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The decontextualisation of ANZAC Day

Written By: - Date published: 12:00 pm, April 21st, 2015 - 69 comments
Categories: colonialism, iraq - Tags: , , ,

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.

69 comments on “The decontextualisation of ANZAC Day ”

  1. shorts 1

    ANZAC day and the whole WW1100 thing is abhorrent in my view – yes there are some amazing projects and the like but most seems like the govt wanted another rugger world cup to hang their hat on, so a bunch of money is being spent, some hashtags created and all in the aid of what?

    Our leaders have forgotten all the hard earned gains of the past and seemingly seek to repeat them… for some trinkets

  2. Clemgeopin 2

    Well said, Stephanie Rodgers. The following article encapsulates what the point of it all was :

    A reminder of what Gallipoli was actually about:
    https://rdln.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/gallipoli-invasion-a-dirty-and-bloody-business/

  3. mac1 3

    I agree with what you say.

    In our small provincial town, we are presently staging “King and Country” by Dave Armstrong. In it, at the end of the Gallipoli campaign, a character says,”Before we evacuate, I return to the spot where so many of my Maori boys were mown down. The whole world knows that this Gallipoli expedition was bungled, but no-one has dared to admit it yet.” Lt Gilbert.

    This man goes on to fight in France and at the end of the play throws his medals into the sea and vows never to wear a uniform again.

    This play does present alternate views and is a powerful and compelling piece of theatre. It has received very good reviews. It fulfils the role of the arts and literature, in challenging and provoking thought.

    A small counter to the more prevalent presentation of ANZAC culture which you write about, Stephanie.

    • Dan1 3.1

      It is a great show Mac1. Dave Armstrong does a great job of covering the transition from the jingoism of 1915 NZ to the disallusionment and sadness with the return of soldiers back home. He cleverly covers the emergence of the Pioneer Maori Battalion and its reflection of how Maori fitted into the wider NZ society. It highlights the impact on the families involved.

      I lost two great uncles in the First WW, and only got to meet the third, Uncle Pat, who survived Gallipoli but never wanted to talk about the war. My Dad and my father-in-law both survived WW2 but both died early, partly due to wartime experiences.

      ANZAC Day and the poppy to me stand for the people who were affected.

      Thank you for your contribution Stephanie.

      A review of the show mentioned by Mac1
      http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-express/67866493/king-and-country-packs-powerful-punch

  4. saveNZ 4

    I also loathe men like John Key who glorify it, trade lives for favours and standing, and wallow in a myth of past glory to peddle more wars and occupations instead of learning from the past.

    Great analysis in particular

    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.

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

    • Rodel 4.1

      “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. ”

      Chris Trotter says exactly that, in today’s article (The Press) ‘What did the Anzacs fight for?’
      .He writes: “the ‘great evil’ was Imperialism. And the Zealand sons were fighting for it-not against it.”
      Worth a read.

  5. saveNZ 5

    Maybe someone should invade NZ to ‘free’ us and bring back “democracy” to this country.

    • weka 5.1

      Invade NZ again.

      • saveNZ 5.1.1

        Stop that treasonous talk Weka:)
        The armed defenders will be onto you like Urewera.

        • weka 5.1.1.1

          Fortunately for me, I’m too white and not radical enough to bother with at this stage ;-/

          • saveNZ 5.1.1.1.1

            Your radical environmental views and independent thinking are enough on Planet Key

    • Murray Rawshark 5.2

      It’s the seppos who’ve been doing that lately, but democracy seems to take a while to arrive.

    • Colonial Rawshark 5.3

      Military invasions are about taking your territory, your resources, and the labour output of your people. But why bother when you can apply the same subjugation using banking and economics?

  6. Sanctuary 6

    If NZ was to have a national day, it should really be August the 8th to honour the epic day long defence of Chunuk Bair by the Wellington regiment, an action that cost the life of one my forebears.

    It was probably the greatest feat of arms ever by New Zealanders. They fought from 5am until sundown (in August, after 9pm) and lost 711 killed and wounded from 760, but they still held their positions.

    Anyone over about 55-60 doesn’t really celebrate ANZAC day. Thats because they can remember the ANZAC veterans not as harmless and cuddly be-medalled ancient old men but as bigoted and drunken reactionaries who supported the war in Vietnam and screamed at them to get a haircut. Martial prowess and heroism does not make you a good person – in fact, often it makes you the complete opposite. Remember, most of the volunteers in the mounted regiments in 1914 had just a year earlier flocked to be “Massey’s Cossacks” to lawlessly and violently break the nationwide watersiders’ and miners’ strike.

