The UnFuturist Manifesto

•May 14, 2015 • 2 Comments

Giacomo balla_dog

[Another manifesto. Can’t resist the urge I’m afraid. This one is based on Marinetti’s famous Futurist Manifesto of 1908-9 which glorified speed, violence, industrial technology, war and helped intellectually trail-blaze Mussolini’s fascism. The painting is, ironically, by futurist Giacomo Balla].


With face smeared in toxic gunk from the cars and factories, bruised, souls wrecked and decimated by wage labour, powerlessness and the total commodification of life, but undaunted, we declare our intentions to all living beings on Earth:

1. We intend to celebrate the love of relationship, the custom of interdependence, solidarity and mutual aid that still, despite capitalism, informs most people’s daily lives, AND the strength of daring, spontaneity and wisdom found in the wild

2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity, civil disobedience, non-violent revolt and patient attention to the filigree details of the present moment

3. Theory having until now often glorified insurrection, soldierly militancy and other macho antics, we wish to exalt the revolution of the slow, the wise, listening, the conflictual dialogue of give and take among peers with a wink and twinkle in their eyes

4. We declare that the splendour of the world cannot be enriched, that the human is also natural, that our technologies must be wise rather than smart, must be organically embedded in the great cycles, seasons and self-regulating limits of planetary wisdom

5. We will sing the praises of the countless invisible humans and non-humans that support and sustain the lives of all and we will sing them into visibility and participation

6. We say the poet and artist must today be a revolutionary of slowness, a seditious Trickster of dissonance and dissent to speed, self-marketing and busy fakeness, of ambiguity and paradox among the sirens of false harmony, distraction and bullshit sung by the old powers that be and the smart powers that want to be

7. We maintain there is no beauty and truth except in the radical non-action of struggle, a passionate, disinterested struggle for the transformation of transformation itself, for the courage to be, for autonomy and total democracy, i.e. self-management, in all social domains

8. We wish to throw this mind bomb into the busy cogs of the distraction machines: speed means to necessarily ignore, speed is ignorance, smart stupidity, a digital overwhelm and quantitative info tsunami that deadens feeling and suits the masters

9. We proclaim that to understand is to slow down, pay attention to qualities, relate, to connect the dots of information into meaning, and that this is analogue, an embodied qualitative process that cannot do without the free association of the six senses, triune brain and gut brain

10. Beyond bread and roses for all, we demand everyone’s right to the new subversive four S: slowness, solitude, silence, self-activity

11. We feel we are on the extreme cusp of the Eternal Now, as always, AND at an evolutionary bifurcation point or singularity: another flap of the invisible butterfly’s wings and we shall either enter a new Dark Age or else recover ourselves into wholeness, sanity, the common sense of the Commons and conscious interdependence, of freedom and self-organisation

12. We will glorify peace, the true utopian state of humanity, by making our means the same as our ends: non-violent dialogue, autonomy, self-management, mutual aid, solidarity, humour

13. We will end the commodification of life, wage labour, economic and political heteronomy and our own voluntary slavery; when we, not elites, finally call the shots, we will end hunger, war, all discrimination and ecocide, we will finally be free to listen to the silence of the stars

14. We will model the autonomy of our participatory society on nature: unity through the horizontal and decentralised self-organising of maximum diversity in free association

15. We will sing the great planetary web of interdependence, the soaring eagle and the slow snail, the invisible dark energy of bacteria that underpins forest, soil, ocean and makes up 90% of our own bodies, the billions of common men and women slaving away, caring, being helpful and decent to each other, wanting their children to be happy, sensing but not yet seeing the horizon of another possible world they themselves potentially are…

It is on this planet Earth that we proclaim this declaration informed by earth and fire, wind and water, and with which we today found UnFuturism, for we will free the planet of an un-future further ruled by commodification and botoxed bullshit, by the focus-grouped soundbite and obscene luxuries, by heteronomy and hunger, by total surveillance and war, by inequality, emptiness, despair and Fakebook.

Your objections? Enough! We know them.

Rather, think of this. You are a rational mystery. You are made of black holes and bacteria, supernovae and star stuff. All living beings on earth share a single-celled Last Common Ancestor and all humans derive from one woman living in Africa 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. Only 10% of our cells are actually human, the rest are bacterial cells. We are super-organisms like the planet itself, and diversely One, in every sense, on every level.

Survival, the continuation of civilisation, now means seeing this. And acting on it, radically.

