Epitaph for a monument to the war dead

Apparently, Benjamin Péret’s poem, ‘Epitaphe pour un Monument aux Mort de la Guerre’ caused a scandal in the late 1920s on its submission to an Académie française competition. The competition sought a poem for a national war memorial. Péret, World War One veteran, and by this time ex-Dada and staunch revolutionary Surrealist, submitted what he believed to be the only appropriate memorial to the farce and horror of war. A fitting tribute to the absurdity of Anzac Day. Below is a new translation of the poem. It originally appeared in La révolution surréaliste, N°12, 15 décembre 1929.

Epitaph for a monument to the war dead

The general told us

finger up the arsehole

The enemy

is over there, Go!

It was for our motherland

That we left

finger up the arsehole

The motherland that we met

finger up the arsehole

This brothel madam told us

finger up the arsehole

Die or

save me

finger up the arsehole

Yesterday we met the Kaiser

finger up the arsehole

Hindenburg Reischoffen Bismarck

finger up the arsehole

the Grand Duke X Abdul-Amid Sarajevo

finger up the arsehole

Hands cut off

finger up the arsehole

They broke our shins

finger up the arsehole

devoured our stomachs

finger up the arsehole

pierced our balls with matches

finger up the arsehole

and then very slowly

we were exhausted

finger up the arsehole

Pray for us

finger up the arsehole

Against Anzac Day

There is no other way to put it. Anzac Day is a lie–which is to say a myth in the worst sense of the word.

The Gallipoli campaign by any measure was a disaster. Anzac Day was conjured by supporters of the war, in the face of the fact that as the war pointlessly ground on, recruiters found it increasingly hard to convince more people to join in the slaughter–or be slaughtered for the British Empire.

Since the First World War, Anzac Day continues to be used by capitalists and their state to encourage workers to sign up and kill–or be killed. Even when it becomes painfully clear that we have nothing to gain and everything to lose from fighting their wars, the Anzac myth lends a hand in papering over the truth of war.

No doubt many people fought heroically–and less than heroically–and have died and been maimed under the banner of Anzac. But today, as yesterday, this interpretation of Anzac serves a dual purpose. Firstly, to paper over the truth of war–that war is always the murderous continuation of ‘politics by other means’. And secondly, to assure those people who have fought for the Australian state that their service was not in vain–even when this patently was the case, for instance in the First World War and Vietnam.

However, there is an even more sinister side to Anzac Day. Many supporters of Anzac Day believe that it marks the coming of age of the Australian state, and more broadly the experience of what it means to be Australian. Here, the pointless slaughter of Gallipoli serves as bloody foundation myth, a nation forged in war and comradeship. Certainly, the dull and bureaucratic nature of the birth of the Australian state lacks the legendary aura of many national myths–for instance, the American War of Independence or the French Revolution and revolutionary wars.

But the truth is that Australian ‘federation’ in 1901 is a pivotal moment in a longer process, which not unlike Anzac Day disguises more than it reveals. Anzac Day serves the role of national foundation myth to the extent that the true story of Australia’s foundation cannot: the brutal and murderous displacement of indigenous peoples. The fact that the attempted extermination of the indigenous peoples constitutes the real foundation of the Australian state is, by turns, obscured, hidden or denied by supporters of the idea and reality of Australia.

APH