    Which brings up another aspect of the decontextualising and whitewashing of our history by a modern narrative of a loyal colony, obedient to social order of the Empire. Plenty of people across Europe and the empire in 1914 were confidently predicting a socialist revolution. Such were the strikes and unrest (five dead, 1000s injured, the siege of Sidney street, troops opening fire on strikers, London virtually under martial law, the UDF armed to the teeth, etc etc) that historians now refer to the “Great Unrest of 1911 to 1913” to describe the UK at the time.

    The real message of ANZAC should be about learning from the foolish decisions of others to start the Great War, and the foolish decision of others to attack the Dardanelles. Never again should we sacrifice our young men unquestioningly in the service of an empire. We should be asserting ourselves as a proud and independent people who will control our own destiny, rather than hand over decision making to a colonial or imperial master, be that master in London or Washington. Never again should others decree where our and when our men fight. Fraser understood this – Freyburg knew he could disobey British commanders if he thought they were risking his New Zealanders to much and if he did he would have Wellington’s full backing.

    The problem is in Key we’ve gone the full circle. We are back to being ruled by an loyal sycophant of a global empire, a man as at home playing golf with his imperial master in Hawaii as our Governor in 1914 – the Fifth Earl of Liverpool – was attending Ascot with the King. So the message these days has changed again. The ANZAC veterans are reinvented as Wagnerian heroes, chosen by the Valkyries for an exhaulted place in Valhalla from whence we may all bask in their reflected glory via an annual pagan dawn ritual that celebrates their warrior sacrifice.

    Our leader can use this new past, this new history, to again call on us to be part of the club, the empire, to get some guts and carry our share of the endless burden of empire. We’ve even developed our own, Weta inspired Stalinist realism to help us celebrate – http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/last-post-first-light/67861471/exhibition-immortalises-lieutenant-spencer-westmacott

    ANZAC day has, in the few short years since the death of the last veteran, become nothing more than an evolving exercise in the glorification of servitude in empire and an unquestioning jingoistic celebration of heroic militarism.

    • Murray Rawshark 6.1

      “Thats because they can remember the ANZAC veterans not as harmless and cuddly be-medalled ancient old men but as bigoted and drunken reactionaries who supported the war in Vietnam and screamed at them to get a haircut.”

      I remember them very well. When I was about 13, I didn’t stand for God Save the Queen at the flicks and copped a punch in the head and a few shouts about how I didn’t appreciate the freedom they’d died for. Most of our high school teachers were severely damaged WW2 veterans. The war had made a real mess of some.

    • D'Esterre 6.2

      @ Sanctuary: “We’ve even developed our own, Weta inspired Stalinist realism…”

      Oh yes, you’ve nailed it there! I’ve been calling it “war porn”, and I find the whole idea of it creepy. But of course, it does so closely resemble the heroic monuments favoured by the likes of Stalin. And Saddam. And the PRC of course. Propaganda porn, war porn: no difference really….

      I haven’t visited Te Papa to see this exhibition, and I don’t intend to go. Nor will I be visiting Jackson’s effort; or the fake Australian whatever-it-is at wherever-it-is.

      My family has a direct connection with Gallipoli; two of my father’s older brothers were listed as “missing in action” there. They are among the many with no known grave, just names on the memorial. It had a profound effect on my grandmother, who to the day she died held out hope that her boys would walk back in the door. Another of my uncles also died overseas, but at least she knew that he had a grave, and where it was. I’ve been to visit that uncle’s grave. I haven’t been to Gallipoli, and it’s unlikely now that I ever will.

      I’ve given up going to ANZAC Day services, having grown increasingly uneasy at the morphing from commemoration to celebration of the glory of war over the last 15 years or so. And increasingly a normative view of WW1 in general, and Gallipoli in particular, has taken root here, pushed along by very young people who seem to know nothing about the complex events that preceded that war. And by some older people who ought to know better.

      And this year, the hype over the centenary has just been too much to take. What the hell is this? Have we won the Humiliating Military Defeats World Cup? I’m doing my level best to dodge the coverage: it revolts me. On ANZAC Day, I won’t be listening to any radio station, or watching any TV channel that broadcasts any of it. I’ll be relying on Concert FM and the video shop for entertainment!

    • Visubversaviper 6.3

      You must have been on some of the same anti-Vietnam war marches I was on. I remember going past the RSA and seeing a bunch of greasy haired old boozers with a ciggie in one hand and a beer in the other shouting at us to get a haircut or get a job, calling us Commies and making obscene sugestions to the women. Later experiences did not inprove my picture of the RSA either. My father served in 2 wars and he hardly ever went near the RSA.

      • Tracey 6.3.1

        Didn’t Upham sit on his veranda and shoot and Japanese cars? Or is that an urban myth?

    • Fuck yes. I’m under 55 and remember those “Rob’s Mob” RSA pricks all too well. The glorification of war via ANZAC Day that’s become popular the last 15 years or so turns my stomach.

