When I was a kid at primary school in the 1960s, the whole school would get called out on Anzac Day and lined up to hear old geezers talking about Gallipoli. It seemed like we stood wilting for hours in the hot sun hearing how "our boys" died for King and Country. I remember thinking uncharitably that when all the old soldiers died of old age we wouldn't have to keep doing this every year. The best part was hearing the bugle which signalled the parade was over and we could troop back to class.
Now, all the Great War veterans are indeed dead but it seems Anzac ceremonies have only got stronger. A lot has been made about the younger generations "taking the torch" from their great-grandparents and taking a day out to remember their sacrifice. Some right-wing politicians have got so swept up in this reverence that they are suggesting we should make Anzac Day our national day.
I suppose the myth of Waitangi Day - celebrating the signing of a treaty between Maori and the British proclaiming partnership and equality for all - doesn't wash as well as it used to. So, having another day to celebrate our nationhood is rather attractive. But the Anzac Day story is just another myth that makes us feel warm inside. The truth behind Anzac Day is dirty and sordid.
The New Zealand ruling establishment last century couldn't wait to snap to attention to support Imperial Britain. In 1900, in New Zealand's first imperialist adventure, they sent their sons off to South Africa to kill the Boers who were fighting an independence war against Britain. New Zealand troops were part of the invading army which set up concentration camps that caused the deaths of thousands of women and children. When the call came again from Mother England to fight the Germans, we couldn't volunteer our sons fast enough.
Ordinary New Zealanders who declined to slaughter other human beings on behalf of European feudal rulers were imprisoned. Some were even shipped off to war anyway.
The combining of Australian and New Zealand soldiers into the same army corps was a decision made in England. Anzacs were sent to the French trenches to replace the hundreds of thousands of young Europeans already slaughtered there. But on the way there, the British Generals let the colonials in on their true destination - Gallipoli.
Trench warfare in France and Belgium is what most of the world remembers about World War I. The purpose of the war was which European countries would win global domination. The war was fought to get control of the collapsing Ottoman Empire; an empire including most of what we call the Middle East. Why? Because that's where the oil was. It seems nothing much has changed in 100 years. Western meddling in the Middle East has a long and tragic history.
So the British sent the Anzacs, with hundreds of thousands of other allied armies, to invade Turkey. Of course, as we know, it was a complete disaster, and "Little Johnnie Turk" kicked our butt hard. Eventually our soldiers slunk off to France where the incompetent members of the British ruling class continued to send them to pointless deaths. In fact, New Zealanders were among the top casualties per head of population.
When our politicians lay claim to the sacrifice and bravery of our soldiers on Anzac Day, let's not forget most of these men didn't have much choice. New Zealand troops were a conscripted army and our then government allowed British firing squads to execute New Zealanders who wouldn't fight. Many members of the first Labour Cabinet in 1935 actively opposed this war and went to jail for it. Several prominent Maori leaders were also imprisoned because they actively campaigned to stop Maori being conscripted. Much of the bravery shown was by people who refused to join this insanity and suffered mightily for it. It's a reflection of the real mood of New Zealanders when, after the war, they elected these war opponents to Government.
Even the folklore of Gallipoli of Kiwi and Aussie mateship didn't become part of the agreed story until after the war. After all, our political masters needed New Zealanders to think something good had come out of Gallipoli and to feel better about allowing stupid Brits to get us killed invading someone else's country.
In the end, our sacrifice helped our colonial masters come out of the war reasonably well. Britain and France divided the Middle East up between them into specially designed new colonies. New puppet rulers were then imposed on the local inhabitants once they had signed oil deals with the victors. Almost all the current mess between rival communities in the Middle East can be tracked back to this point. The sad thing is, Britain and the US are making the same mistakes that were made 100 years ago.
Don't get me wrong though. Remembering the fallen in pointless wars is a good thing. I recommend a good dose of Wilfred Owens' poems to really honour the dead and the fruitlessness of war rather than scripted platitudes of politicians we get on Anzac Day.
If we really take the Anzac message seriously we should be campaigning to get Western troops, including ours, out of the Middle East now. Ninety years ago we supported an invasion of the Middle East for oil. We still are.
Lest we forget? Get real; we never got the story correct first time.