Be realistic, demand the impossible. One world or none.

Love Poem

•May 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Bosch, lovers from Garden of Earthly Delights

[An old poem, written in the 1970s, from the youth/summer/fire section of my latest book Cut a Long Story Short. WordPress won’t let me use the original, less neatly aligned lineation, but so be it…Enjoy.]

Love Poem

blue night depthless crevice
sway bright lights
move the waters
feeling clouds miles above
effortless movement

fish woman’s world prophecy
in that misty garden
cloistered in your breath

for the rock is my brother
all manner of beings
my brethren

ji ji mu ge, thing-thing-
no-barrier, soundless
like the falling hawk
become one with the air

world world world
whirl whorl womb-wife

the warp & the woof of it
the smell & the sense of it
the leap & the love of it

cradled ah within my breast

Is poetry a search engine

•May 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment


[The 3rd stanza is referencing Matthew Arnold’s famous late 19th century poem ‘Dover Beach’ about the loss of faith and certainty. ‘Masterchef’ is a reality-TV cooking show. ‘dunny’ is Australian slang for toilet. The photo was taken behind the University of Technology in Sydney.]

Is poetry a search engine

inside the mind of the benevolent god:
when you type in yourself, press enter,

whole anti-worlds cascade down
your limbic neurons, you’re sitting

on Dover Beach with Whitman
reading Milton as the receding tide

makes the pebbles hum, & another
civilization bites the dust of ages

asking where’s the saviour
who’ll save us from ourselves

where’s the precarian spanner
in the works of the mind machine

grinding our filigree world
into a boiling, roiling mess

of cyberspace & cant? Pass
the remote, Masterchef, we’re done

we’ve had our chance, written
a few lines people graced with Like

failed the exam despite extra time
& a smartphone on the dunny

yet each byte of cell & smell,
each ear-taste of poetic line

& beat reconciles me, kicking,
to the way things are, inside

evil’s global roar abyssal silence
hyper-linked to poetry’s palimpsests

a living muse museum inside
the mind of the absent god

unfathomable trickster dancing
the fires of fecklessness & fate

Transforming Anzac Day. On Anzac Day 6

•April 23, 2015 • 1 Comment

German and British soldier sharing cig 1914
fraternisation German Russian soldiers ww1
Soldiers Truce Xmas 14

[Last section of The Pure Bugle essay on Anzac Day. The great photos are from the First World War: German and British soldiers sharing a cigarette, German and Russian soldiers dancing, German and British soldiers at the Christmas truce-from-below in 1914]

6. Transforming Anzac Day: The Need for Mature Mourning and a Global Spiritual Vision

It is a truism, often better understood by the right and ignored by the vulgar materialism of capitalist economics and orthodox Marxism alike, that man and woman lives not by bread alone. Beneath all the grinding daily occupation with surviving in the capitalist rat race, there is a deep need for group belonging and collective structures of meaning (i.e. ‘religions’ in the widest sense of the term) that lend some greater sense of significance to exhausting, humdrum work and mere existence in industrial mass society.

With the considerable weakening of religion in most modern consumer societies, the demise of socialist movements as a secular religion and the cold, isolating hegemony of the commodity fetish and the money god in consumer capitalism, many withdraw into the ephemeral bonding of the football club, the gang or religious fundamentalism. Positive collective visions are few and far between. This poses great dangers.

On the basis of their traumatic experiences both with the mass appeals of classical fascism and modern advanced consumer capitalism, humanist socialists and psychoanalysts, like here Erich Fromm, have shown that

If people are not given a chance to fight for a rational, humanist vision, they will – crushed by the weight of their daily boredom ‒ in the end fall victim to the irrational, diabolical visions of dictators and demagogues. The weakness of our modern society is that it has no more ideals to offer, that it demands no belief in anything, that it has no more vision except that of wanting-to-have-more.

In other words, if there is no progressive vision, no encompassing, and above all inspiring, humanist ideals and beliefs, the social vacuum of meaning will at some point be filled by regressive, right-wing visions and constructions that further cement ruling class cultural hegemony. It has been our argument in this essay that Anzac Day in its current hyper-nationalist forms is an expression of just such a populist, and successful, right-wing vision.

