Island Life by David Slack

More Dagg, more Trevs, more War

Fred Dagg, your fans still love you. As if there were any doubt. All kinds of email from people about yesterday's post and many of them from ardent fans.

The farther you are from New Zealand, it seems, the fonder the memory.

"I don't suppose you have access to a clip where he says 'Kick it in the guts Trev' at all, do you?" writes David from Seattle. Not that I could find in The Dagg Sea Scrolls, David, but if you point your browser here , I'm sure Noizyboy will be happy to send you a copy of the Fred Dagg Anthology. That must surely have the line in there somewhere.

Ian - born in the UK in 1962, raised in Ponsonby - writes from Barbados that he remembers getting Fred Dagg's Greatest Hits for his birthday sometime in his late pre-teens "and the whole family learnt it word-perfect over the Christmas holidays. Talk about pissed Trev. I was devastated when he went to Melbourne….For me, he was one of the characters who helped define who we were as a country."

I was asking whether the phenomenon has as much appeal to people born after - say- 1965. Emma says she was born in 1972 and can recite the Phone Call sketch word-perfect "until I collapse with laughter and can't speak. Of course, I was born in Taihape, which might be a mitigating factor."

John Shears, on the other hand, who has a few more decades on the clock, says he finds him a bit dated now, He heard him on the radio recently and "couldn't really get wound up. However one Man's Fish is another Man's Poisson. I must be getting old."

John also mentions The War. Here in North Shore City, each ANZAC day they used to haul out a plywood oddity to serve as the memorial outside the council chambers. Some years ago, they replaced it with a proper memorial, which John notes has recently been planted with Poppies which may well be flowering for ANZAC day.

They may not be the true Flanders poppy but I think that the person who organised the propagation and planting deserves a decent pat on the back especially as they will be flowering in the Autumn rather than the spring as they do in Europe.

Oh, but this business of remembrance is an interesting one.

Scott writes that his recollections are much the same as mine.

People mentioned "the war" in conversations and we all knew what they meant. Sunday afternoons in my youth usually meant a B&W "war" film in which the Brits (or yanks) won. The strong anti-war sentiments of Vietnam protesters must have been a shock to the old cobbers but you didn't mention the reaction against anti-Springbok tour protesters. Comments from these old geezers were not what you might call gentlemanly. I tended to think of them as the "get ya bloody haircut ya look like a girl" brigade in which conservative forces of the state eg the police, were always right.

But is my impression accurate? Michael Miles writes:

Your description of RSA members being 'typically on one side of a political divide that stood man to man with LBJ and the USA against the threat of toppling dominoes in South East Asia', may not be entirely correct. I am a true blue baby boomer born 1947 and was of military age when NZ was seriously considering conscription to support the armed conflict in Vietnam. We nearly followed Australia but Prime Minister Holyoake was swayed by the RSA view that conscription would be further unnecessary loss of young NZ lives so close to the end WWII. I am eternally grateful for that decision. I had no wish to be killed fighting for a premise that I didn't believe in.

I believe that the Hawks amongst the RSA are atypical. I had 6 uncles serve overseas during WWII. 5 came home, one is buried close to El Alamein where he fell. The two left alive today (one 88, one 91) still do not attend ANZAC Day services or go anywhere near the RSA. It has only been in the last ten years that both of them have started talking about their experiences. 'Lest we forget' is not for the survivors or participants of conflict. It is for the generations that follow.

He makes a very good point, and I see I was a little loose with my language when I used the word "typically". I remember a hawkishness and a conservatism, but he's quite right: it was by no means universal, and it's possible the characterisation may not accurately apply to a majority of either the members of the RSA, or of course, those returned soldiers who chose not to associate with it. What I'm left with all these years later is the recollection of the political divisions between older conservatives and younger radicals, and the manner in which ANZAC day became one of the focus points for that disagreement.

Ryan Brown-Haysom in a piece in Critic
marking a previous ANZAC day, quotes Professor Tom Brooking, who remembers the days when it seemed that Anzac Day was on the verge of obsolescence.

"People of my generation were quite hostile towards it, and indeed Anzac Day almost died, really. It was getting very peripheral, marginal with the whole anti-Vietnam War movement in the late 60s and early 70s. It became something almost of a pariah to my generation".

The Critic piece has some other useful observations to make.

TV One's coverage of Anzac Day last year ("It was an act of ultimate sacrifice on a windswept peninsula a long way from home …") suggests a greater willingness to swallow the familiar aspects of the Anzac myth than to challenge its implications. Are soldiers the heroes of war, or its victims? Should we focus on individual acts of courage, or on the military and diplomatic blunders that lead nations into war in the first place? And how much does Anzac Day really teach young people about the realities of war? Is it right to 'celebrate' Anzac Day, or should it remain a day of mourning? I don't know the answers to any of those questions, but I think they are at least worth asking.

James develops this further, and I'll leave the last word to him.

…I think it's worth noting that individual reactions to ANZAC Day, veterans and past wars can be more complex than you give credit for. I, for many years now, have attended ANZAC Day dawn services in NZ and Australia (depending on my residence at the time.) But I do so each year weighing up a complex set of competing impressions of our military past. In the end I inevitably attend to remember the generation of my family (although I never knew them) devastated by World War One, and to a lesser extent those done over by the Second World War.

I attend to remember that they died for many reasons: being blown to bits being just one among a set which includes imperial hubris, patriotism, duty, and a youthful sense of invulnerability. I find it quite tragic.

But I do not honour all veterans or all war dead. Down that path lies the notion that one cannot criticise our service personnel, or where they fight, or why. Down that path lies American militarism ? where only servicemen and women and veterans get to have a valid point of view.

I do not choose to celebrate the sacrifice of our military in Vietnam and I have little time for veterans of that action (some of whom now lead the RSA) who still refuse to understand the case against the war. They still act as though they expect the day to come when NZ will wake up, our wrong-headedness having fled our collective heads like last night's bad dream, and magically conclude that the vets were righteous protectors of our national maidenhood from the communist savage and are deserving of an apology for past neglect, and future veneration and worship. I don't buy it - and they are not the reason I attend ANZAC services.

My father does not attend dawn service at all - the last time he attended he was a long haired student laying a black wreath calling for the withdrawal of NZ troops from Vietnam. The abuse and harassment from the RSA that followed still, I think, provokes a lasting ambivalence to the whole ANZAC myth.

It is that conflation of all past service, as though it shared a single moral and political justification or occupied the same billing in the one long running historical, flag-waving, hand on hearts, patriotic, Hollywood blockbuster that bugs me so much about the genuflection at the ANZAC shrine and the reverence towards living veterans of wars I care not a jot for.

The media will, I fear, continue to tell me why I am at dawn service, telling me it's equal doses of thanks for service to democracy and awe at their collective bravery and sacrifice.

It is this rubbish, and the moral simplicity that accompanies it, that will ultimately mean I stop attending.

I will always remember them - but with a complex mix of moral discomfort and sadness. I think kindly of the veterans of WW2 I know personally - but I think it's because I like them as people, not simply for their service - although I am grateful for it. But unquestioning reverence just because someone is a veteran of a war we chose to forget uncomfortable truths about is itself sad and ugly.