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Jakarta Post

General Cosgrove, beer and the ANZAC Day

  • Thor Kerr

    The Jakarta Post

Perth, Australia   /   Thu, April 25, 2013   /  10:42 am

After viewing archival footage of Australian soldiers working in overseas war zones, I am apparently offered a cold beer to celebrate. Strange. What are we celebrating?

At an upmarket sea-side bar with his beer glass two-thirds full, Gen. (ret) Peter Cosgrove sits opposite. He shakes his head at me and exhorts: '€œThis ANZAC Day there is no excuse. Along with '€˜Raising a Glass'€™, we are asking you to attend your local Dawn Service.'€

ANZAC Day is a national day of remembrance to commemorate Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who served and died in war, conflicts and peacekeeping.

OK, I'€™m starting to get it. The former chief of Australia'€™s Armed Forces (famed for commanding Interfet, the International Force for Timor Leste), would like me to consume a glass of beer to celebrate the work of soldiers '€” excluding the business of killing.

This is a first, but I'€™m encouraged to drink up in relation to services, held as the sun rises on April 25, memorializing local men who did their duty for Empire by invading Turkey on this day in 1915.

These contemplative services also memorialize the military work of the Allied men and women of other military campaigns.

Cosgrove holds up his smartphone emphatically, and says: '€œTo book a wake-up call, where I'€™ll get you out of bed rain, hail or shine, visit [the website is provided].'€

Welcome to the 2013 '€œRaise a Glass Appeal'€ in which a beer brand asks consumers to help it provide sponsorship funds to Australia'€™s peak veterans'€™ organization and charity.

The website and television advertisements were developed by, what was until recently, Australia'€™s largest brewing group.

There has been some criticism in Australian media about the appropriation of ANZAC imagery to stimulate beer sales. This is typically linked to alcoholism among returned soldiers and associated violence. It is easy to accuse Cosgrove of selling out, but has he?

Due to years of well-targeted advertising, this particular beer brand tends to connote a celebration of Australian labor. Therefore, it is not a great stretch to associate the brand with a celebration of Australian labor in war, particularly if this supports veterans and their families while alluding to the sacredness of ANZAC Day.

This is a win-win-win deal for its proponents. Complain about the brewing group exploiting this deal, and you reinforce the sacredness of ANZAC Day while reminding audiences of the hardships faced by veterans.

Question the sacredness of ANZAC Day, and you challenge the celebration of Australian labor and the hardships faced by veterans and their survivors.

Question the actions of veterans, and you run into the sacred ANZAC spirit and the celebration of working Australians. This is a clever deal, which is difficult to confront head-on.

However, the triad of Cosgrove appearing in a beer advertisement for ANZAC Day provides an opportunity for us to get a better understanding of the relations of Empire.

Considering that this beer brand has been purchased by a giant Anglo-South African multinational, the community under analysis can shift from Australia out to other apparent remnants of empire in Johannesburg and London.

Similarly, ANZAC Day memorial sites reference communities beyond Australia associated with some form of Empire. As an example, the Fremantle War Memorial in Perth, Western Australia, memorializes local and foreign military workers on the same side of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Malayan Emergency and Vietnam War.

A plaque on the column at the center of the memorial on the peak above Fremantle reads: '€œThe memorial is the first Australian object that will meet the eyes of travelers coming from the westward and it will serve [...] as a dignified, silent and reverent reminder of the stress and strain through which the peoples of the empire were called upon to pass, as well as a standing memorial to the sons of Fremantle and its districts who gave all they had, even to life itself, in service of their country.'€

This type of memorial reproduction can be traced through Empire to other monuments such as Nelson'€™s column, positioned high above Edinburgh to be seen from ships approaching the city.

The monument commemorates Lord Nelson'€™s death at the Battle of Trafalgar, off Egypt, in 1805, but it has a more insidious objective concerning local youth that is made obvious in its inscription: '€œ'€¦ the grateful citizens of Edinburgh have erected this monument'€¦ to teach their sons'€¦ to die for their country'€.

The beer advertisement for ANZAC Day can remind us of the endurance of Empire, particularly if we are not fixated on Empire emanating from a single place, such as London or Washington. We can see the power of Empire operating in the military mobilizations from Australia and other nations. Australian troops can be mobilized quickly at the behest of the Queen'€™s representative, the Governor General, without parliamentary vote or discussion, to join the forces of Empire apparently battling communities in far-away lands.

Fixating on the center of Empire causes us to lose sight of it. Rather than asking where Empire resides, we should ask: How does Empire maintain its following? What does Empire do? To answer such questions, we can start looking at how Empire is grounded in regenerative rituals, such as ANZAC Day, wherever they occur.

Cosgrove'€™s appearance in a beer advertisement for ANZAC Day can help us to understand how the operation of Empire prepares young people to surrender their bodies to its cause.

It'€™s as easy as having a drink and joining the army. However, it should be reasonable for young people to ask, '€œWhat is this Empire that I am called upon to serve?'€ This is a question worth contemplating on any armed services day or over any beer.

The writer is a lecturer in communications and cultural studies at Curtin University and an associate member of the Australia-Asia-Pacific Institute.

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