Jim Hopkins on current issues

Jim Hopkins is a Herald columnist

Jim Hopkins: Anzac Day values needed every day

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The values of Anzac Day - honour, duty and service - need to be rediscovered by New Zealanders. Photo / Christine Cornege
The values of Anzac Day - honour, duty and service - need to be rediscovered by New Zealanders. Photo / Christine Cornege

The trouble with Anzac Day is the rest of the year. There's a disjunct. The two don't gel. They're at odds with each other. The mood of the morning is too fast forgotten or flatly contradicted.

There were big crowds here - just a handful of veterans, frail and slow, but hundreds of children - on Wednesday, first at dawn and then at the Commemoration Service later in the morning.

Lots of people said it was "A great day for it." (Perhaps the soldiers said the same, crouched in their boats, heading for the cove. "Great day for it, Sarge.", "Yes, Corporal, it is. Just keep your head down.")

But it was a good day for it. The sun shone on our backs, the scent of roses hung in the air and the massive blast of the 25 pounder was a big hit with the kids - well, the older ones. It did make some babies cry.

"They think it's real,"someone said.

There were speeches here, as there were throughout the country; some good, some dull, some shown on telly.

And all of them, you imagine, would have crossed similar ground and mined similar themes.

These are some of the qualities we were invited to remember, respect and even salute - duty, courage, service, bravery, unity, commitment, loyalty, honour, belief in a common purpose and responsibility.

And, yes, the sociologists will tell you that each of those is an abstraction, and an invention as well. And they may be right, but then again, so are "rights" and "entitlements" and so is "victimhood" and "oppression" and "cultural identity" and "alienation" and "grievance" and "sovereignty" and "privilege" all the other divisive and corrosive notions that dominate our daily debate.

For these are the bones we gnaw on, incessantly, obsessively, day after day, in fact, every day but Anzac Day.

Last Monday, for example, 35 hours before the Dawn Parade, Close Up ran a story featuring two vehement brothers from the north whose inflammatory language (they used the word "nigger", apparently) and determination to reclaim "their" land provoked a "huge response" - 2000 hits on the programme's website, we were told on Tuesday evening (11 hours before the Dawn Parade).

Such a reaction should surprise no one. If Norwegian television had featured an interview with Anders Brievek (as a representative of extreme opinion) a year before he committed his foul crimes, that would have provoked an similar response there.

But the folks on Close Up weren't the least concerned about the probity of their first item. Sensing that they - and their ratings - were on to a good thing, they rescratched the itch on Tuesday night, staging a studio debate between John Ansell and Hone Harawira (plus a blogger called Morgan Godfery who didn't say much but seemed well versed in the new ideology.)

The choice of talent makes it clear the programme wasn't interested in rational debate. Bringing John Ansell and Hone Harawira together (so to speak) to discuss race relations is rather like trying to put out a fire by pouring petrol on it.

Each represents an extreme, though, from memory, only Ansell was advised that he did, to which he replied that all he wanted was for the state to be "colour blind" - and there was nothing "extremist" in that.

And he's right. Most New Zealanders - plus many credible philosophers around the world - would say exactly the same thing, citing the Nazis and the Boers and more besides to support their case. We surely inhabit a mad, topsy turvy, Through the Looking Glass world when such a view is labelled "extremist". Wrong, maybe, but not "extreme".

Lest we forget, the New Zealand Army (50 per cent of which are soldiers of Maori descent - including one with a V.C.) is a "totally colour blind" organisation, according to one recent ex-serviceman interviewed on Anzac Day. So it surely cannot be "extreme" to suggest that the state which oversees the Army should be the same.

Peace could learn a lot from war. Not just in terms of the technology it employs - though it could do that too - but particularly in relation to the attitudes that prevail.

By endorsing and sustaining a fractious, racially charged civil war of words in this country our elites make a mockery of the values they espouse and we remember on April 25.

If honour and duty and service and responsibility and courage and unity were values championed every day, this would be a happier, more harmonious and stronger nation.

Rediscovering that language is not just an opportunity for the leaders of our main political parties, it's an obligation.

If we want a new focus, it's easily found. The values of Anzac Day are there, waiting. We just need to be brave enough to rediscover them. Age does not weary those values - it's the rest of the year that condemns us.

- NZ Herald

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