Author Geraldine Brooks explained the effect that Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day had on her career as a war correspondent Monday.
Sponsored by the Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies and the Embassy of Australia, the lecture, “The Meaning of Home,” was part of the annual series honoring ANZAC Day, a holiday observed by Australians and New Zealanders to honor their countries’ soldiers who died in war.
Brooks, an Australian native, started out as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald. After getting her master’s degree at Columbia University, she later became a war correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.
“The most important thing I learned is that it’s a privilege and a duty to bear witness [to war], particularly if you become enmeshed in the affairs of countries,” she said. “In their violent struggles, somebody has to bear witness to the effects of [violence’s] presence there.”
Brooks said that national opinion of ANZAC Day has changed since it was largely disregarded by her generation, which was strongly anti-war.
“When I was at university, [ANZAC Day] was something that you mocked,” she said. “You mocked this dedication of the old guys who wanted to glorify war.”
However, Brooks said her understanding of the day changed as her career developed. She said her most memorable experience of the holiday was covering the ANZAC Day march for The Sydney Morning Herald
“I was there and there were the last remnants of the First World War. The extremely venerable, fragile, elderly men were there on their horses, completely mastering their horses, and I was standing there and the tears were running down my cheeks,” she said. “It wasn’t about glorifying war at all. It was about honoring the sacrifices of the common soldier and somehow that message shifted and the whole nature of the [holiday] changed.”
Brooks, whose American-born father fought for Australian forces during World War II, continues to commemorate ANZAC Day even though she is now living in the United States.
“I don’t think I’ll ever lose touch with the ANZAC tradition. I have my dad’s medals and I like to think about him on ANZAC Day because it meant so much to him,” she said.
Brooks has passed on the ANZAC day tradition to her eldest son.
“He totally understands it,” she said. “We’ve read extensively about it and he found it extremely moving — the idea of sacrifice.”