Is a humanist, non-right-wing version of Anzac Day even theoretically feasible? How could regressive forms of mourning be replaced by more psychologically developed ones? How could the self-contradictory Anzac ‘obedient larrikin’ spirit be replaced by an equally energetic but more coherent anti-authoritarian spirit of ‘democratic and informed disobedience’? And how could both the phoney bugles and ‘pure bugles’ of an overcompensating, narcissistic nationalism be replaced by what was once called ‘brotherhood’ (fraternite) and is now a humanist, trans-national and cosmopolitan spiritual vision of One World and the Human Family? We can only sketch the barest outlines of a tentative answer.

Mature mourning could start with a ‘reality check’, i.e. a rational, adult-mode review and psychological integration of the brutal facts of Australia’s imperial wars ‒ including the atrocities, war crimes and human rights violations ‒ rather than with an infantile regression into pseudo-comforting and dangerously over-compensating mythologies of national grandeur. It would refuse, as was the Anzacs’ own wish, any ‘superhuman’ mythologizing of the soldiers themselves, a mythologizing which simply furthers right-wing agendas and ideological hegemony, or, more specifically, creates ‘a monocultural, masculine, obedient Australian identity’ and bolsters ‘this constructed identity against challenges from multiculturalism, feminism, Aboriginal land rights and pacifism.’ (R. Buchanan)

It is noteworthy that soldiers’ diaries and statements, jokes and songs usually differ markedly from the generalising and simplifying constructions of professional ideology-makers like Bean and Moorehead, those early Australian versions of the then nascent PR industry. A mature version of Anzac Day could do worse than make the complex, often contradictory words and feelings of the soldiers themselves, as expressed in their diaries, statements and letters, jokes and songs, the main textual basis of remembrance rather than any nationalist PR constructions.

After actual engagement, these soldiers’ thoughts and feelings often mention a certain respect or even empathy for their enemies. The latters’ thoughts and feelings, as well as those of their families, could then also be read out. The thoughts, feelings, songs and stories of Boer, Turkish, German, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Afghan and Iraqi soldiers and civilians would make for an essential widening of human empathies beyond the national tribe.

In this way the innocent women, children and men, the civilian dead and maimed of all nations, would finally be lifted from the forgotten scrapheap of militarist ‘collateral damage’ to the place on centre stage they deserve as the majority victims of modern industrialised warfare.

Going further, the traumatised, often put-down or ridiculed soldier victims of ‘shell shock’, the so-called ‘traitors’ on all sides (deserters from and mutineers against the organised madness on all sides), could also be commemorated for their prescience and contributions to shortening the duration of the carnage. The often disgraceful treatment of these and other injured and returned soldiers by the very governments they fought for could be noted.

Beyond any specific wars, attention would be focussed on the fact ‒ usually swept under the carpet at Anzac Day and in the military histories so strangely popular in this country ‒ that ‘the characteristic act of man at war is not dying, it is killing; and on how the very structure of war itself ‘encourages pleasure in killing and that perfectly ordinary, gentle human beings, rather than sociopaths, can become the most enthusiastic, efficient killers’ (British historian Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing, 1999). Anzacs gained quite a reputation as ‘efficient killers’, something Anzac Day does not stress but, I think it’s fair to say, most Australian military are still very proud of as more or less amoral ‘professionals’ just doing their ‘job’ today.

Finally, those rare moments of sanity and outright rebellion against the carnage ordered by their superiors such as the Christmas truce and football match between British and German soldiers of December 1914, the mass desertions and refusals to fight by Russian soldiers after February 1917, the mass refusal of German soldiers to fight any more in November 1918, the war resisters against the Vietnam war or the contemporary Israeli ‘refusenik’ soldiers ‒ all these would figure as prominently as would the courageous nurses, anti-militarist truth-tellers, pacifists and conscientious objectors of all countries, as inspiring examples of the common brother- and sisterhood of the human race, as reminders of its essential sanity and deep desire for peace.

All these soldiers, rebels and victims could be mourned, their ordinary human heroism, resilience and suffering acknowledged as a central legacy in the ongoing human struggle for the future utopia of a world free of the scourge of war, militarism and xenophobic tribalism. Suitably presented, ritualised and ‘owned’, first by a minority and then by a growing majority of people, this could be the inspiring vision of a mature, alternative Anzac Day.

Australia’s soldiers and their victims could finally rest in a reconciled peace open to a better future, together. Not suppressing or denying national collective experience but rather lifting it up to a higher spiritual plane, the One World we now need to survive and prosper as a species would be an important step closer.


