Harold Wilkinson, Quaker Peace and Legislation Committee

War cemetery ManilaThe Anzac Centenary and other World War I commemorations threaten to engulf the next four years in displays of militarised versions of Australia’s national identity.

However, these same commemorations also provide many opportunities for Australian Friends to innovatively engage on the theme of “peace not war” with the broader Australian community.

Australian and New Zealand Friends have a problem not shared by Friends in the United Kingdom and North America where commemoration is focusing on the Great War as an historic tragedy. However, the Anzac stories, in particular the landing at Gallipoli, are mythologised in Australia as valuable bases for national identity.

For nearly 100 years, Australian Friends have considered the challenges of Anzac commemoration. In 1923, the Melbourne Meeting responded to the designation of Anzac Day as a public holiday, having the same legal status as Christmas Day, with a Minute:

Anzac Day, apart from Australian heroism, represented at best a historic instance of bungling and incapacity in high places. Armistice Day, despite its ultimate outcome of disappointment, stood for the possibility of larger international relationships based upon generosity (The Australasian Friend)

Friends who considered these matters at YM in Brisbane believed it was important to unravel the mixed messages of Anzac Day, to challenge militarism and to speak truth to power,

They were aware that our words and actions will be taken more seriously if Friends become more knowledgeable about WWI and its impact of war on all Australians. It will be useful for Friends to share titles of books and documentary films which focus on war without glorifying it.

They saw the need to share the stories “our fathers and grandfathers never told us”, as well as the women’s stories, including how their father’s experience of war affected them – while still recognizing the courage and suffering of the soldiers.

We are aware of the need to become more realistic in understanding the impact of war on soldiers, their families, and on the whole of Australia. We suggest that some Friends may consider making contact with local RSL leaders to begin a mutually respectful dialogue. We recognised the challenges of working with the media and local dignitaries to build awareness of, and support for, a Peace-No More War message.

In developing a more comprehensive idea of Australia’s history, one idea was to connect with the Honest History group (www.honesthistory.net.au). Honest History is a forum and resource that welcomes contributions from Quakers.


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