Lest we forget

by John Quiggin on April 25, 2017

Today is Anzac Day, the anniversary of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign which marked the first major involvement of Australian and New Zealand troops in the Great War. In their memory, I’ll quote the man most directly responsible for the disaster, describing the war of which it was a part (H/T Daniel Quiggin)

Germany having let Hell loose kept well in the van of terror; but she was followed step by step by the desperate and ultimately avenging nations she had assailed. Every outrage against humanity or international law was repaid by reprisals often on a greater scale and longer duration. No truce or parley mitigated the strife of the armies. The wounded died between the lines; the dead moldered into the soil. Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were sunk on the seas and all on board left to their fate, or killed as they swam. Every effort was made to starve whole nations into submission without regard to age or sex. Cities and monuments were smashed by artillery. Bombs from the air were cast down indiscriminately. Poison gas in many forms stifled or seared the soldiers. Liquid fire was projected upon their bodies. Men fell from the air in flames, or were smothered, often slowly, in the dark recesses of the sea. The fighting strength of armies was limited only by the manhood of their countries. Europe and large parts of Asia and Africa became one vast battlefield on which after years of struggle not armies but nations broke and ran. When it was all over, Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian states had been able to deny themselves: and these were of doubtful utility.
As it turned out, even this assessment was too optimistic. The second phase of the great world war saw the end of the few limits that had been observed in the first.

To pay respect to the Anzacs and those who followed them, we should stop repeating the mistakes and crimes of those who sent them to their deaths.

{ 10 comments }

1

bad Jim 04.25.17 at 8:05 am

One of the books that languished on a shelf during my long hiatus from reading was Nicholson Baker’s “Human Smoke” which is composed entirely of excerpts of contemporary writing, alternating at first among pacifist reactions to the first world war, imperialistic pontifications, harbingers of fascism and increasingly the real thing, and finally the second war.

It brings out the brutal reality that from the outset our side’s policy was starvation through blockade and bombing civilians. Blockade is no big deal; Britannia rules the waves, this is how wars were always fought. The idea that you’re not allowed to kill civilians doesn’t seem to have troubled anyone throughout the war that we still tend to feel pretty good about.

2

Val 04.25.17 at 11:19 am

JQ, thank you. I am sickened by the glorification of war that happens at this time in our country, but slightly heartened that this year it doesn’t seem quite as bad

3

Anarcissie 04.25.17 at 2:10 pm

Yet our leaders and institutions continue to advocate aggressive war, and somebody votes for them, supports them, does business with them.

4

Surrounded by Red 04.25.17 at 3:24 pm

The war to end all wars failed to end all wars. We stopped killing for about 5 minutes then picked up the guns again. Like all wars, we used the first world war to get better at waging war. We became more efficient killers and we developed technological wonders that killed like never before.

5

William Berry 04.25.17 at 3:54 pm

This might be a good time to remind everyone of one of the best anti-war films ever made: Peter Weir’s Gallipoli. It’s a great rendition of the classic story of patriotic, insouciant, adventure-hungry youth first becoming acquainted with the heavy machine gun.

6

Anarcissie 04.25.17 at 9:58 pm

Anti-war films seem to be a part of the war apparatus. Or at least they don’t do much to inhibit it. So, is the problem our institutions or ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us’?

7

BBA 04.25.17 at 10:28 pm

A song for today. And, really, every day.

8

MFB 04.26.17 at 9:59 am

Well, yes. And yet . . .
In principle, the Gallipoli campaign was a sensible project, which was disastrously mismanaged, with the wrong people put in charge, weak preparation, division among the services and very poor execution; notwithstanding it could have knocked Turkey out of the war, in which case the war might have ended sooner and fewer people died.

Alternatively, you can say that Australia shouldn’t have got into the war in the first place. However, would Australia not have lost out had the Germans won the war? Indeed, would they not have lost out had they stayed out and then the British win the war? You can see that it’s complicated.

You can make a stronger case for saying that the war shouldn’t have happened in the first place. However, once the war had started there was no real way to stop it, and in the climate of paranoia about political, economic and military weakness which had partly evolved (I mistyped “evilved”, which is probably appropriate) and partly been constructed, it seems to me that a big European war was almost inevitable.

In other words, saying that we shouldn’t make mistakes like that again implies that we are now a whole lot smarter than we were in 1914. In my opinion we are not smarter. I suspect, in fact, that we are in some ways dumber, partly because few of the people who clamour for wars nowadays have ever held a rifle in their hands or heard a bomb explode — or ever expect to.

At least the British ruling class in 1914 had, potentially, something personally to lose from sending their sons off to be massacred.

9

Moz of Yarramulla 04.27.17 at 12:00 am

We also have our annual “you are insufficiently reverent” political beat-up, and in unsurprising news the right is targeting the ABC: https://theconversation.com/abdel-magied-anzac-row-is-a-storm-over-not-much-76708

As Ms Grattan says, if a far right ABC commentator said something controversial away from the ABC, would we hear the same demands that the ABC “do something” about it?

10

Billikin 04.27.17 at 7:02 pm

BBA@7

Hear, hear!

Comments on this entry are closed.