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Anzac quibbles « Previous | |Next »
April 25, 2006

What continues to suprise me about the Anzac Day celebrations is the way the patriotism surrounding Anzac Cove displaces or forgets the insanity of Winston Churchill's military strategy of naval attack through the Dardanelles and a land assault on the Gallipoli peninsulas to seize the Turkish capital Constantinople; the military incompetence of the British generals; and Gallipoli representing an invasion of Turkey by Australians, who confronted well-defended trench lines. The patriotism built upon Anzac Cove 1915 is more about the birthplace of the nation, heroic sacrifice and the flower of our county's youth being cut down in their prime, than it is about love for country.

Don't you think that national pride constructed on slaughter is somewhat odd? Or constructed from a failed campaign covered over by deceit?

Sure we need mythmaking. All nations do. We shoudn't forget that Gallipoli had nothing to do with diggers defending the liberty of Australia, did it? Nor did Turkey ever threaten Australia. So why not remember Turkish heroism? Was not the flower of Turkey's youth also cut down in their prime defending their country from the British invasion? Why not remember the awful tragedy of that part of the WW1 in the tradition of Sidney Nolan?

Bruce Petty

The deeper significance of Anzac Cove is a long way way from the cliched speeches and flag waving within a kitschy spectacle organized by the cultural industry, isn't it.

What should be remembered are the words of Kemil Ataturk carved in stone by the sea :

"You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on our land they have become our sons as well."

Surely Australian patriotism, if it is to be celebrated on Anzac Day is better served with Kokoda-----this was a frontline defence of the Australian homeland against an enemy intent on attacking, and possibly invading, Australia. Should not Australians make that journey into our history?

Love of country, as distinct from kitschy nationalism, involves citizens defending the country and its way of life from invasion, and to prevent an occupation of our homeland by an enemy. 1942 symbolized the separation of British imperial and Australian interests. They were no longer one and the same. The Australian-Briton fused identity had fractured beyond repair.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:34 PM | | Comments (12)


Kokoda was also one of the great milita victories as well. Probably not since the American revolutionary war has a militia had such a large effect on the outcome of a battle.

Gary, perhaps you should go to a Dawn Service next year. Perhaps you should follow Anzac Day commentory more closely...all campaigns are remembered and revered on Anzac Day. All our diggers past and present are 'remmbered' are the Turks who valiantly fought ninety years ago. Personally, I believed our brave young men and women, past and present should be revered and respected every moment of every day. Anzac Day and 11th November just bring it all together and into the minds of the 'common people'...the public who tend to forget such things living their daily routines of their lives.

There is a complex discourse around Anzac. Anzac is not just the event of the dawn service on the 25th of April --it is also about the meaning and significance of the Anzac tradition and the way that tradition is used today.

I had this article in mind when I wrote the post---a conservative interpretation of Anzac in the Canberra Times. It states that:

ANZAC Day is a simple concept: a grateful nation pays solemn homage to its war veterans and says thanks to those who made the blood sacrifice.It reflects the nation's need, through moving dawn services and Anzac Day marches on Tuesday, to honour the deeds and deaths of our servicemen and women.

It then goes on to say that RSL national president Bill Crews worries that children will come to dominate the march as fewer veterans remain:
"If you start turning the march into a family event, you certainly would start to lose the significance," Mr Crews has said. He is correct.In future, the Anzac Day march may evolve to become something different, but while there is even one veteran left alive, the march should continue as a tribute to him and his comrades. Only veterans have earned the right to march, and the honour of marching should be theirs alone.

The conclusion is that to have children and non-veterans joining in would spoil the meaning of the commemoration.

What I am also contesting, given my conception of patriotism as love of country, is the conservative view that what Anzac stands for today is Australia taking a stand against evil. So, this rhetoric goes, we must dare not forget the Anzacs and all they stood for, and we must remember all who've left Australia's shores and stood in the face of danger to combat evil.

The Turks were not evil.They were defending their country from an invasion by Australia acting for British Empire interests. They succeeding in repelling the Bristish led invasion.

