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Anzac exclusions: making a nation ignorant of rape

By Rob Cover - posted Wednesday, 29 April 2015


Regardless of the extent to which a person residing in Australia or New Zealand might feel an affinity with Anzac Day, it is broadly acknowledged as a day which has been marked as somehow sacred, protected against supposed indignities and exclusive of ideas which might challenge the 'purity' of the nation and of masculine militarism.

One might, of course, expect this to be even further the case on the centennial anniversary, and it may indeed have been sensible for some to remain silent in 2015 and save their perspectives for the 101st anniversary instead. On the other hand, of course, the milestone anniversary of one hundred years might be an appropriate time to raise questions about what the Anzac spirit (or Anzac myth) upholds and the kinds of injustices that tend to remain unspoken broadly in a country that 'purifies' itself through reference to Anzac.

RAPE AND WAR

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SBS sports journalist Scott McIntyre was sacked as a result of public and political outrage after he tweeted references to, among other critiques of the Anzac myth, rape by soldiers in war. McIntyre pointed to several objections to the annual celebration of masculine warrior aggression and the ways in which wars and invasions are justified, including equating the use of the atomic bomb in Japan as a terrorist act and, most importantly, rape by soldiers as a norm of war.

McIntyre was reportedly sacked not for the comments he tweeted per se, but for the refusal to take them down, ultimately pointing to the fact SBS bosses objected to the idea of a criticism on Anzac Day being given longevity in a twitter record.

While some of the commentary is, arguably, extreme, the points about rape during a time of war are remarkably important and worthy of being raised in the context of the highly-masculinised Anzac memorialisation as myth of the nation. While the extent of rape in military-occupied sites that occurred during the first world war is very unclear, rape during war is a fact, often excused as the outcome of the necessary warriors' belief in the right of conquest (of territory, of its inhabitants) and the typical boys-will-be-boys argument.

Anzac Day itself is allegedly sometimes a day of rape, although what we're seeing increasingly is an "immunisation" of the day from any critical discourse on topics of justice. It is a day when unjust behaviour is forgotten and, nearly as troubling, a day when any Australian principle of freedom of speech, however flawed, is suspended in favour of punishing a journalist for tweeting a viewpoint.

McIntyre's tweets were described as offensive, inappropriate, untimely, immature, including by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. They might alternatively be read as raising important issues about war-both historical and current-and the problems of providing the figure of the soldier beyond hero-status and placing it in the framework of an uber-man myth above the law, above justice and above dignified treatment of women as the central point of official reference for Australian nationalism. Perhaps extreme, but certainly worthy of considered public discussion in light of the continuing dominance of narrow masculine behaviours and forms of aggressiveness in political debate, social and sporting institutions and broad, everyday settings of Australian-ness.

Important here is that McIntyre and the comments were condemned as being wholly out of line, despite a powerful report from Rafi Alam at New Matilda which identified twelve occasions on which well-known conservative commentators stated things arguably more offensive to everyday Australians but managed to keep their jobs.

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Resulting from the highly sacrosanct way in which Anzac Day is a day protected from valid cultural criticism (of war, of soldiers' behaviour in war, of masculine aggression), McIntyre's tweets were regarded as being so left-of-field that he become depicted as an insane, isolated individual with views so far out-of-step.

However, the comments pointing to rape by soldiers in times of war did not exactly occur in isolation as a mere outburst from an individual. Rather, there is a broad history of raising the issue of rape-during-war on or around Anzac Day. This has included, in the early 1980s, the protest action "Women Against Rape in War" which demonstrated Anzac Parades and laid wreaths in honour of the women raped by soldiers in historical wars. These protests resulted in many arrests, not surprisingly, as well as a 1981 Canberra traffic ordinance making it illegal to interfere with the Anzac march.

McIntyre's posts draw on a subjugated and sidelined discourse of questioning Anzac Day, and is certainly not an individual piece of offence but grounded in pre-existing histories of criticism of the mythologisation of Anzac in contemporary Australia.

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About the Author

Dr Rob Cover is Associate Professor in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at The University of Western Australia where he researches and publishes on digital media theory, youth suicide and cultural studies. His recent book is Queer Youth Suicide, Culture and Identity (Ashgate 2012) and his work on GLBTIQ youth suicide and self-harm has appeared in a number of scholarly journals, including Reconstruction.

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