  7. Bill 7

    Seems to me a lot of people today occupy the same emotional space for these so called commemorations as those people early last century whose emotional basis formed the peer pressure that pushed boys and young men into hell.

    The emotions, then as now, congeal around the same flag, notions of heroism, conviction of rightful purpose…

    Maybe it’s kind of difficult to forget what was never learned and impossible to remember what was never recognised?

    • One Anonymous Bloke 7.1

      I think it was Frank Zappa who remarked that far from warning us against the dangers of the military-industrial complex, our current leaders urge us to embrace it.

  8. Their is really only one political response to celebrating imperialist wars and that is refusing to fight in them unless you are defending an oppressed country from imperialist invasion.

    Even then, the working people have an interest in uniting with workers in other countries and not following their ruling classes which are the agents for imperialism.

    NZ has a great record of resistance whose lessons should be learned today in the face of mounting US warmongering aimed at weakening and defeating the Russia China bloc.

    On ANZAC day we should celebrate the Waikato Maori, especially Te Puea who organised resistance in WW1 to the draft targeting Waikato Maori, while iwi who had not fought land wars, unless on the wrong side, got sucked into becoming shock troops to prove they were equal in a racist colonial society.
    http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/maori-in-first-world-war/overview

    We should also celebrate the opposition and resistance to the war by the radical elements of the labour movement which had recently had a General Strike put down by the army under the command of the British Governor General.
    http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/first-world-war/conscientious-objection/socialist-objection

    So there is nothing stopping the working people of NZ from learning the real lessons of the ANZACS and refusing to participate in the hype around current wars that are softening us up to march off again to another imperialist war.

  9. freedom 9

    “the most political thing of all is pretending ANZAC Day isn’t.”
    -This cannot be said often enough or loudly enough.

    I had planned to attend the local centenary service.
    That plan was shelved the day Taji was pointed to.
    The recent statements from the New Zealand and Australian Prime Ministers only confirm my reasons for doing so are valid.

    Over the years I have attended several ANZAC services around New Zealand, both urban and rural. Even though I object to war I am still capable of grieving and respecting those we have lost. I was always heartened by the sincerity of spirit within those in attendance.

    As the ANZAC bugles sound their muster, it is unsettling the centenary services are when that sincerity of spirit will be laid to rest amongst the blood stained lessons that lay disregarded by the very people who should heed them the most.

    • miravox 9.1

      +1 freedom

      We’ve declined an invitation to local commemorations with apologies that match the sentiment of this post.

      We’ll mark ANZAC day in our own way.

    • Tracey 9.2

      Our PM visits the 100 year commemoration but refused to stay for the funeral of a soldier under his ultimate command…

  10. Charles 10

    “What are your legs?
    Springs, steel springs.
    What are they going to do?
    Hurl me down the track.
    How fast can you run?
    As fast as a leopard.
    How fast are you going to run?
    As fast as a leopard!”

    Peter Weir expertly summed up the naivety and slaughter in that opening mantra.

    Russell Crowe Recently made a film about the aftermath of Gallipoli, and he did say publicly that it was an invasion. The Australian media almost shit a brick. They didn’t know whether to protect their celebrity hero, or tear him apart. You can find various interviews with interviewers either reluctantly back-peddling or Crowe carefully extracating himself from the mess, in the usual way.

  11. ropata 11

    It was a shitty time all around in NZ history, before the war women would stick white feathers on young men who didn’t sign up to the cause of King and Empire. And of course most of them never came back. The sad little monuments in every small town in NZ are a reminder of this national calamity, whole families were ended, the economy ruined, and no honour was gained. Only a realisation that Australia and New Zealand must not follow colonial powers into foolish military expeditions ever again

  12. Gareth 12

    Lest we forget….. and do the same bloody stupid things again losing more New Zealanders to tragic and pointless deaths.

  13. Pasupial 13

    Turkey’s use of the Gallipoli commemoration/ celebration to distract from the centennial of the Armenian Genocide is what has stood out for me about this year’s ANZAC day. NRT today linked to a Fisk article that deals with this:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/armenian-genocide-to-continue-to-deny-the-truth-of-this-mass-human-cruelty-is-close-to-a-criminal-lie-10188119.html

    Which reminded me of this Guardian article I read earlier on in the week:

    The anniversary of the 1915 military operations on the Gallipoli peninsula has always been marked on 25 April, the day after commemorations of the massacre of more than 1 million Armenians in the Ottoman empire. This year, however, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invited state leaders to join him in Gallipoli on 24 April…

    Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, and John Key, New Zealand’s prime minister, have confirmed they will attend events at Gallipoli. As part of the programme on 24 April…