Truth, Suffering, Values. On Anzac Day 5

•April 22, 2015 • 2 Comments

iraq-war pain children

[Part 5 of The Pure Bugle essay on Anzac Day. The photo was taken in Iraq.]

5. Truth, Suffering and Values

Such usually ignored facts of Australian imperial military engagement [cf. previous blog post] would seem to strongly validate the cliché that truth is the first casualty of war, and thus of most war remembrances as well. They are the uncomfortable taboos, the elephants in the room, the unconscious shadows of each phony and incomplete Anzac Day: whatever you do, don’t mention the (real nature of) the wars. Don’t mention what Australian soldiers were really fighting for in almost all of their foreign wars: the imperial interests of others. Don’t mention the incalculable suffering these suffering soldiers wreaked on foreign soldiers and civilians. To do so is to risk denigration, accusations of disloyalty and treason, violence, ostracism from the tribe. Truth is usually unpopular.

Such taboos are of course not confined to Australia. Every country has these historical shadows both its rulers and collectively immature majorities usually want to suppress. The question is whether Australians are yet mature enough to face them – and those around the black dispossession and destruction of colonial settlement ‒ or whether, like obedient Germans under Hitler or most Japanese, Russians, British and Americans to this day, they will continue to look away, to simply not want to know.

Like Australian propaganda and Anzac Day, every side in war of course always frames its cause as ‘just and good’. If religious, their god is, of course, always on their side. Religious leaders on both sides bless their weapons, their righteous crusade or jihad. Participating soldiers and their families have an obvious deep need to feel part of the righteous tribe-in-war, to believe they are engaged in the ‘just and good’, even when most of them themselves frame their activities as a more modest and dutiful ‘getting on with the job’.

Will history judge Australia’s imperial wars and their immense human suffering on all sides as ‘just and good’, or as unjust and evil? Does, as just one example, actively contributing to many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, injuries, traumatisations, displacements, including those of hundreds of thousands of women and children, matter in this judgement?

The answer to this question of course raises the central issue of perspective: who will judge and whose suffering are we talking about from whose perspective? From a metaphysical or theological perspective focussed on each individual person in his or her entirety, it is hard to declare some suffering as more ‘worthy’ than others, more or less worthy of compassion and remembrance. From this deep perspective, the worst sinner and criminal is also worthy of compassion: tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner. Much crime is as much a product of ignorance and folly as of inherent pathology or evil.

Yet to not make any distinction between victim and perpetrator, innocent and guilty, is to give up on all ethics and the very notion of justice. Not all suffering can thus be equal. Most would probably agree that victims and perpetrators, the violated and the violators, should not be equally remembered. Any suffering that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or their henchman may have had, for example, is obviously immaterial when considering their horrendous crimes. Any suffering Lieutenant Calley and other murderous gangs of GIs and helicopter pilots may have felt at some point is immaterial vis-à-vis the victims of My Lai and other Vietnam War massacres.

Should the undoubted suffering and massive deaths of German and Japanese soldiers in World War Two be equally worthy of remembrance? Should there be German and Japanese equivalents of Anzac Day and War Museums (as there is in the Yasukini Shrine in Tokyo which also includes officially designated war criminals)?

If the answer is no, the same question must be raised regarding the Australian military: is the suffering of Australian soldiers involved in imperial invasions and wars of aggression and that of their families ‘equal to’ and as worthy of remembrance as are the suffering and death of homeland-defending Boer, Turkish, Vietnamese, Afghan, Iraqi soldiers, innocent women and children?

All national leaders and constructors of national identity see their wars as expressing or defending certain core values ascribed to the nation. Anzac Day is so interesting a social phenomenon because it would seem to often incorporate, often incoherently, two sets of values that have been in tension or competition within the human soul and society throughout history. Graham Seal (Inventing Anzac, 2004) has described these two sets as the top-down, officious ‘Anzac tradition’ that now dominates and the bottom-up ‘Digger tradition’, the latter originally evolved by the soldiers themselves in the Boer and First World wars based on the popular bushman and urban ‘larrikin’ stereotypes that arose in the 1890s. The latter was both more explicitly anti-authoritarian, ‘larrikin’ and more racist than the former.

