Joe Hendren

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The 25th of April is still a day of selective rememberance

With the media full of stories related to ANZAC day, my favourite contribution this year is provided by Dean Parker in an opinion piece in the NZ Herald. While there is value in a day of remembrance for those who lost their lives in war, this is not the issue many in the peace movement have with ANZAC day. A common problem is the determination of who is going to be remembered, and often this is highly selective.

"After the end of World War II, a veteran of the fight against fascism turned up at an Auckland Anzac Day parade to march with the RSA. He was told he couldn't."

In other words the RSA refused to recognise those who had the foresight to fight fascism before World War II. Those like Tom Spiller who demonstrated against Mosley's black shirts in the UK in the 1930s and fought in the Spanish Civil War. The RSA told Tom his Spanish service did not make him a real war veteran, and he could only tag along at the end by himself.

Perhaps this has something to do with the history of the policy of appeasement, which was strongly supported by conservatives all over the world prior to the start of the war in 1939.

Britain and France, instead of leaping to support the Republican government of Spain when it faced a military coup d'etat in 1936, chose to place an embargo on support for the besieged democracy. Only two governments spoke up to defend democratic Spain in the League of Nations - the USSR and the New Zealand's first Labour government. This is the genesis of New Zealand's independent foreign policy, not David Lange's reluctant establishment of the anti-nuclear ban. In 1936, the New Zealand National party were indignant Labour were were failing to support our traditional allies - in other words the National party are the original promoters of appeasement in New Zealand.

When Tom came back to New Zealand as part of nationwide tour for the Spanish Medical Aid committee he was greeted by special branch police and asked how long he intended to stay. This is consistent with the approach adopted by western intelligence services to the Spanish conflict - their sympathies did not belong with the Republicans.

Parker explains how this was a gift to Hitler and Mussolini
"The Germans and Italians had tested their weapons in war and tested the parliamentary democracies' resolve to fight fascism. When the former were found unexcelled and the latter non-existent, the two powers pushed ahead with territorial expansion and the Spanish Civil War became the overture to full-blown war in Europe."

This morning I watched a documentary on the experiences of New Zealand prisioners of war. Landing back in their homeland many faced negative reactions from those who believed the act of surrendering to the enemy meant that these New Zealanders were not real veterans. Thankfully such views are no longer commonplace, but it does demonstrate how 'selective remembrance' of war has changed over time.

In the aim of a more inclusive ANZAC day I would personally like to see the RSA also recognise conscientious objectors as prisoners of war - the only difference was that COs were imprisoned by their own Government instead of being imprisoned by the enemy. Given the so called apology given to the Vietnam Vets by the Government last year for having to face low public opinion, the RSA might like to apologise for their role in encouraging the disgraceful and dismissive treatment of COs by the Government and the own attitudes and actions towards the peace movement.

I like the concluding thoughts of Anna from The Hand Mirror on her ANZAC day post
"The theme of ANZAC day is 'Lest we forget'. If we treat war as some romantic, nationalistic boys' own adventure, then we've already forgotten."

We will remember them, but glory is misguided.

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