    At the same time, hundreds will gather on Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where a commemoration of the Armenian genocide has been held since 2010. Another rally will be held in the eastern city of Diyarbakır, an important centre from where the state governor oversaw the mass killings in 1915. The main event will be held in Yerevan, capital of Armenia, with a number of foreign dignitaries from Russia, France, the UK and elsewhere…

    After Ankara’s announcement to shift all official commemorations of Gallipoli to 24 April, critics were quick to point out that no significant military event took place at Gallipoli that day and that Armenians had greater claim to it because 24 April 1915 was when Ottoman authorities started to arrest Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/16/turkey-armenia-1915-centenary-gallipoli-massacre-genocide

    Another article that gives more detail on the Genocide itself (and more links):

    http://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/apr/16/the-armenian-genocide-the-guardian-briefing

  14. thechangeling 14

    A sentimental guilt trip is being repetitiously served up to us across all media in order to distract our attention away from and to sever any connection with the past from current mismanagement practices re politics at home and the war about to envelope across the middle east. This is my take on what’s really going on.
    Also the continued ignorance of the Maori land wars is being recycled.

  15. Ant 15

    A 4-year old John Pilger article seems worth airing again.
    http://johnpilger.com/articles/marching-for-anzac-in-the-51st-state

  16. Brutus Iscariot 16

    Another one you won’t read about:

    The Surafend affair (Arabic: مجزرة صرفند‎) was the premeditated massacre of many male inhabitants from the Arab village of Surafend (now the area of Tzrifin in Israel) and a Bedouin camp in Palestine by soldiers of the ANZAC Mounted Division on 10 December 1918.[1] The massacre, believed to have been in response to the murder of a New Zealand soldier by a villager, was mostly overshadowed by the military achievements of the Division, although it caused a significant rift between the Division and its Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Edmund Allenby.[2]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surafend_affair

    • Murray Rawshark 16.1

      With his concentration camps for refugees, this is the ANZAC tradition that Abbott is part of.

  17. Puckish Rogue 17

    I’m going to dawn service (as I always do) to give thanks for their futile sacrifice, to commenarate the actions of the soldiers and to ponder my life and how it could have been

    Then i’m going to my wifes Grandfathers grave to place some flowers and do some tidying up of the grave

    ANZAC day is what you make it

  18. Wayne 18

    Stephanie,

    Well, yes it was an invasion of Turkey, but that was because Turkey was part of the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Turkey).

    Essentially the British Empire was in the war because of the obligation to protect Belgian neutrality and to support France against the German invasion.

    There has been a lot of recent writing about the causes of the war and whether one side was “better” than the other. The general consensus is that the Central Powers started the war. And that the ultimate victors were a better approximation of liberal democracy than the defeated nations.

    Now of course the war went wildly out of control, and there is no real evidence that any national leader thought that a peace settlement would make more sense than the war.

    As for the Dardanelles adventure. It could reasonably be thought of as another madcap scheme by Winston Churchill. It was a colossal disaster which was pretty much evident from the failure of the first day, the 25th. But it is rare for military leaders to give up so readily. It is much easier to double down on the initial efforts. Of course on the Allied side it wasn’t just thousands of ANZAC’s who perished, so did ten of thousands of British and French, not to speak of the huge Turkish casualties.

    But from the Turks point of view, at least their success meant they saved their country from occupation and total defeat. Yes, the Turkish Empire was lost with consequences that reach out till today (cf Iraq and Syria), but the Anatolian heartland and the European fringe remained under Turkish sovereignty. It is worth remembering that Gallipoli is the last part of Europe. The other side of the Dardanelles is Asia. Ask the Greeks about this.

    Was it all worth it? Well, given the consequences just 20 years later, I guess the answer is no.

    But did the British have bad motives. Well, I would also say the answer is no.

    Good intentions are not enough when going to war. The question also has to be asked, is the price of young life enough to justify going to war. Are the stakes high enough for families to bear the price of war.

    • Bill 18.1

      Essentially the British Empire was in the war because of the obligation to protect Belgian neutrality and to support France against the German invasion.

      Nope. According to war historian Hew Strachan, there was an alliance between Russia and France. Britain had no alliances and was neutral at the beginning. Britain threw in its lot because it reckoned there’d be turmoil created for its trading routes and decided, essentially, to protect them. Ironically, Germany then went all out to disrupt them.

      Austria/Hungary cobbled an alliance with Germany before invading Serbia (an ally of Russia). That started the war.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 18.1.1

        That, and the ubiquitous dummheit that abounds to this day.

      • Wayne 18.1.2

        Bill,

        I agree that the invasion of Serbia by Austro-Hungary Empire was the actual event that caused the chain reaction. Which of course was precipitated by the assassination of the Arch Duke.

        The invasion of Serbia then brings in Russia, which brings Germany in, which brings France in, which finally brings the British Empire in.