Using a modified version of Seal’s typology, one could say that one set of values is more ‘masculine’ and authoritarian and has been linked to the tribe, warrior culture and the State since the Neolithic: duty, sacrifice, courage under fire, unquestioning loyalty and obedience to authority, xenophobic tribalism, macho militarism. The other set of values is more ‘feminine’ and anti-authoritarian and has been linked to actual daily life in society: egalitarianism, anti-authoritarianism, solidarity (mateship), compassion, good humour in the face of adversity, love of place and culture, courage to stand up to any injustice, disgust with war-mongering, veiled sentimentality.

Many people would seem to go to Anzac Day ceremonies in the belief that the second set of values predominate. I would argue that without a radical questioning of the militaristic forms, denials and officious propaganda of the first set of values, they simply cannot.

In contrast to the collectively narcissistic propaganda of Anzac Day, many or all of the second set of values are of course in no way exclusively Australian. They can often be expressed in many societies and cultures: in response to emergencies and disasters, in the many small decencies and generosities of daily life, in the many courageous expressions of dissent and standing up to power and unjust authority, in mass non-violent civil disobedience.

Such values ‒ especially if combined with a willingness to face the truths of Australia’s many involvements in imperial wars and wars of aggression ‒ could become the focus of an adult, rational but emotionally satisfying form of alternative Anzac Day.

The Facts on Australia’s Wars. On Anzac Day 4

•April 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment


[Part 4 of The Pure Bugle essay on Anzac Day.]

4. The Facts

Beyond its deep ambivalence and fascist potential, the other possibility for Anzac Day would be to both honour the general need to publicly mourn and feel part of a group and something larger than oneself (the religious need) and at the same time find collective, non-regressive, critically adult, and emotionally satisfying, ways of doing so. A critical adult consciousness, aware of the healthy need to both collectively mourn/belong and avoid phoney and dangerous infantile regressions, could hardly do better than to start with the facts.

The first question is: for whom, precisely, are we to mourn? The formulaic Anzac Day answer is usually something along the lines of: ‘our fallen servicemen and –women who died to keep Australia safe and free’. This propaganda is drummed into Australian schoolchildren from the earliest years. How does this popular formula accord with the historical facts?

With the laudable exception of World War Two, it doesn’t. In all its many other wars, Australia has not fought to keep Australia safe and democratic. Rather, as expressions of Australia’s willing colonial and then, after formal independence in 1901, sub-colonial or client state (or in official parlance: ‘allied’,) status, Australian armed forces have willingly, and often enthusiastically, participated in the imperial wars and ‘counter-insurgency’ interventions of the British and US empires.

These range from helping the British empire politically dominate and economically exploit various countries by killing rebelling Maoris in New Zealand (1845-72), killing Sudanese (1885-86), killing Boers (1899-1902), killing Chinese (1900-1901), killing Turks and Germans in World War I (1914-18) and killing Malayans (1948-66) to helping the US empire realize its global ambitions by killing Koreans (1950-53), Vietnamese (1965-72), Iraqis (1990-present) and Afghanis (2001-2011).

According to the Australian War Museum, the number of Australian soldiers killed in these sub-imperial ventures or wars of aggression total about 63,156 (61,516 in World War I, 1,640 in the rest, mainly in South Africa, Korea and Vietnam). The number of foreign soldiers and civilians specifically killed by these Australian participations in securing the British and US empires of course will probably never be really tallied since, to the author’s knowledge, neither the Australian War Museum nor anyone else has so far shown any real interest in doing so. One would imagine that the figure would be at least as high, and, given much higher Australian firepower in most cases, most probably considerably higher, than the number of Australian casualties.

Thus, 70,000-150,000 victims might be a quite conservative ‘guestimate’. An indication of how very great the discrepancy between Australian casualties and those of allied or enemy others could in fact be, is shown by the figures for the Gallipoli and Dardanelles campaign in 1915. While about 8,500 Australians died (many also from typhoid), so did 33,532 Allied (including British, French, New Zealand) troops and 86,692 Turks defending their homeland (R. Buchanan, SMH 1999). To my knowledge, despite later obeisance to the ‘noble Turk’, the latter figures are never much featured at Anzac Day ceremonies. It does not seem to really matter, as little as it does WHY the Anzacs were actually fighting so vigorously, namely to serve the British establishment and invade a country with which Australia itself had no quarrel.

The main point to be made here is that, with the notable and noble exception of the Pacific theatre in World War II in which Australia was under direct threat from Japanese fascist imperialism (and in which 39,648 Australians died in all), not a single one of these many other wars that killed many more non-Australians than Australians had anything to do with the actual defence of Australia against military attack and/or safeguarding Australia’s freedom from foreign domination.

