There is a small but growing group who feel that we should make ANZAC Day our national day, moving the emphasis away from Waitangi Day which has attracted so much protest in recent years.
It seems to me that the supporters of this change are attempting to hi-jack renewed interest in ANZAC Day for a purpose for which it was not intended.
ANZAC Day is the day on which we reflect on the sacrifices made by those who participated in conflicts both in New Zealand and overseas. From the very beginning, it was the day on which we could honour that pledge “we will remember them” and the first few annual commemorations occurred while soldiers were still fighting overseas during The Great War.
The day grew to acknowledge Boer War veterans and, as history repeated itself, was a rallying point for the servicemen and servicewomen who were involved in the Second World War. As the ranks of veterans thinned, a growing maturity allowed us to include Vietnam War veterans and finally, in the third millenium, we began to acknowledge those who were involved on both sides of the New Zealand Wars of the 19th century.
ANZAC Day is obviously evolving, but still remains a day on which we think of the evils and consequences of war. It is a special day when, whatever our views on the rights and wrongs of various conflicts, we can at least acknowledge those who risked their lives to carry out their duty on our behalf.
To make ANZAC Day our national day would be folly. It would imply that our nation is founded on conflict, and our participation in battles mostly overseas. It would also deny veterans their special day.
The staged emergence of New Zealand as an independent nation makes it difficult to identify a particular day that is most suited to being our national day. Dominion Day is one, and nominating Matariki (the beginning of the Maori new year) is another that has been proposed. Celebrating Matariki as a national day is often put forward as it comes with few strings attached.
But there is still Waitangi Day. The signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840 is a key event in New Zealand’s history. To walk away from the disagreement and misunderstanding that still arise from the interpretation of the treaty seems to be escapism, and transferring our national day to ANZAC Day suggests an odd approach to how we manage conflict in all its manifestations.