Gary.Nice article,couldn't agree more.I attended the dawn sevice in my suburb,and shock horror what did I see?One federal and state politician.Now am I saying these two M.P.s didn't have as much right to be there as my self? No,however what did get up my nose was the fact thier presence was broadcast over the P.A. system as if thier presence was as important as the solemn occassion itself.

It is to be noted that one of the oportunistic bastards was responsible for sending our troops to the,what can best be discribed by me anyway,as the Iraq fiasco.The irony was not lost on me,one of the politicians is responsible for voting to take away the rights of workers,the very rights in some cases our troops fought and died for.I was left speechless.Just like Churchill and the British Generals,our modern day politicians will slip away into the mists of time,knowing full well we Anglo Saxons are a forgiving lot with short memories.

Andrew Bartlett links to this speech by Les Carlyon, the author of 'Gallopoli'.

This passage from Carlyon's speech is of interest:

Gallipoli was first of all a political failure. The 'Easterners' in the political salons of London believed that the war could best be won by opening up fronts on the flanks, by niggling not at Germany but at Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman empire. It is easy to see from this distance that this policy was wrong-headed. As someone said, it was like a boxer trying to win the fight by knocking out his opponent's seconds.

On the other hand Carlyon says that Gallipoli is a akin to a sacred site:
In Australia Gallipoli is also a state of mind, a place in the heart, and the stuff of warm inner glows for those of us who were lucky enough not to have been there or to have suffered from its after-effects. Gallipoli is part of the folklore, one of the few words spoken in Australia with something approaching reverence. Gallipoli has become a church and even secular churches need myths. Gallipoli had become a faith and faiths are hostile to analysis.

A faith about what though? Carlyon says that:
..we are right to remember Gallipoli---because of what it says about the spirit of the men, all of them volunteers, who served there. If we are to have a foundation story, we could do worse than a tale that is a compound of mateship and endurance, cynicism and rough humour, bungling and heroics...We are surely right to walk past the political intrigues and the military blunders and say that Gallipoli says something good about the Australian people and the Australian spirit.

What is missing from this is that the strategic threat to Australia----none.

The Japanese did represent a strategic threat to Australia 1942 from Curtin's perspective. As Paul Ham observed on Lateline:

: Curtin inherited a near defenceless country and, you know, our troops, the AIF, were in the Middle East, in Greece, in Europe. We had very few aircraft, very few pilots. They were sent off to fight for Britain in the empire training scheme. We had fewer ships, they were in the Mediterranean. We had very little. We had very little actually. And in that situation you would imagine that you really have to get some sort of defensive shield when the Japanese are in such close proximity.

That is what should be remembered. It should never be forgotten. Australia should come first.

The problem with Gallipoli is that the Australiains were acting for British imperial interests, sort of not in Australia's interest. What Kokoda represents is a military campaign in which the Australians troops are acting in Australia's interests and not British imperial interests.

I find the politics leading up to, and behind, the New Guinea campaign very interesting and significant.

Paul Ham on Lateline stated that Winston Churchill had unilaterally ordered the transfer of a ship at sea full of Australian soldiers to Rangoon, in defiance of the Australian Government; without even talking to the Australian Government. Australia only mattered to Churchill to the extent that it served British imperial interests.

What is even more suprising is that most of the press, most of Curtin's own diplomats in London, a large portion of the people, certainly many Conservative politicians believe that our troops should have stayed in the Middle East or be diverted to Rangoon to fight.

I find that an extraordinary situation, given the Japanese victories in Asia and their downward sweep to Australia. Australia had to defend its own country not the colonial possessions of the British Empire in Burma and India.

I find the silence around this extraordinary given the longstanding Australian paranoia about invasion from the north, through, rather than by, Indonesia. This was a fear that existed long before the fall of Singapore, but which was much aggravated by it.

Yeh Churchill's treatment of Menzies and Blamey in deploying an Australian Division (6th IIRC) to Greece/Crete by lieing to them both helped hasten Menzies' downfall. Blamey actually had to fight Churchill and British leaders to treat Australian troops as a soveriegn entity. Curtin's fight over the return of the 6th/7th Divisions was an extension of that.

