When we Australians think of Anzac Day, we normally focus on the initial Big A and not on the small nz
. The day is often turned into a celebration of Australian national identity, replete with Australian cloaks and flags, reference to Australian warrior values embodied in military campaigns and an undertone of exclusion of later migrant groups whose ancestors either did not fight in our wars or fought with our enemies. New Zealanders are made honorary Australians for the day, and their values, whatever they may be, are forgotten in the celebration.
This year those values will not be good enough. Anzac Day is celebrated in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre when over fifty Muslim New Zealand citizens were gunned down at prayer in the name of warrior values that pitted white people against Muslim people in a struggle to the death. Suspicion of Islam has also been a persistent theme in Australian public life and has been mined for political advantage.
In the light of all this Australians celebrating Anzac Day this year cannot assume that New Zealanders share the operative values that are deemed Australian. Indeed, this Anzac Day New Zealanders can recall us to its more authentic meanings. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded to the crisis by being going out to the Muslim survivors as precious members of the New Zealand community.
She wept with them, wearing a headscarf as a vulnerable human being and as representative of the New Zealand people. She resolutely resisted the temptation to focus the attention on the killer and his guns, and insisted on what united New Zealanders, not on what divided them among themselves or distinguished them from other peoples. She modelled grief, steadfastness, compassion and community building for her people.
Seen through the lens of Christchurch what unites New Zealanders and Australians this Anzac Day is sadness at the death of so many young men and at the devastation of the lives of their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, fiancées and children. It is incredulity that the politicians of the day did not halt the march to war and sent them to their deaths. It is grief for those who have been violently killed more recently in both our nations.
It is recognition of the power of hatred, resentment and ambition, of fascination with the gadgetry and bling of war, and of the illusion that war can make a man. These things can take our eyes away from the people whose lives are robbed from them because of our inattention. What should unite Australians and New Zealanders is a resolute focus on the persons who matter and sadness at the waste that led to their deaths.
In both our nations we may hope for more leaders like Jacinda Ardern who will shape the public conversation and symbols of our nations by their simplicity and steady focus on what matters and particularly on the people who matter. Central among them are those who are most excluded. If in the relationship between our nations that means a smaller a and a larger NZ, so be it.