        Nial Fergusson argues that Britain should have stood aside, and not worried about the violation of Belgium neutrality, and only supported France with supplies, etc.

        This would have meant that Britain (and therefore us) would not have actually been involved in the war. However, that would have probably resulted in Germany defeating France and being the undisputed master of Europe. And it was that prospect that caused Britain to stand by Belgium and France.

        All is history now of course. But our world today is shaped by it. Without WW1, there would have been no Russian revolution, no WW2 and probably ultimately no Cold War. The Middle East may not be the mess it is today, but something would have happened there. The Turkish empire was not sustainable.

        Would the world have been a better place without the cataclysm of two world wars and the cold war? Possibly, but not necessarily.

        Downton Abbey might have set in 1980 to 1990, not 1910 to 1920. Decolonization might have been a much more bloody affair. The entire fabric of the modern social welfare sate and the opening up of education may never have happened in the way that it did. Technology and medicine would have evolved at a slower pace, with the consequence that lives would be stunted and foreshortened on a massive scale.

        So who knows.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 18.1.2.1

          Yeah, there are no lessons to be learned about the way violence can be justified by propaganda and SNAFU.

          Nothing to see here. Dr. Mapp has no rectum. It’s true, I seen it!

        • Bill 18.1.2.2

          Well, it’s probable that without WW1 there would have been no Russian Revolution. Without doubt, there’d have been no Bolshevic Revolution given there’d have been no support coming Lenin’s way from Germany. Of course, the revolution could have been more widespread, not hi-jacked and then there would have been no possibility of domination of Europe by Germany – or any other nation state 😉

          Given that various social welfare systems were only established by western governments as a way to contain the aspirations of ordinary people, naively inspired by the example of a USSR where people were shackled by chains different to those our masters could yank on , I think we can assume that far more substantive and rooted systems of health, welfare, as well as non-exploitative workplaces in a non-market economy could well have been developed in the event of a widespread revolution coming to its full and natural fruition.

          Of course, no WW2 and no Cold War. Also no precarious nation states rising and falling from bloody de-colonisation struggles and their aftermaths. No profit motive bending and holding back development, research, innovation…

          Possibly no global warming in the absence of a market and its fashion industry demanding ever more production when we probably had the capacity to satisfy material demands as early as the 1960s…

          Probably enthusiastic research and development continuing apace across all fields that attract our innate need to endeavour or to be curious, alongside the possibility to inure ourselves to far more rounded and humane lives free, of course, from the dead hand of our backwards, modern market economy.

          Who knows?

        • Sanctuary 18.1.2.3

          First of all, there was no way the UK was ever going to stand aside in the case of a war between the German empire and the double Entente. Begian neutrality was just the excuse. It is obvious even in the first decade of last century that the Germans could easily defeat the French and the Russians. The forced industrialisation of the USSR means it is easy to forget just how backward, reactionary and superstitious the Russian empire was, and the French simply lacked the numbers. German domination of Europe – with or without a forced European Union far more powerful than Napoleons Continental System – was a dire threat to British trade and the British were determined to stop it.

          Reactionary historians like Fergusson completely fail to acknowledge the complete decadence of the European ruling system prior to the Great War. Whilst sophisticated industrialised nations with mighty war fighting potential had grown up in the previous fifty years, they largely remained governed by hereditary monarchies and aristocratic elites with reactionary values more suited to the age of Frederick and Napoleon than ruling countries with with new, vast, and literate populations. The bulk of the working class soldiers in the British army didn’t even have the vote in 1914-18!

          The first world war was fought because the ruling elites wanted to fight it. Nationalism, fashionable social Darwinism, xenophobia, and chauvinism combined with an irresponsible ruling class that was past it’s use by date and utterly failed to prevent a cataclysm, or properly conduct the subsequent war, produced the disaster that we are still living with today.

          As for what might have happened if the war had not broken out – the level of social unrest, the rise of socialism and fundamentally instability of authoritarian despotic governments means it is highly likely that Germany, Russia or the UK or all three would have had a revolution anyway. The situation in Ireland was such that had not the First World War intervened there is every possibility the UK would have had something akin military coup followed by a civil war to prevent home rule, as British army senior officers would have refused orders to fight the UVF. And Germany – Marx always thought Germany was the most likely place for a socialist revolution. And Russia – Russia was so despotic, reactionary and backwards anything was always possible.

        • odysseus 18.1.2.4

          A small clarification though … Austro – Hungary only invaded Serbia after receiving German support to do so. The so-called blank cheque. And so in that sense Germany was mostly responsible for the war despite the Russian mobilisation occuring before the actual declaration of war by Germany on Russia.
          The rest, as they say, is history.

