Jihadis shout “Allah Akbar” (God is Great) when killing. “To the glory of God” are the first words on the 1964 dedication plaque on the National War Memorial in Wellington.
Often a god is a companion in war.
The wilful slaughter of innocents is not the same as defence of the homeland. But not too far back in Christian history aggressors invoked their Christian God as an aide-de-camp in battle. Victory vindicated righteousness.
Yet the New Testament’s righteousness lies not in divisive enmity but in turning the other cheek, loving others as oneself, valuing and building common humanity.
There is a form of common humanity in war, comradeship in the vale of violent death. Anzac day, first marked 100 years ago yesterday, can be read in that sense — not as war “glory” but as shared experience at Gallipoli and after.
The two partners in that original Anzac have differed often on military matters since. There was barely an Anzac in the 1980s when anti-nuclear New Zealand was barred from the tripartite Anzus alliance with the United States. New Zealand did not join those other two in Iraq in 2003.
Still that 1915 battle bond continues to be invoked as implying shared cross-Tasman culture and history: mates, brothers, sisters, family.
Is it actually so?
We do share a common colonisation by imperial Britain, which bequeathed similar governing and judicial institutions. We developed similar blokeyness and drawls and worship of hard sport. On those and related day-to-day culture matters, the distinctions we draw are smaller than the similarities.
We mix. More than half a million New Zealand-borns live in Australia to feed off its far higher wages and salaries. There are mutual rights of residence and work (though not of citizenship and access to public services).
The economies are deeply meshed (though momentum to deepen that into a “single economic market” has stalled). Our militaries now cooperate, up to a point.
But does that mixing, meshing and cooperation make us family, as Anzac-toters intone?
There are yawning differences. The flora, fauna, geologies and climates are worlds apart. Australia is a sprawling continent, New Zealand a skinny archipelago.
Size spawns asymmetry which for us, the smaller one, is more Anz-angst than Anzac (witness the prisoner controversy). An Australian history can ignore New Zealand, a New Zealand history cannot ignore Australia.
When John Key wants something from Malcolm Turnbull he is supplicant, not equal. Though Turnbull has recently been a bit more responsive than his three predecessors, it is generally the rule that Australian officials and ministers pay attention when something fits their domestic priorities, not to deepen the relationship.
Another deep difference is the impact of the original settlers — Australia’s there for 40,000 years or more, ours for 700 years — on our two peoples’ senses of ourselves.
Maori are much more part of the way of living here than Aborigines are in Australians’. That cultural impact, especially since migration has rebuilt the link with Polynesia’s islands, has taken New Zealand from parked in the Pacific to being of the Pacific.
Australia (though now home to growing numbers of Maori and Pasifika) is on the Pacific’s edge, facing also west to Africa and north to Indonesia.
So, even as we mix across the wide Tasman, we are growing more distinct.
What, then, is the Anzac bond?
In Australia the NZ in Anzac is often low-key or even silent as in Anzus. A London Review of Books essay on Gallipoli books on May 21 2015 did not mention New Zealand.
So is there a time coming — say, after 2018 when the 1914-18 imperial war will be 100 years past– when we will think of Anzac with the A low-key or silent?
Anzac day here is already a national day of sorts, supplementing, and in some minds supplanting, Waitangi Day. We swapped Governors-General for our Gallipoli centennials last year. But New Zealand’s focus is on New Zealand’s national evolution, not special thoughts about Australia.
And invoking Anzac, a military experience, to symbolise wider people-to-people and governmental relationships, is at odds with reality. Australia is tightly allied to the United States. New Zealand asserts an “independent foreign policy” which even Americanophile Key avers.
Australia does loom large in our economic and social consciousness, as the United States does for Canada, England for Scotland, Germany for Austria.
But China looms larger and New Zealand’s external interests are much more diverse — and confident — than on the first Anzac day in 1916 or even in 1983 when the trans-Tasman Closer Economic Relationship was agreed. The ethnic mix reflects that wider span.
Military memories are formative in any national narrative, as the “glory of God” war memorial dedication witnesses (though we don’t yet commemorate the 1860s civil war).
But they are Aotearoa/New Zealand’s memories, not a mythical bond of two distinct peoples and nations. Time for Nzac?