Anzac Day, 2007
March 25 marks New Zealand and Australia's Anzac Day, one of their biggest holidays and a solemn memorial to World War I veterans (and those of other wars as well). It was interesting to attend the huge ceremony in front of Auckland's War Memorial Museum and see the enormous turnout of more than 10,000 people coming to pay tribute to their forefathers. Most Americans barely even note Memorial Day or Veterans Day anymore unless they have a veteran in the family, yet, Anzac Day is growing in popularity here every year, many say.
Anzac Day has its origins in the attack on Gallipoli, Turkey, in World War I, where nearly 36,000 kiwis and Aussies were wounded or killed. A total of 130,000 on all sides died in that battle. These two nations suffered tremendous losses in World War I – memorials dot every corner of New Zealand still today. One article I read said New Zealand lost something like a fourth of its young male population in a war half a world away. Meanwhile, World War I is almost forgotten in the US – but 92 years after Gallipoli, after all the veterans of it are dead, Anzac Day remains New Zealand's most important national holiday. Shops are mandated by law to close for the morning when ceremonies go on; there are hundreds of Anzac memorials nationwide. It's very much a vivid and alive commemoration – grizzled veterans, soccer moms and madly text-messaging young teenagers all attended the Anzac ceremony at the museum yesterday.
It's not a huge orgy of patriotism like the US Fourth of July – no fireworks, a lot of kind of quiet pride in what being a kiwi means. War is not celebrated so much as lamented. World War I is a defining moment in the antipodes – these quiet British colonies suffered gigantic losses but it also was a crucible which many say forged the modern identity for these former colonies. New Zealand and Australians no longer defined themselves purely as British colonists far away from the motherland; today, it's not a question of when New Zealand will become an independent republic but when. I imagine it'll easily be within my lifetime. And Anzac Day has played a big part in New Zealand figuring out who it is, apart from its British ancestor.