          • Bill 18.1.2.4.1

            My understanding is that Germany didn’t think Austro-Hungary would invade Serbia because of Russia, and then wound up obliged and in the shit when they did eg, having to ‘take out’ Russia’s other ally (France) before Russia could mobalise and catch them in a pincer.

            When I say ‘my understanding’, I have no qualms pointing out that it’s largely informed by Hew Strachan’s rather mechanical and ‘matter of fact’ analysis.

            Maori TV showed the entire series (10 episodes) based on his book ‘The First World War’. I’d recommend it be viewed for anyone, like me, who was viewing the First World War through a century of ‘received wisdom. I can’t say I agree with everything he suggests or with all his emphases, but the series is definitely worth a watch if it’s still available.

        • Tracey 18.1.2.5

          “the invasion of Serbia by Austro-Hungary Empire was the actual event that caused the escalation and massive loss of innocent lives. The assassination of the Arch Duke was used as the excuse to justify an invasion wanted long before AD’s death”

          FIFY

          “However, that would have probably resulted in Germany defeating France and being the undisputed master of Europe. And it was that prospect that caused Britain to stand by Belgium and France.”

          Except Germany WWI was autocratic and unlikely to have behaved as, say, a victorious WWII Germany would. Loathe it or love it (as our PM does) the royals had familial ties and would have found a way to sort out the aftermath in a way that benefited all of them. This was a war between families. WWII was a war between ideologies and a desire for world domination by one. I am of course over simplifying as everyone here is.

          • Wayne 18.1.2.5.1

            Tracey,

            I think your comment is probably true. The Kaiser was no Hitler.

            But a Europe conquered by Imperial Germany could have lead to all sorts of unforeseen consequences. Possibly another great war, the same as WW2, but different.

            We can all construct alternative histories.

            Bill has of a socialist nirvana, which was not very likely in my view. It was the war the impelled the revolutions. And since the UK was a democracy, there would not have been such a revolution. They simply don’t happen in democracies, change is much more constrained and is not revolutionary, (unless you think 1935 and 1984 constitute revolution).

            But it is all hypothesis, hence my closing comment of “Who knows”.

      • Tracey 18.1.3

        and family problems… George, Wilhelm, Nicki…

    • Paul 18.2

      Have you seen this film? I highly recommend it.

      GALLIPOLI is a film by award-winning Turkish director, Tolga Örnek, narrated by Jeremy Irons and Sam Neill. Australian military historian Brad Manera, an expert on costumes and weapons, travelled to Turkey during the main shoot to check the historical accuracy of every detail in every scene.


      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CM2BLeiLVo

    • It doesn’t matter where Turkey stood in the war. The point is that we invaded, and this is almost never acknowledged.

      And the problem with the Gallipoli campaign isn’t that “military leaders rarely give up so readily.” The aim of Gallipoli was to disrupt the Turks’ action in Russia. By the time we got to Gallipoli the Turks had been rebuffed.

      • Wayne 18.3.1

        Tracey,

        I have understood the intent was also to be able to attack Austro-Hungary Empire from the East. Knocking out Turkey by getting to Istanbul could have achieved this objective. This would have meant the Western allies could attack the Central Powers on two fronts, by assisting and supporting their Russian allies.

        And effective support for Russia from the Western nations may have prevented the Soviet revolution – alternative history of course.

    • Tracey 18.4

      “Dardanelles adventure”

      🙄

      “Good intentions are not enough when going to war. The question also has to be asked, is the price of young life enough to justify going to war. Are the stakes high enough for families to bear the price of war.”

      Good intentions are not enough when going to war. The question also has to be asked, is the price of young life enough to justify going to war. Are the stakes high enough for families to bear the price of war. Will the decision makers lead the charge, or commit their children to the battle.

      FIFY

      IF the leaders won’t send their children on what basis do they seek the sacrifice from others?

      • Wayne 18.4.1

        In WW1, the leaders did send their children, and at great cost. The highest casualty rates were among young officers leading from the front.

  19. Paul 19

    ‘This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time. Harry Leslie Smith’

    ‘Over the last 10 years the sepia tone of November has become blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders. The most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts. The American civil war’s General Sherman once said that “war is hell”, but unfortunately today’s politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good.
    Still, this year I shall wear the poppy as I have done for many years. I wear it because I am from that last generation who remember a war that encompassed the entire world. I wear the poppy because I can recall when Britain was actually threatened with a real invasion and how its citizens stood at the ready to defend her shores. But most importantly, I wear the poppy to commemorate those of my childhood friends and comrades who did not survive the second world war and those who came home physically and emotionally wounded from horrific battles that no poet or journalist could describe.
    However, I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy.’