At the end of Kokoda it became obvious that MacArthur had the same contempt for Australian troops as Churchill did, and Curtin and Blamey lacked the will to shout MacArthur down (as Menzies and Blamey had earlier with Churchill). Blamey ended up calling the militia that fought on the Kokoda Track cowards and replaced Rowell just as they had finally beat the Japanese.

There is little to recommend Australian political or military leadership in WWII.

You are absolutely spot on Cameron.I once watched an episode of the Parkinson show the British so called interview king?He had an Army Colonel on who served in the desert campaign WW2.Whoes name escapes me now.Parkinson asked him "What was your most memorable incident from the desert campaign" The colonel in reply(in an upper crust English accent) "Well you know Parky it's when my man jeeves brought me this lovely ice cold bottle of champers to my tent in the middle of this blistering hot day and it went down a treat".Well to me this man was a glowing representation of the bungling idiots that were running the war.And of course as we all know now in hind sight the further up the ladder they were,the more bungling occured.Phill

The historical record is one of John Curtin's early warnings of the threat from Japan and standing up to the Japanese. It was Robert Menzies who downplayed the Japanese threat to Australia, and who is associated with the Brisbane Line.

Curtin opposed the conservative Imperial Defence Policy that Australia’s security has traditionally been won far beyond our borders as a member of grand alliances, and that the price of the strategic decisions made in London required that Australia be left open to attack or invasion.

So I was more than suprised by the accusation made by Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister, last May that John Curtin and other Labor leaders had a pattern of weak leadership, particularly on the issues of appeasement, isolationism and shirking international treaty obligations.

It is the Howard Government that advocates a defence strategy based on reducing the emphasis on the defence of Australia in favour of a military capacity to send expeditionary forces to distant conflicts waged by imperial powers.

Despite this history The Australian is running a campaign ---a partisan re-writing of history that continues the Downer accusation.

Downer has made some stupid speeches that fly in the face of reality or any empirical or historical test. His "Small Australia" was particularly poor, especially as the Howard/Downer permutation on the great and powerful friends doctrine has been the complete absence of power politics.

He appears to be in the Bush style politics of say anything, truth or authenticity be damned.

I consider Menzies and Curtin as our two worst Prime Ministers. They both had the most chance to change everything when the world needed us most, and both squandered it through poor political leadership despite the people doing everything right to set them up to achieve.

Why Curtin? Was it that Curtin turned our forces over to MacArthur? That, like Menzies, he acted with a colonial cringe to great and powerful friends?

So just swapped America/Curtin for Britain/Menzies?

Curtin is lionised by the ALP--he is a touchstone for their values, and a signpost on the path to their light on the hill that is forever in danger of being extinguished by bad weather.

What should Curtin have changed? That he should have broken with the old imperial political tradition of never putting Australian interests first?

Could he have done so in 1942?

Gary, Curtin pretty much turned our forces over to MacArthur, who was no Byng and worse than Birdwood. MacArthur sat directly with Curtin, he did not sit with Blamey and together come to Curtin. It was the same relationship as MacArthur had with the Phillipines, basically the General had the same, if not more power, as the colonial PM.

Curtin and Menzies were the same politician. I suspect Labor builds him up because Churchill has an aura around him as does FDR and it is Labor's way of claiming that they produced great men in great crisis.

Curtin was in a position to reshape Australia's asian influence. With the US cutting through the centre of the pacific he could have taken control of the south pacific, not MacArthur. Australia was sending pilots to Britain under the Empire Air Training Scheme (Menzies mess) and American air assets were flowing into the South Pacific. He could have said, "give us the equipment, and we will supply the man power".

IIRC in 1943 Australia 450,000 men in New Guinea to America's 200,000. So we were the main force in the south pacific outside of the US Navy. We just have elevated Blamey to commander of all allied force in the south pacific and then co-ordinated the retaking of everything from the Phillipines to East Timor.

We couldnt do it alone, but as the major partner in such an endeavour we would have been in control of it. It would also have given us more influence in how the post-war decolonialisation went as well. Something which left us with dictators on our front door-step.