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"Have we forgotten the meaning of Anzac Day?"
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"Have we forgotten the meaning of Anzac Day?"

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Hsin-Yi Lo picAustralians commemorate the devastating battle that created their national character, but Hsin-Yi Lo, a Correspondent from Melbourne, Australia, now living in the UK, argues that the true cost of war should not be forgotten.

This year is the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign when more than 10,000 Australian and New Zealand troops died battling the Turkish army on the Gallipoli shore. Each year, many Australians and New Zealanders gather at the Dawn Service to commemorate the bravery that the Anzacs exhibited. We remember the spirit of the soldiers and we remember how they sacrificed themselves for their families and friends – but have we understood the other meaning of this day? That is, the true costs of war.

In WW1, Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought alongside Britain, France and Russia, known as the Allied Powers. The opponents were the Central Powers, comprised of Germany, the Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Bulgaria. WW1 was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of mankind, as over 8 million soldiers from both sides died (note the figure is still disputed). The war is also called The Great War because of the large scale of destruction it caused; namely famine, starvation and disease.

Historians are still debating the exact causes of the war; some have argued it was a battle between empires to seize control of colonial territories. Additionally there was also interplay of nationalism, an arms race and empires protecting their own interests. In the context of that time, Australia believed it had a duty towards the king, so we fought alongside the Empire. We need to remember Australia had been a federation nation for just 13 years, thus we were keen to make our international debut on this major event. It was our opportunity to shed our convict identity and to make a name for ourselves. That, we succeeded. The bloody battle in Gallipoli created a legacy – the model Australian character we celebrate today.  The Anzac puts his mates before him; he is fearless and is a resilient man who can withstand any hardships.

The Gallipoli campaign, led by General Ian Hamilton, was to dismantle Germany’s power by executing a swift defeat on its allies. The operation was to seize control of Gallipoli so the Allied Powers could have access to this naval area.   Historian Harvey Broadbent, a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Modern History at Macquarie University, described the operation as a tactical disaster because the Allies “failed to seize opportunities to achieve their objectives”.  In the morning of 25 April 1915, the Anzac soldiers landed at Anzac Cove while the British troops disembarked at Carpe Helles. Broadbent review how, because of poor planning, insufficient military support and the Ottoman army’s far better weapons, we were soundly defeated.

Whenever 25 April is on the calendar, many Australians and New Zealanders travel to Gallipoli to pay their respects for the fallen troops. But has the commemoration of Anzac Day lost its meaning? The current generation is one century apart from WW1, it’s a distant memory in the sense that we do not have firsthand contact with the war and how it affected the world and people. We remember the Gallipoli campaign more from the perspective that it created the Australian identity. We do not put much emphasis on how we can draw lessons from this failed military operation.

Anzac Day commemorations have become more popularised and attached to nationalism since former Prime Minister John Howard took office (1996-2007). Howard reminded the Australian people that “the Anzac legend has helped us to define who we are as Australians”. This legacy carries on to current servicemen and women overseas who are fighting to defend our freedom.  Since WW2, Australia has participated in overseas wars such as Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and most recently, Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars are different from the two world wars – the world wars were essential to the existence of our nation and people. However, the later wars are ambiguous and questionable in nature – especially Afghanistan and Iraq.

We should honour those who sacrificed themselves so the next generation is free from suffering. However, it seems the only lesson we drew from this war is how the Anzacs established our national character. In some ways, this diminishes our understanding of the fatalities of war. Therefore, it is important we send the right message about what Gallipoli means. Otherwise, what Walter Parker, a water carrier at Gallipoli, said might ring true: ”Gallipoli achieved nothing. All those young Australians died in vain.”

photo credit: ANZAC Day Bundaberg 2012 26 via photopin (license)

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About me: I am from Melbourne, Australia, and am Project Officer for the National Ethnic & Multicultural Broadcasters’ Council (NEMBC), where I provide support to multicultural communities to participate in community broadcasting and media.

I aspire to become a journalist, focusing on international relations and travelling around the world to explore different cultures and lifestyles. My interests are reading non-fiction, listening to music, sports, and travel.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/
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