Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Australia Looks Back for National Identity Youths Question the Tradition of Honoring Veterans from Long-Past Wars - a Letter from Sydney

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Australia Looks Back for National Identity Youths Question the Tradition of Honoring Veterans from Long-Past Wars - a Letter from Sydney

Article excerpt

AS Australian men and women duck bullets as part of the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Cambodia and Somalia, back at home their countrymen waved at a handful of uniformed World War I veterans in their 90s.

The occasion was ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) Day. The national holiday commemorates the men who fought in the landing of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. It now includes veterans of other battles in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. But as the country changes, this holiday, which is so bound up with Australia's sense of national identity, is changing too.

For a country with such a small population, Australia has always sent more than its share of men to war - usually to help Britain or the United States.

Capital cities and small towns had ANZAC parades, and many held memorial services at 4:30 a.m., the time of the landing. The Sun-Herald, based in Sydney, had a page called "Where to Meet Your Mates Today," which listed 99 reunions for groups such as the Combined Biscuit Bombers Assn., the HMAS Indefatigable, and the Squadron Royal Australian Air Force Assn.

"World War I represents the coming-of-age of our nation on the world scene," says Melford Roe, a retired Army officer and Vietnam veteran. "We only became a federation in 1901. By the time World War I started, we still had the trappings of a British colony. The defense forces were commanded by British officers. As the war started, it was the first opportunity for Australia to stand on its own feet militarily."

The soldiers, as the myth goes, embodied Australian virtues of innovation, contempt for authority, and laconic courage.

IN recent years there has been a growing recognition of the contributions by women and non-whites; Aborigines, Torres Straits Islanders, and Papua New Guineans. This year, being the UN Year of Indigenous Peoples, there was a particular focus on their contributions. …

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