Is it a case of Don’t Mention the War?

Another ANZAC Day – for some a chance to remember, for others a holiday. Much talk about values seemed to accompany the commentary and comment from across the board.

I was interested in this because there seems to me to much more talk about unspecified values and their importance that actually grasping the issue of just what those values are, what they require of us and their connection to the palette of values that makes us to be New Zealand.

This is an important issue in terms of the forthcoming New Zealand Curriculum for History of New Zealand. What shape and force will ANZAC have in that curriculum? Will it be a sequenced set of understandings of “the ANZAC values” as it has grown over the years or simply a story about a time long ago, in lands far away, for reasons somewhat remote and for the somewhat unfathomable phenomenon of huge numbers of New Zealand citizens to end up in foreign countries facing dangers that often resulted in death?

And what articulation will there be in the new history curriculum between the ANZAC portion of our history and those other critical issues in our history – a set of issues related to the history of Maori and land, health, language, and parity of esteem for instance? Remember at this point that the NZ History curriculum will be across all ages in the schooling system. The Government characterised the development in this way:

The first step is to collaboratively develop a New Zealand’s histories update to the National Curriculum with historical and curriculum experts, iwi and mana whenua, Pacific communities, the sector, students, parents and whānau, and other groups with a strong interest in shaping how New Zealand’s histories are taught.

Quite a large and potentially challenging task I would have thought. And this curriculum has been promised for 2022!

I have just read Tom Scott’s recent book “Searching for Charlie: In Pursuit of the Real Charles Upham VC and Bar.” It is a challenging book in that I learnt much that I did not know or understood.  It left me wondering how a truthful set of lessons could be fashioned out of events which were at best frightening. 

I wrote two weeks ago that we Baby Boomers grew up in the shadow of World War II. But this did not impact too much on what we understood of this critical part of our history. At secondary school we turned out in School Cadet uniforms to march in the Hamilton ANZAC Parade to hear speeches about sacrifice and values before we marched away at the end of the ceremony not too much the wiser. My twin brother and I drew the “lucky lottery marble” that determined whether at the age of 18-years we went or not into 12 weeks of National Service followed by three years of territorial duties – we went. Again, while we learnt things it was more in the nature of “Today we have the naming of parts” as we took a Bren gun apart.” I followed this with five years of service in the 3RNZIR Band because I liked music!

One might have thought that we would be well equipped to contribute to the discussion when it came to the impacts of these experiences on the NZ History. Not so, the learning we did consisted of being in an audience of 900 National Servicemen for what was styled as “Reason Why Lectures.” Knowing that at the time the Viet Niamh war was in progress will tell you what that learning consisted of. And the anecdotes of the NCO’s needed to be taken with some salt. I wholeheartedly support the view that New Zealand should be teaching more of its history by I also know that what history and who teaches it could see several more ANZAC Days pass by before it becomes a reality.

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