    Read more here.
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/08/poppy-last-time-remembrance-harry-leslie-smith

    • ropata 19.1

      Harry Smith is a true hero. Here is his tearful defense of the NHS which tory bastards are trying to privatise. He also has a great twitter channel, for example

      The #tories can only govern in an atmosphere thick with fear and uncertainty which is toxic for both society and the economy. #JohnMajor— Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) April 21, 2015

      I am not afraid of the #SNP what scares me are tories like Cameron who will stop at nothing to keep the corporations happy. #JohnMajor— Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) April 21, 2015

      Is Cameron's Britain what we fought for in the war? http://t.co/AcEmqpQO0G #GetCameronOut— Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) February 14, 2015

    • ropata 19.2

      Here’s another gem from Harry:
      Is Cameron’s Britain what we fought for in the war?

      We have somehow broken our solemn bond with those warriors of yesterday and forgotten that when the survivors of the Second World War returned to their homes, they were like a tide that raised all boats. My generation’s shared experience of suffering, of witnessing genocide, ethnic cleansing, and enduring unspeakable privations as both soldiers and civilians made us vigilant when it came to demanding our peace dividend. We knew what we deserved and that was a future that didn’t resemble our hard-scrabble past. The Green and Pleasant land was for everyone after the war because we had bled for it and died for it. We demanded a truly democratic society where merit was rewarded and no one would be left behind because of poverty, poor health or an inadequate education.

      After the war we revolutionized the western world and introduced the notion that all human beings deserved dignity, freedom of movement, due process before the law, and social safety nets to protect those affected by economic uncertainties. We knew the cost of not creating a just society was the end for democracy, and a life sentence of misery for too many people in our country. We knew the price of failing to create and maintain universal health care was a return to a two-tier society where the few held dominion over the many.

      Today, however, in a world where our reservoirs of wealth are as deep and enormous as all the mighty rivers of the world combined, our politicians, financial institutions and megalithic industries tell us we can no longer afford these human rights that men sacrificed their lives for: the freedom to live with dignity in a compassionate society. We are told by those in charge that we can no longer live with luxuries like healthcare, proper state funded pensions, decent wages, trade unions and most aspects of our social safety network.

  20. greywarshark 20

    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.

    Well said. The thing is Anac Day shouldn’t be glamourised or commercialised. Money raised to go to the returned servicepeople and their families who need help.

  21. One Anonymous Bloke 21

    The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….

    Uncle Gnome Chomsky (sp?)

    It’s obscene, the way the right (on both sides of any material conflict of interest) justifies violence by invoking passivity, fear, and hatred.

    In other news, Daesh is losing its battles. What will the panty-sniffers do when the Kurds render the excuse for mass surveillance moot?

  22. SMILIN 22

    As we once again remember the fallen of this country in our history
    conveniently being the focus on WW1 as we are quietly side stepping the role of the conscientious objectors in the war on a national level by this govt and continuing to travel our so called govt entourage at huge expense to the nation and another costly royal visit
    The govt of course is dragging us back in a historical dream instead of giving the full picture of this country’s military history to date which ANZAC DAY has always been and which now is another piece of insidious dividing of the huge intellectual responsibility it is to encompass the whole of that history and conveniently allows the National party a greater part of history than its actually entitled to
    We are supposed to be a country that has its own identity but once again the commemoration and focus here is being shifted to the international stage which is contrary to highlighting of the hundreds of monuments both here and in Oz to bring the tragedy suffered by many in both countries to the fore
    Its just more ego building for our english PM BEING WHAT HE IS in essence and we once again are being used as was the case 100 yrs ago
    There are plenty of truly respectful immigrants here from the old country and europe but Key is just an opportunist and has about as much respect for this nation as his working life before politics would indicate, none
    As one who comes from a family who lost members in both wars I find it abhorrent that we are sanctioning this continual bending of LEAST WE FORGET for the media feeding frenzy instead of having news that highlights all the little towns in ANZAC ville that deserved to be thrust onto the world news in the same proportions as the great pilgrimage to the Dardanelles the Somme and Passchendaele
    at huge cost to our nations both then and now
    Thank God for the Maori channel or we would get F all
    But this corporate money grabbing of history is about as useful as it was 100yrs ago
    Can you just piss off Key ?

  23. Edward 23

    The undertaking was in no way pointless. The plan was sound and the goal worthy. The allied forces just weren’t up to it – c’est la guerre.

    What is pointless, farcical and criminal is the latest war that our cretinous government will have us fighting in. War against the Islamic State, is it? This is to be conducted alongside Turkey and Saudi Arabia – the former provides weaponry, safe havens and occasionally even air support to the IS, while the latter is bank, Mosque and recruiting service to the IS, to Al-Nusra and anybody else with a shaggy beard and a TNT vest.

