Blogging, forgetting, and legacy

Giovanni Tiso has some good serious thoughts on the efforts of one Dirty Politics-affiliated blogger to get her writing stricken from the national record:

The case of lawyer Cathy Odgers is even more interesting. Odgers deleted her first blog in 2005, before embarking on the very popular Cactus Kate. This too she deleted in 2013, long before its contents became relevant to stories uncovered by Nicky Hager and other investigative journalists. It was at this later time, however, that Cactus Kate went through a second, deeper deletion, as it now evidently became important to Odgers to remove all existing traces of it. This had the opposite effect to what she might have intended.

There has been a lot of thought-provoking debate about this – the right to be forgotten, how we define the “public interest” or “national good”, the pointlessness of trying to ever permanently delete something from the internet – and a lot of silly debate, largely encapsulated by the efforts of some commenters at The Standard to compare the National Library’s collation of Kiwi blogs to the GCSB’s mass surveillance of personal communication.

It’s super ironic that the same kinds of people who would’ve murmured darkly about leftwing plots and untrustworthiness when John Key’s blatant photo op with John Banks was accidentally recorded – and who say all kinds of nasty things about journalists publishing their edited emails in pursuit of speaking truth to power – suddenly get all precious about confidentiality and privacy when it’s one of their own being hoist by her own petard.

Personally, I’m quietly chuffed that the National Library has included my little blog in its web archive. I’m sure in ten or fifteen years’ time I’ll look back on it and feel a little rueful about some things I commit to screen, but on the other hand, one of the things we really have to get used to in the internet age is that there’s no hiding the fact people change throughout their lives. Even if your core ideals remain relatively fixed – I’m pretty sure no amount of time is going to make me a fangirl of short-term capitalism, for one thing – we’re always learning new things and finding different ways to express our ideas.

Change is good. I think we should embrace it more. It shouldn’t be a shameful thing to say “yep, I thought that was the right thing at the time and I was wrong” – god knows it would shut down any number of pointless political mudfights about who said what in 1985. (Of course, both sides would have to maintain the ceasefire or it’d be churlish. And hypocritical.)

I’m not entirely certain where I stand on the argument about blogs-as-national-records-versus-the-right-to-be-forgotten. But when someone is attempting to eradicate their past from the record – a past which possibly involves underhanded activity aimed at manipulating our political system – I’m a little leery.

On the other hand, who’s to say whether a particular site or post is relevant to that issue? You’re not going to find many people who don’t have a stake in it one way or another. But I reckon the National Library of New Zealand are probably the most qualified to make that decision, and I’ll be interested to see what they decide to do with the archives of Cactus Kate.

The decontextualisation of ANZAC Day

Everyone else is giving their reckons on the treatment of ANZAC Day this year, as we commemorate the centenary of the first year of World War I. So here are mine.

Growing up, my main impressions about World War I, and specifically the Gallipoli campaign, were formed by two narratives. The first was the 1981 film about it, starring a baby-faced Mel Gibson. We watched it a few times at school, and every time my impression, and the impression of my classmates, was that young Kiwi and Aussie men charged pointlessly into machine-gun fire while plummy-voiced English generals sat far behind the front lines drinking tea.

The other was the tale of Chunuk Bair. So the legend goes, this strategic point on the map was heroically captured by ANZAC troops and promptly lost by the Brits. It’s not completely accurate – no war story shared on the primary school playground is going to be – but what these two narratives left me with was the firm conviction that Our Boys essentially died for nothing, because Britain told us to.

And that was always the undertone for ANZAC commemorations. We honoured the dead, and the sacrifice they made, but especially because it was futile. Because it represented our reflexive support of our British masters, which we had grown out of like a proper independent nation. We sent young men overseas to die for no damn good reason, to serve in a war built on one assassination and centuries’ worth of interlocking European alliances.

Unlike, say, the American habit of conflating wars with the soldiers who fight in them, who treat every action as heroic and every failure as an insult to the whole nation, demanding vengeance, the ANZAC Days I remember properly recognised the tragedy inherent in any soldiers’ death, without implying that those deaths made the war they happened in righteous. Without making their deaths glorious.

Maybe that was all in my head. But this year, that undertone is definitely gone. In the wall-to-wall coverage of every ceremony and visit and exhibition, I’ve yet to see a single person acknowledge the archaic imperial motives of WWI, that the Gallipoli campaign was a pointless slaughter, or the simple fact that at Gallipoli, we were the invaders and we lost

Hell, I haven’t seen anyone even indicate where Gallipoli is on a map.

So I’m sad as ANZAC Day approaches. We don’t honour the men and women who died in that utterly pointless war, and the especially pointless Gallipoli campaign, by erasing the pointlessness of it all. We shouldn’t remember them because dying in combat (or from sickness or accident in the vicinity of combat) is inherently a glorious thing. We shouldn’t remember them for utterly false propaganda like “they died defending our freedoms” or “for our flag”. Because that’s a well-trodden path that leads to justifying any number of terrible things.

We should remember exactly why Gallipoli was a tragedy, because that’s the only way we can avoid doing it all over again.

Some insist that ANZAC Day shouldn’t be politicised. The thing is, ANZAC Day is inherently political. War is inherently political. The question of following bigger nations into conflicts is inherently political.

Politicians are explicitly using ANZAC Day to support the latest international military action.

In that context the most political thing of all is pretending ANZAC Day isn’t.