26 April, 2010

Catherine Deveny is a Mug

I’m sure that comedian/columnist Catherine Deveny fancies herself as an inconoclast, but she totally jumped the shark on Saturday with a series tweet disparaging ANZAC Day, which included,
Don't support Anzac Day. Refuse to celebrate a glorification of war that ignores the suffering and carnage of (mostly female) civilians.
Anzac Day IS a glorification of war. They didn't die for us but because they were risktaking testosterone fuelled men with a pack mentality
Anzac Day. I abhor people whose self-esteem is fuelled by nationalism approved misogyny, homophobia, racism or cruelty administered by relos
and probably the worst of a bad lot,
Anzac Day. Men only enlisted to fight for the money, for the adventure or because they were racist.
(She posted that one twice)

There have been many wonderfully written rebuttals to Deveny’s outburst.  One of the best is by Gibbot, HERE, and there’s a rather more ribald response HERE.

Fortunately, even the edgiest of leftie writers have run a mile from her.

It’s not just a case of Thou shalt not say a bad word about ANZAC Day.  The contention that commemorating the sacrifices of war can be used as a Trojan horse for nationalist group-think is a discussion worth having (although I happen to disagree with it), but not like that.  Clearly, much of Deveny’s position is based on ignorance – particularly of the fact that ANZAC Day commemorates sacrifices made in ALL wars, not just World War I.  Like Gibbot, I could tell the story of my great uncle who was killed in New Guinea fighting to defend Australia, not any British Empire interests.  However, I worry that all the eloquent and passionate responses to her, simply fall into the trap of arguing with a mug. 

The notion that all wars are the fault of white men is such a pissweak, eighties, uni bar argument that it really doesn’t deserve a response.  If the argument were being made by black or Asian people, they might cut out the gender specificity and blame it all on white people in general.  If the argument were being made by an elephant, it might blame all humans.  If the argument were being made by a dolphin, it might blame all land-dwelling mammals.  All of these arguments are technically true and make perfect sense if one chooses to ignore every other factor. 
And blaming wars on the soldiers ordered to fight them went out of fashion after the Sunbury festival, and damn good riddance to that kind of thinking!

I’ve seen a few critiques of ANZAC Day recently, by various members of the commentariat that make similar points to Deveny’s but without the career suicide factor.  Most of them make the same mistake of laying out why the Gallipoli campaign was an unmitigated balls-up.  So what?  That fact is not in question and never has been.  ANZAC Day is about remembering the sacrifices of all war veterans in all wars.  The anniversary of the Gallipoli landing was chosen as the date because it was Australia’s first military engagement as a nation.  (The Boer war straddled Federation).  The specifics of Gallipoli, while important to remember in their own right, are not the be-all and end-all of ANZAC Day.  It’s the day we remember.  Some countries choose Armistice Day, we choose ANZAC Day. 

As to the notion that ANZAC Day promotes nationalism, militarism and jingoism, there can be the slight danger of that, especially in the way some choose to observe ANZAC day, but I think most Australians are sophisticated enough to tell the difference between honouring the sacrifices made in war, and jingoism.  If there are people out there who are too simple to get the difference, either in the way they celebrate ANZAC Day or the way they criticise it, I really don’t give a shit.  We’re not going to dumb things down to the lowest common factor.  That’s cultural cringe thinking.  People who think that remembering the sacrifices of others is a glorification of war because it’s called ANZAC Day instead of Peace Day, are not my problem.  Show me one conflict of the last ninety-five years that can be directly linked to remembering past wars.  On the contrary, most can be linked to not remembering them.  Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

And now I’ve fallen into the trap too.  I’m arguing with a mug.  These people really don’t deserve the air time.  Whether it’s Catherine Deveny on the left, Andrew Bolt on the right, or Pauline Hanson on whatever her act is, they are attention whores first and foremost.  On the one day we dedicate to our returned soldiers, and the ones who didn’t return, she has to pipe up and say, “Never mind them, look at me!!!”  And we did.  So who are the mugs?

I’ve often said that my worst habit on the internet is not being able to look at something really stupid without stopping to say, “Hey, that’s really stupid!”  And although others have done so far better than I have, I couldn’t help but do it again.  What we really should do, is deny them the attention they so clearly crave – or only give it to them when they merit it.

Of course, I am not saying that Deveny should be silenced.  She has every right to say whatever she wants about whatever she wants.  I could argue that soldiers have fought and died for her right, but that would be just as overly simplistic as her ill-informed assertions.  However, freedom of speech cuts both ways.  Deveny has the right to say whatever she wants, and others have the right to say she’s talking shit.


  1. Ok I just wrote a great long piece but was logged in with my work account so it all went, so I think well written Bill and agree with loads!

  2. I'm only vaguely aware of her but isn't it possible that she's trying to stir the pot in order to make a point? Days set aside to remember war veterans are often the most popular times to protest current wars. And Anzac Day has always been a magnet for controversy unless I'm mistaken.

    You seem to like a good debate and if Catherine Deveny were here you'd both probably go at it all day. But you'll give yourself ulcers if you don't walk away. There's no point arguing all day with somebody who says Sydney is the capital of Australia. They'll never believe you anyway.

    Some people only want attention and talking about whatever stupid thing they said gives them that attention. But sometimes you want to talk about it. The trick is talking about it without giving them much attention.

    And dolphins do blame us for everything. Douglas Adams said so.

  3. I exercised my right to not read crap by un-following her when I first read those comments. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, fine, but I don't need to hear that ill-informed opinion.

  4. Opinions are only as valid as the facts they are based on.

    I'm a bit surprised you're even vaguely aware of her. ANZAC Day has been controversial in some ways over the years. Those who have a distaste for it tend to be baby boomers while Gen-Y seems to be quite reverent towards it. I might write more about that later.
    I've yet to find the balance between giving what I feel (perhaps mistakenly) is a necessary rebuttal, and feeding the trolls, as they say.

    The dolphins never blamed us. They knew it was all the fault of the mice. They tried to tell us but we were too thick.

    I'm sorry I missed it.

  5. I don't think Catherine said anything particularly wrong . It may offend some, as always there are some in the RSL that will be offended because , for a country that has only a limited history, Gallipolli and the ANZAC wants to represent a lot; but frankly, these soldiers were fighting for the British, not for us and no one forced the soldiers to enlist. It sure has been a tragedy but let's not make it look like what it really was. please respect other people's opinions

  6. I think you're missing a whole lot of historical context there. Of course it was Britain's war, but federation was only 15 years old and even a quarter century on from World War I, Bob Menzies said that if Britain was at war, then so was Australia. I don't like it either, but that's the way it was.

    Regarding not being forced to enlist, as mentioned, most people regarded Britain and Australia as one and the same then. So the social pressure to enlist was huge. Also, people weren't as informed about what going to war really meant. These were different times. It's a mistake to view history through the prism of modern values.

    The point that many seem to miss is that ANZAC day is not about celebrating Gallipoli, it's about remembering all soldiers who served in all wars.

    As for respecting others' opinions, it was Deveny who said, "Fuck respect."
    My own view is that I respect others' right to hold whatever opinions they choose, but the only opinions I respect are the ones I consider deserving of respect. There's a difference. ;)
    I wrote about that in detail here: