Australia, 11 November 2013: Commemorative event commemorates commemorative event.

Twenty years after the interring of the Unknown Australian Soldier at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, former Prime Minister Paul Keating returned to the site of his eulogy – now inscribed in bronze on a wall close to the Tomb – and gave another speech reiterating his vision of the links between the Great War and Australian national identity.

Keating, Prime Minister between 1991 and 1996, did much to re-popularise the Anzac legend in the 1990s, although he attached it to political projects like Republicanism in a way that his Liberal and Labor successors did not.

Media coverage of this speech (a commemorative event commemorating a commemorative event) varied, but picked up on the assertive theoretic.  The Murdoch-owned Australian suggested that the Great War was ‘devoid of virtue’, whilst the more liberally-minded, Fairfax owned Sydney Morning Herald led with an op-ed based on the idea that Australians are too wise to be cannon fodder again.  The Fairfax-onwed Canberra Times led with Keating’s warning to Australians to be wary of the grand alliances and grand schemes that initiated Europe’s century of terror and totalitarianism.

The ABC’s 7.30 program featured commentary from Joan Beaumont and Peter Stanley, who both highlighted the political nature of commemorative activity that comes at the expense of historical understanding.

On the same day in England, the BBC reported the funeral of a childless Second World War veteran, Harold Jellicoe Percival, that was attended by about 500 members of the public at Lytham St Anne’s in Lancashire, as well as coverage of events around the United Kingdom and in Belgium.

The BBC was also reporting far-right violence on Poland’s independence day (originally 11 November 1918).

Ben Wellings

Ben Wellings is Lecturer of European Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

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Ben Wellings

Ben Wellings is Lecturer of European Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

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