear weapons producer, the US saw as reasons for invasion Iraq’s rich oil reserves coupled with its position outside US control, the size of Iraq’s army—before the invasion it was ‘the only force in the region that could threaten Greater Israel’ (xv)—and in domestic political terms, the need to ‘wean the pro-Zionist Jews away from the Democrats’ which, Ali says, was an important tactical goal.
Tariq Ali warns of the need to scratch the surface of what we hear and read in the media to find out why violence occurs.
Fr Kevin Barr suggests that all is not as it seems in Fiji. In his background paper on page 17 he says the ‘democratic’ elections for which New Zealand and Australia are clamouring would not prevent another coup. First, he says, the constitution needs to be freed of racism.
Likewise, a new supporting families initiative to address family violence (page 8) needs also to ask why there is violence in families in the first place. Could it be such families are subject to a racist system that keeps them on or below the poverty line, in overcrowded houses and soul-destroying jobs?
Before we call for Anzac Day to replace Waitangi Day as our national day, let’s question the relative peace of Anzac Day and ask how we can bring this peace to our nation on Waitangi Day also.