Come in Spinner: : Another year, another ANZAC Day and…surprise, surprise some new angles

Two of the most moving monuments in Washington DC are Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial and the nearby Lincoln Memorial.

The Maya Lin monument has been spoiled by an awful traditional sculpture erected by conservatives insisting that the former was disrespectful and not appropriate.

Both Maya Lin’s wall, including the heart-rending objects and messages so many people post on it, and the Lincoln Memorial are also spoiled by the various nearby kiosks promoting various conspiracy theories about missing US servicemen and the need to ‘bring our boys back’.

In fact the Vietnamese Government has been remarkably generous in the time and effort put into repatriating the remains of missing US soldiers (the best–selling thriller writer, Lee Child, has written a great yarn, Tripwire, based on this) and also a number of Australian servicemen’s remains – the most recent return celebrated by Kevin Rudd as ‘drawing a line’ under the conflict.

Until recently there has been less emphasis on the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese ‘missing’ – victims of bombing and fire-fights.

So it was moving to read in The Sunday Age (24/4/11) a story reporting that records mapping the location of 3906 Vietnamese soldiers killed and buried by Australians during the Task Force operations had been given to Vietnam. Often the NVA and Viet Cong removed bodies of those killed before the US and other troops could make ‘body counts’ but others were buried where they were killed. Australian unit operational records provide grid references to where this occurred. Now two Australian Defence Forces Academy (ADFA) academics, Derrill de Heer and Bob Hall, have provided the Vietnamese Government with the details of where the 3906 are buried. Whether the Australian Government will offer the same support to the Vietnamese as we got in repatriating our troops’ remains is still to be seen, but the story was still a welcome change from the ritualistic nature of much Anzac Day reporting.

The Age (23/4/11) also published a long feature on some of us (including Don Watson) who had contributed, through Australia Remembers, speeches and PR campaigns to the current attitudes to Anzac Day. I found the bits of information the reporter took from an interview with me, a crikey article and my latest book quite fascinating and insightful (well I would wouldn’t I) and was only slightly miffed that none of it was attributed to me whereas a few ‘colourful’ quotes were.

A University of South Australia researcher, Sharon Mascall-Dare, was also off at Gallipoli researching how the media cover the Australian commemorative activities at that famous and historic Turkish site, Gelibolu. Gelibolu is a trip all Australians should make, if possible, just not on April 25 unless you have a professional reason, as Sharon did, to do so. Trips outside that day give you time to get some perspective about why it was really important.

Ms Mascall-Dare has been working on a PhD on Anzac day media coverage and has already published a paper (delivered first at an ADFA conference in November last year on Information Warfare) on how the media reports Anzac Day. Thankfully some of her media people she interviewed in her research exhibited some cynicism; some expressed fear about how to avoid getting it wrong and causing offence; some insisted that only those with military experience ought to be allowed to cover the sacred day; and, some just cried out for help about how to make their reporting fresh and less formulaic. She is now working on a style guide and handbook to help the media do its job better.

Griffith Review 32 also featured an excellent piece by Greg Lockhart which canvassed, again, the evidence debunking much of the conventional wisdom about how we got our Gallipoli forces together in an amazing six weeks and how we rushed off to confront the Prussian menace. His views, and the evidence-based revelations of John Mordike (see An Army for a Nation Allen &Unwin 1992) who he cites in the article, are controversial – particularly in the News Limited media.

Skipping over most of the rest of the coverage – other than the odd bits of commentary from the ABC team calling the Collingwood-Essendon match – I can’t judge just how formulaic the rest was.

But perhaps by the 2015 anniversary we might even get some discussion of how the Japanese were our allies at the time; protected our shores; escorted our troops to Gallipoli – and were then repaid by Billy Hughes’ Versailles histrionics arguing against a racial equality clause in the League of Nations Covenant.

Ritual declaration of interest: The author is a returned servicemen, worked on the Australian Remembers campaign and has assisted (in a very small way) Ms Mascall-Dare with her research.