    And the Americans. Do they even want to defeat the IS? Of course not – barely more than a year ago they were desperate to bomb Syria and catapult the Jihadis into power. They propose to combat the IS by arming the ‘moderate rebels’, who can be divided between those who have joined the IS and those who will join the IS.

    Under these conditions, New Zealand troops will go to ‘train’ the Iraqi army. What will our heroes teach the Iraqis, exactly? What does the New Zealand Army know about war anymore? Who are the Iraqis they will be instructing? How many of their ‘students’ will be IS infiltrators? When the inevitable happens and one of our ‘instructors’ guest stars in an IS beheading video, will we then be shamed into committing a full combat force?

    No, the Great War could never have been this stupid. We knew who our enemy were and we were fighting to defeat them. Now we have one enemy in front of us (the IS), and two beside us (Saudi, Turkey), but we pretend that the enemy beside us are our allies, smiling and shaking their bloody hands while they wait for the most opportune moment to slit our throats. There’s no plan to win and no desire to win. Snuff theatre – such will be John Key’s legacy.

    • The plan was sound and the goal worthy.

      The “goal” was to relieve Russia from Turkish incursion. The Turkish incursion was over before the invasion of Gallipoli began. The plan was so “sound” they didn’t even land troops at the right spot.

      Just because the goal was at some point in time relevant doesn’t mean you go ahead with throwing away the lives of soldiers.

      And just because the benefit of historic hindsight means we have a better picture of the “who” and “why” of WWI doesn’t mean the people on the ground at the time had any better picture of it than we do of the fight against ISIS.

      I don’t see why you need to say “no, World War One was actually great, the only problem was our soldiers sucked” in order to inflate the problems with the Iraq deployment. Both can be bad and nostalgia shouldn’t make us treat them differently.

    • Tracey 23.2

      Our “plan” and “goal” was formed by our “betters”, people became officers largely based on birth. How could it have gone so wrong?

  24. It seems to me that most people commenting here are still throwing around analyses of WW1 that are premised on the assumption that wars are between nations, rather than between classes.

    Nations are the vehicles for rival bourgeoisies to struggle for supremacy using their workers as cannon fodder.

    The whole point being that the victorious powers then make use of their expanded empires and put the surviving proletariat to work making more profits.

    But WW1 opened up the prospect of such inter-bourgeois (now inter-imperialist) wars turning into open class wars.

    This can be seen in a number of ways. Resistance to drafts (usually a death sentence); the famous temporary truces between the ranks that were also met with threat of punishment; mutinies, and ultimately, revolutions.

    The Bolshevik Revolution was mainly the response to the war by workers and poor peasants. The February 1917 revolution was kicked off by women textile workers facing starvation. It was followed by the October Revolution when the majorities in the soviets of workers, troops and poor peasants stood for the overthrow of the bourgeois government.

    The revolution in Germany began with the mutinies of troops in 1918 and led to the formation of workers and troops councils and militias.

    A bloody civil war ensured in which the Social Democratic party headed a new Republic unleashing the military and fascist paramilitaries against the revolutionary Spartacists.

    Reacting to the new threat of the Russian revolution spreading throughout Europe the hostile warring states joined forces to invade Soviet Russia only to be defeated by the Red Army.

    As we know the war resistance that opened the way for a Europe wide (and thus a world wide) revolution was contained in Russia, defeated in Germany, and the coup d’ grace was the rise of fascism in Italy in 1919 which then spread to Spain and Germany by the 1930s.

    So WW1 resulted in a repartition of the capitalist world but which included the rise of a new threat to the existence of capitalism itself, the Soviet alternative to capitalism. This led inevitably to WW2 in the attempt to isolate and destroy the Soviet bloc.

    Again while the Allies fought the Axis their ultimate target was the Soviet Union. Again they failed in that objective as the Soviet Second World spread to China and Indochina, and offered an alternative to revolutionaries in the colonial world.

    The end of the Cold War and restoration of capitalism in Russia, China, IndoChina and Cuba, has not solved the problems for imperialism. Instead of being able to grab back what was lost to them between 1917 and 1950, Russia and China have come back from the dead as imperialist rivals.

    So the defeat of the soviet world in the 1990s is not the victory of the global capitalist class over the world’s workers. Rather it marks the opening up of a new struggle between the old declining US bloc and the rising Russia China bloc for global supremacy.

    And that struggle to the death will surely create the conditions for new revolutions.

    We are heading towards a new world war between these two blocs and once again the workers are being prepared to fight one another in the interests of their respective imperialist ruling classes.

    Inevitably like the previous WW1 and WW2, WW3 will be a class war. The working class can learn from history and refuse to fight this war, instead turning it into a global class war against the imperialist ruling classes.

  25. Heidi ankers 25

    Except opposition leader Andrew Little; he acknowledges the pointless slaughter on his FB post in my feed.

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