The Australian military was first, and most appropriately, called the ‘Australian Imperial Force’. With the British Empire on the wane, and the US Empire on the wax, this was later changed to the ‘Australian Defence Force’.

On the statistical and historical evidence, this is a serious misnomer. Defence has only once been the reason for war. More appropriate names that should thus be debated could be the Australian Offence Force, the Australian Mercenary Force, the Australian Vassal Force, or, given the rationale of ‘we can’t defend ourselves’/‘allied insurance’ often openly admitted by the bipartisan political class, The Australian Allied Insurance Force.

The Anzac Myth and Collective Narcissism. On Anzac Day 3

•April 19, 2015 • 1 Comment

German child soldiers

[Part 3 of The Pure Bugle essay on Anzac Day. The child soldiers in the photo are of course in this case German. Note the little penises on their helmets supplementing their penis guns…]

3. The Anzac Myth, National Identity and Collective Narcissism

Anzac Day is of course more than a public ritual of mere war commemoration as common in many countries. Its structure and function is a complex one. However, the many strands of the ritual are centred around what is often even positively called the Anzac Myth, the core of a constructed Australian ‘national identity’ celebrated on Anzac Day and first consciously developed during and after World War One by Sydney Morning Herald journalist and Official War Historian C.E.W. Bean.

A succinct contemporary expression of this myth can be found in Governor-General Sir William Deane’s 1999 dawn service speeches at Anzac Cove and the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli. It is perhaps also not without significance for an understanding of the myth’s cohesive power that, like Helen Garner, Deane was no right-winger but a left-of-centre Governor General under Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating and then John Howard, one known and respected for his concerns for the Aboriginal and marginalized poor.

Deane first summarizes the myth in a fairly typical list of positive abstract values:

For Anzac is not merely about loss. It is about courage, and endurance, and duty, and love of country, and mateship, and good humour and the survival of a sense of self-worth and decency in the face of dreadful odds.

The fact that courage, endurance, duty, love of country, mateship, good humour and decency in adversity are not parochially restricted to Australian soldiers or Australians but are universal human values often displayed in many situations (and not only ‘in the face of dreadful odds’ and wars), of course does not penetrate or suit the nationalist narcissism so central to Anzac Day. To serve as core values for the construction of a ‘unique national identity’, an Australian exceptionalism, they need to be quarantined and monopolised.

Via this list the obligatory historical connection is then made to the identical values ascribed to the ancestors, specifically to the 19th century pioneers and bushmen. These are the carriers of the young colony that still – like some adolescents sent out into the world – obviously needed to be parentally ‘tested’ back ‘home’ where it counted:

These were qualities and values the pioneers had discovered in themselves […] They were tested at Gallipoli and on the ancient battlefields of Europe for the first time in the Great War.

Australians, in this proof-of-value perspective, it would seem had some kind of chip on the shoulder, some great sense of inferiority deriving, one assumes, from the derivative colonial origins, the ‘convict stain’, the historical youthfulness of culture and nationhood, the small population in an overwhelmingly vast, often hostile, continent. It seems this sense somehow needed to be ‘tested’, strenuously overcome, disproven by some ‘heroic’, ‘manly’, self-sacrificial act out in the ‘real world’, on the ‘world stage’ before the judgemental gaze of some imaginary audience of powerful nations and authority figures.

If, as in psychodynamic theory, the infant achieves primal identity through the loving gaze and unconditional love of the mother figure, then the infant settler-nation of Australia seemed to feel the need for the same admiration from the Mother Country Great Britain. In 1914 Australian men massively queued up and marched for days from all over the country to join the Australian Imperial Force and fight the British Empire’s war in Europe and the Middle East. It was the first time they had come together to do anything.

This infantile and adolescent attention seeking and collective inferiority complex (one aspect of which is actually known in Australia as the ‘cultural cringe’) would, as in another ‘young’ settler nation, the USA, seem to make up the socio-psychological explanation of the particularly strident and over-compensating form that Australian nationalism and ongoing compulsive ‘national identity-seeking’ frequently take to this day.

It is the national equivalent of the Napoleon complex or ‘little man syndrome’ also still often seen in the ‘drinking culture’ of Australian pubs or late-night streets: feeling weak or inferior, then bluster and bark loudly (‘what are you looking at!’), act aggressively, punch hard without warning. It also psychologically explains the peculiar Australian keenness to act as willing mercenaries for the imperial wars of the powerful British and US from 19th century Sudan and South Africa to Vietnam and Iraq. It is the adolescent compensatory psychology of the ultimately obedient larrikin.

