Editorial: Not forgotten

Last updated 05:00 26/04/2010

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OPINION: The history of Anzac Day remembrance has been shaped by memory and ideals – memories and ideals that have changed over the decades since the landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.

The commemoration therefore has reflected the great alterations that New Zealand has undergone in those 95 years.

Yesterday's services saw the men and women of World War II and will continue to see many of them in future years. But their number is dwindling and thoughts thus turn to the Anzac Days of the future.

They will be different in the same way that the passing of the Great War service people changed the celebration. It became less focused on the events in Samoa, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey and France and more on the fight against Fascism.

The coming change – and it is already happening – will surely bring a wider perspective to Anzac Day.

Service to the nation in the many conflicts that have engaged it will be recalled, thanks will be given, memories of fathers and grandfathers rekindled, and the cost of their sacrifice contemplated.

As well, the various smaller wars and disturbances which are bound to continue to require New Zealand service personnel will place real soldiers in the nation's gaze.

That is now being personified by Willie Apiata, whose bravery and bearing inspires New Zealanders. Yet he is but one among many soldiers, airmen and sailors who are with us, and will be for many years, and who have risked their lives in our cause.

They, though, live in a different community to the one that nurtured and supported the men and women of 1939-1945.

Significantly, the beginning of that change was signalled in the 1960s and 1970s when the alliance with the United States and its entangling of us in Vietnam stoked opposition to Anzac Day and its alleged glorification of war.

Anzac services were disrupted – not least in Christchurch – and the military and all those associated with it denigrated. Turnout on April 25 declined. Pessimism was rife that New Zealand's war contributions would be written out of the nation's history, or at least heavily discounted.

That those predictions proved wrong is tribute to the good sense of New Zealanders and their growing confidence in appreciating the complexity of their history.

That which not so long previously had seemed an unbridgeable divide – between those who detested war and those who had waged it – closed.

A common understanding arose that New Zealand could and should be fervent for peace while being thankful to those who had defended its freedom.

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Both aspirations are fraught with moral ambiguities but are powerful for all that. They produced the anti-nuclear stance and the just-about-permanent deployment in peacekeeping – both hugely popular and supported on both sides of politics.

We can still skew the national consensus, as is happening with the attempt to sell the white poppy of peace on the same day as the red poppy of sacrifice. It is disrespectful grandstanding, a silly stunt, from the peace movement.

It should move its appeal day away from the Anzac remembrance, if only to ensure the nation's total of giving goes to the welfare of needy service people.

But this is a minor row and did not disrupt New Zealand's wholehearted concentration yesterday on Anzac. Neither is there anything on the horizon that threatens the unity of the day.

Voices last week were raised, predicting a decline in turnout over the coming decades, but that is unlikely to eventuate. The respect for what our fighting men and women achieved and the honour they brought us is now deeply and uncontroversially embedded in the nation's psyche.

The Press pages on New Zealand's military history, which we printed in the lead-up to Anzac Day, are but one example of this. They were prized by readers, and schools have taken them in large numbers. A hunger exists for hearing again the old tales of valour and service.

The men and women who performed those deeds will not be forgotten and Anzac Day will live on in their honour.

- The Press

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