We’ve just had our Anzac Day ceremonies here. Attendance at the dawn services and veteran marches is growing by the year, they say. This year something new emerged on one of my favorite radio shows, Late Night Live with Phillip Adams — an interview with Hugh Dolan author of 36 Days: The Untold Story of the Anzac Assault, 25 April 1915. The program is headed Dispelling the Gallipoli ANZAC myths. I subsequently watched the related TV program, Gallipoli From Above: The Untold Story. And of course I’ve ordered the book! One more to read, damn it.
There are many facets of the Anzac myth that will continue to be discussed and one of them is the perennial question: Why do Australians celebrate a military defeat as “the moment” that supposedly defined us as “a nation” or cast in bronze what we call our “national identity”?
Commentators are forever discussing the irony of our nation apparently “taking pride” in a military defeat.
How does that jell with what New Testament historians use as criteria of historical authenticity? So we celebrate a defeat. Does this not conform well with the criterion of embarrassment? Nobody would choose to celebrate a defeat unless it really happened, would they? And the story has been sustained by multiple independently attested sources, hasn’t it, over the years. So here we surely see in this event at least two criterion of authenticity found to be entirely validated.
But the Anzac story gets into more detail. The landing itself was a bloodbath. At dawn, under heavy fire. The Australians were victims of British incompetence and were landed at the wrong beach for starters.
No-one would make up a story in which they were the victims of such incompetence and disaster, would they?
Well, 36 Days suggests that that’s exactly what “we” have done now for almost 100 years.