The fact that Gallipoli was a military disaster then seems to, paradoxically, make it all the more suitable for heroic over-compensations. Here the spiritually ‘undefeated’ dwarf may unlock his mythic inner giant and ‘found’ a nation in obedient self-sacrifice and bloody slaughter. The thesis of the ‘Birth of Nationhood in War and Heroic Failure’ that is central to the Anzac Myth now inevitably appears.

Lacking home-grown battle sites apart from the tax riot of the Eureka Stockade and those of Aboriginal massacres, and, in a de-sacralized world of identical airports and shopping malls, perhaps even secretly envying indigenous notions of sacred sites, Turkish Gallipoli becomes another of the many Australian secular ‘icons’ like vegemite or the Hills Hoist rotary clothes line, and is simply symbolically expropriated and colonized as an Australian (read: white, male, Anglo-Celtic) ‘sacred site’:

And it [Gallipoli] was heroic even in failure. And what makes it unique is that it was where the people of Australia and New Zealand found their nationhood. […] The campaign failed but the men were not defeated. There is a crucial difference. […] While Gallipoli is Turkish land, it has become a sacred site of our nations.

Despite the official Christianity and God-references, Deane openly indulges in the blatant paganism or quasi-Shintoism of the Anzac Day belief in some sort of Valhalla of guiding warrior spirits still mystically informing the nation to this day. These ‘Anzac spirits’ are thus to be taken not only figuratively but quite literally:

They [the dead young Anzacs] are constantly with us in their and our homelands so far away. There, their spirit walks abroad. To challenge, to guide and to inspire. For as long as we remember. For as long as our nations endure.

The speech closes with another list of abstract nouns cementing in the Anzac basis of constructed ‘national identity’. The nouns then realize their own limits and we are quickly again in that special zone of Helen Garner’s ‘mysterious, nameless’, the zone of the nationalist participation mystique that is simply (Deane here citing leftist historian Manning Clark’s phrase) ‘too deep for words’. It nevertheless can be heard, albeit as a ‘whisper’, and, in a revealing and potentially threatening note of exclusion, only by the ‘true’ patriots:

We feel it in the quiet of our hearts. The sense of great sadness. Of loss. Of gratitude. Of honour. Of national identity. Of our past. Of the spirit, the depth, the meaning, and the very essence of our nations. And of the human values which those first Anzacs – and those who came after them – embodied […] And let us all be conscious of the whisper of things “too deep for words” that can be heard at Gallipoli by all who have true love of our people and our country in their hearts.

It is surely a mark of the Australian insularity and collective narcissism which Anzac Day itself celebrates that even non-right wing Anzac Day believers and ‘national identity’-forgers like Garner and Deane seem blissfully unaware of how close or even identical to other nations’ traumatic historical experience and dangerous myth-making their own notions actually are. The historical construction of the Anzac Day Myth they enthusiastically propagate could also be quite accurately described in the following fashion:

The memory of the war was refashioned into a sacred experience which provided the nation with a new depth of religious feeling, putting at its disposal ever-present saints and martyrs, places of worship, and a heritage to emulate.

The description, however, is not one of the creation of the Anzac Day myth via Charles Bean and others. It is US historian George L. Mosse’s description of the process by which the German political Right and the Nazis after 1918 created their potent, heroic and sacrificial ‘Myth of the War Experience’, the function of which was to mask the actual horrors of mass slaughter, to justify the war’s imperial purpose and ultimately to ‘legitimise bellicose nationalism’ of their own fascist kind. As an important practical expression of this bellicose nationalism and political myth-making, the Nazis, according to Mosse, made the cult of the war martyrs ‘central to their own political liturgy.’

Whatever else it may be for many uncritical, innocent or left-of-centre participants, a pagan religious ‘cult of war martyrs’ Anzac Day certainly also is. (As is its permanent architectural embodiment and Canberra’s core ‘sacred site’, the Australian War Memorial, an obligatory excursion venue for many a school class. As a ‘sacred’, ‘cult of war martyrs’ site, it is an exact Australian equivalent of the controversial Japanese Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo or the Nazi Ehrentempel for their ‘martyrs’ in Munich destroyed as part of US ‘denazification’ in 1947.)


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