Thursday, April 26, 2007

On the ANZAC Day

Every year, on 25 April, they observe the ANZAC Day in the Down Under. I have never really understood this holiday. What happened on 25 April that needs to be commemorated? On that day in 1915, troops of the Australia and New Zealand Armed Corp — the ANZACs — landed in the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey to fight the Ottoman Empire. The battle went horribly for the ANZACs. The Turkish forces were stationed on hill tops, and hundreds of ANZACs died attempting to land. More details of the Battle of Gallipoli can be found in this font of all wisdoms. For us, it is suffice to note that the Aussies and Kiwis suffered terrible losses here.

So why commemorate these losses? When I asked around, I was told that it’s the spirit of fighting on, and not so much the loss, that is commemorated. Another argument I’ve heard is that this was the first time people of these shores shared a major historic event together — so the day has a place in these countries’ national identity. Finally, it is argued that this day marks the sacrifice of those who fell for their countries.

I don’t find the first two arguments all that convincing. Isn’t there anything other than a terrible loss of precious lives in a conflict thousands of miles away to mark these countries’ national identities or spirit of fighting on? As for honouring the sacrifices of dead soldiers, what were Australia and New Zealand doing fighting the Ottomans anyway? Actually, for that matter, what are Australians doing in Iraq anyway?

As it happens, there is another battle, much closer to Australia, that marks the spirit of fighting on, where those who died did die defending their country and that should have a place in the country’s national psyche. I’m talking about the Kokoda Track campaign.
I think there ought to be a national holiday to mark this campaign.

This holiday, sometime in July or August, would make a lot more sense than the ANZAC Day holiday. You see, there are already many holidays in the beginning of the year. Especially with the four day long Easter break that usually falls in April, there isn’t really all that much need for another day off in April. Between the Queen’s Birthday in June and the Labour Day in October, however, there aren’t any holidays. So bring on a Kokoda holiday in July I say. Or alternatively, there could be a Victory Day holiday in August marking the end of the World War II.

The libertarians would argue that why have state sanctioned holidays at all. Why not just allow people to trade their holidays? Why not indeed. Harvard’s Alberto Alesina and Ed Glaeser provide an argument for state sanctioned holidays. They argue that people get more out of their holidays when their friends and families are also on holiday. Left to a decentralised market, there is no guarantee that everyone could be on break at the same time. This co-ordination failure is avoided when the government makes everyone take a holiday on certain dates. You can read more here.