Lest we forget

Perhaps I’m missing something, but I want no part of the predictable pantomime being played out around the 100th Gallipoli commemoration.

The RSA sanctioned chocolates in the shape of helmets are the tackiest manifestation of ANZAC fever (is the mint filling supposed to be brains?)

The joint use of ANZAC mythology by Prime Minister Key and Abbott to assist their obsequious military adventure in Iraq is both deluded and obscene.

The repeated use of the word “sacrifice” to describe the senseless blood letting on the Gallipoli Peninsular is trite and facile, a hark back to the Edwardian daftness of the virtue of military adventure on behalf of the Empire and the forging of manhood on the battlefield. What separates this sentiment from rabid Prussians like Heinrich von Treitschke, quoted by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds in What’s Wrong with ANZAC? Bare this in mind when John Key steps on the podium next to the Turkish leader. Similar drivel is being mouthed a hundred years later. 

We have learned to know the moral majesty of war in the very thing that appears brutal and inhumane to superficial observers. That one must overcome the natural feelings of humanity for the sake of the fatherland, that in this case men murder one another who have never harmed one another before and who perhaps esteem one another highly as chivalrous enemies, that is at first glance the awfulness of war, but at the same time its greatness also…. If we pursue this idea further we recognise that war, with all its sternness and roughness, also weaves bonds of love between men, since here all class distinctions vanish, and the risk of death links man to man.

We are asked to revel in the bravery and fortitude of young men who were doing what any men from any nation would do if forced into a similar position – fight for their own lives and those of their mates. The notion of grand sacrifice has nothing to do with Gallipoli. Yes the men volunteered but most were at best naive. Some may have signed up out of duty to a distant King (a debatable virtue). Many saw it as a boys own adventure, their only opportunity before air and easy sea travel to escape the confines of a distant island nation and see the world. They did it with their eyes wide shut believing the hype that it would all be over in a few months, probably without them having to fire their weapons. For some, perhaps shooting a few people was a small price for the trip of a lifetime? George Bernard Shore had these harsh words to say about WW1;

When all is said that possibly can be said for the war, it is a monstrous crime against civilisation and humanity; and the notion that any of the parties voluntarily engaged in it can be blameless is absurd. It is impossible to discuss war practically without a suspension of all ordinary morals and all normal religious and humanitarian pretensions….an outrageous special morality and religion, in which murder becomes duty and patriotism…

How many surviving that first day ashore at ANZAC Cove regretted their decision?

How many after a month of hell fervently believed they were defending their country? How many voluntarily “sacrificed” themselves for their King?

Without doubt we should remember their often selfless bravery, their comradeship, their suffering, but this cannot be divorced from the sheer folly and waste of life and the futility of military adventure outside your shores.

A nation wasn’t forged at ANZAC cove. Tens of thousands of young men died on all sides for absolutely no reason. End of story. The entire ANZAC myth is purely a desperate attempt to give some meaning to the senseless slaughter.

Volunteers dried up post Gallipoli and conscription had to be hastily introduced (Australia to its credit rejected conscription) Were the majority that had to be conscripted cowards or just the more sensible and reflective men of the nation? Are conscripts less virtuous and less deserving of remembrance than volunteers? Is involuntary “sacrifice” part of the ANZAC spirit?

Why did the military have to execute often shell shocked soldiers or press gang conscientious objectors to make an example?

ANZAC day has had a revival only in the last few decades, a deliberate political contrivance to stimulate national pride and support for new military adventures, this time in support not of the British Empire but of the new top dog, the United States. It is instructive how little support there was for ANZAC commemorations from those who actually returned from two world wars, especially the First. Indeed anti imperialist, anti authoritarian, communist and socialist sentiment peaked between the two wars. How does that sit with the nation building mythology?

Why is killing someone you have no personal issue with, on behest of a politician serving god only knows whose interests, who you may not even like or agree with, something to be commended and celebrated? Everyone has the right of self defence and defending your family and nation from direct attack is completely justifiable. Travelling thousands of miles as part of an expeditionary force is not.

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