Respect the RSA - well maybe

There has been a complete change of attitude about ANZAC Day since the days of the anti- war protest movement, and seemingly we are all now proud of what our military has done in peace and in war. At least that is what the RSA and various other establishment figures would have you believe.

There is no question that the sacrifice of those who fell in defence of our country is worth honouring, but there is also a dirty political motive lurking among all those new found respect for the dead. Who benefits from the new national mood of reverence towards our soldiers?

The Clark Labour government for one. Helen Clark, and Phil Goff, both former anti Vietnam War activists, assiduously cultivated the ordinary people who served in the military. Events like Parade 08 honouring the Vietnam veterans, the return of the Unknown Soldier, the taxpayer paid tours taking  veterans to wartime battlefields, the student essay competitions, and the increased public prominence given to ANZAC Day were all part of a clever government agenda.

One motive was to counter the perception that Clark and her mates were anti military, anti defence, and anti US. The second reason was that there were votes in it. If the people who looked Labour's stance of supporting veterans and honouring the dead voted Labour, they weren't voting New Zealand First, Labour's closest competitor for this segment of the populace.

The current government hasn't changed a thing.

I am old enough to remember when the RSA stood for aggressive militarism, compulsory military training (or at least selective service) for all males over 18 years of age, and for sprinting into any war they could find.

Their generation has been to the Second World War, so they thought that the next generation should suffer too. It combined with a supine pro Americanism that saw New Zealand lickspittle every American foreign policy initiative to "contain Communism" however foolhardy that plan might be. So we send troops to Vietnam, as we do now to almost every wart the US invites us to attend.

In the 1960s through the 1980s, the RSA was a bastion of social conservatism ("get your haircut sonny," and "a spell in the army would sort you out", were common reactionary refrains).

In 2012 the RSA is rebranding. The weekend media have been pushing the new gentle line - the RSA is a "force for good".  Many communities need an organisation that will help the residents to feel valued, and which works for the community good. 

I hope the RSA can do good. But the leaders of the RSA should not mistake higher turnout for ANZAC parades and more reverence for the fallen as respect for the RSA itself. They are too many memories of its abjectly gringing political past, and of its socially destructive activities (excessive drinking, smoking, gambling and the like) for anyone to give it respect and trust simply because it seeks it.  Respect is earned, and the RSA still has a long way to go.