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Time to save Anzac Day from cheap war of words

ON GUARD: An Anzacs don’t deserve to become pawns in a “deeply demeaning annual political battle”, the author says.Another Anzac Day. Another battle in the culture wars.

Last year Yassmin Abdel-Magied was at the eye of the storm.

I wrote a column standing up for her freedom of speech in the face of an extraordinary and unrelenting attack about her supposed lack of respect for Anzac Day.

This year, sadly, but rather predictably, there were new battlefields and more confected scandals.

Last week, Steve Price and Karl Stefanovic condemned a cinema chain for the “grubby cash grab” of releasing the movieAvengers: Infinity Waron ANZAC Day.

Read more: How we marked Anzac Day in Newcastle and around the Hunter region

Stefanovic thundered that to watch a movie was to neglect the significance of the great sacrifices of the Diggers, a point of view that didn’t get much traction as, among many other things, every pub is open on Anzac Day for hours of drinking and two-up, punctuated by the footy.

Now incoming Defence Chief Angus Campbell has come under fire from a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and by the usual conservative commentators because he has banned Australian soldiers from using death-style iconography including the grim reaper and the skull and cross bones.

Former sergeant Justin Huggett attacked the directive on Facebook and then with shock-jock Ray Hadley proclaiming it as “political correctness gone mad”.

The death imagery is grotesque, straight out of a violent video game or a bikie gang and reflects a one-dimensional idea of what a soldier should be – an unfeeling, defiantly-masculine, brutal killing machine.

Huggett has talked about this ban going against the pride and history of the Australian military. Which is funny because there are no reports of the Anzac troops landing at Gallipoli proudly flying the skull and cross bones of the Jolly Roger.

Read more: The 50 finest photos from Anzac Day 2018

While it is true that George Orwell, who fought in the Spanish Civil War, did famously say that wars are won by fighting, no army in history has ever been focussed on indiscriminate killing. Indeed over the centuries there have been developed strict and sophisticated laws relating to war and the use of armed force.

My father, who is 91, saw action in Europe at the end of the Second World War. He has never talked about his experience of war, nor has he ever marched on Anzac Day. I suspect many are like him.

But having seen the face of battle he is deeply suspicious of politicians and commentators who demand that there is a right and wrong way to honour those who served in war. After all, to dictate that there is only one way to love one’s country and to be a patriot is to act exactly like the people that we all fought against in the two great wars of the last century.

Or to quote Orwell again, “All the war-propaganda … invariably comes from people who are not fighting.”

We honour and respect the Anzacs not by wrapping ourselves in the flag or displaying death insignia but by understanding that our soldiers, sailors and nurses who have served in war have in the words of Paul Keating, “taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together”.

In other words, the deep patriotism of every Anzac soldier has to be rescued from a kind of tawdry chest-beating nationalism. They served because they loved their country and their fellow citizen.

They certainly don’t deserve to become a pawn in a deeply demeaning annual political battle.

Duncan Fine is a lawyer and Fairfaxcolumnist.

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