Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Gallipoli and Anzac day an antiwar memorial, not a war memorial: "While praising the Anzacs as 'the bravest of the brave', [New Zealand Defence Force chief, Vice-Marshal Bruce Ferguson] said 'there was no glory 90 years ago'- only a tragic slaughter of young men on all sides. With Prince Charles sitting opposite him, the vice-marshal labelled the Gallipoli campaign as 'joint warfare at its worst, at least on the British side ... There was inspired leadership at the lower levels and gross incompetence at the senior levels.'

"The effect, he said, was to forge a lasting bond between Australians and New Zealanders, as 'side by side they grew critical of the high command and the British strategy'. At Gallipoli, 'We learnt to shake off the shackles of colonial dependency - we learnt we must stand for what we believe in.' The New Zealand defence chief said that even now armies heeded the lesson of the Dardanelles campaign. 'No commander today will risk young lives so needlessly.

"'None of us can ever conceive what a hell on earth this place was for eight months.' He said we must never forget that the Turks, 'who were defending their homeland', lost 87,000 lives. Vice-Marshal Ferguson's speech underlined the remarkable nature of Anzac Day: 17,000 people, most of them young Australians, gathered at Gallipoli yesterday to remember not a triumph, but a defeat.

"The [Anzac Day] commemoration has no parallel anywhere, said Duncan Anderson, a historian at Britain's Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, who visited Gallipoli last week."

The Anzac Gallipoli disaster was a pointless slaughter of colonial cannon fodder for Imperialist and militarist purposes, as well as an unprovoked invasion of a country and people against which we had no cause of animosity. But it has left its mark on Australia. No longer could any Australian government ever send its young people on such a folly again. During the First World War two hotly contested referenda to introduce conscription to keep up the numbers of the fodder were defeated. During the Second World War the government insisted (over Churchill's objections) on bringing the troops home for the defence of Australia. And even today the unrepentent Royalist, Imperialist and Colonialist Prime Minister John Howard is starkly limited in his ability to send cannon fodder abroad for imperialist wars. Although of course they should never have taken part in the war whatsoever, the troops in Iraq are a token force in number, and the country would not stand for heavy casualties.

Howard's presence at the Gallipoli ceremony was a painful incongruity. Perhaps no member of the executive government or the high military command (above the rank of those that served and died at Gallipoli) should be present at such events. The commemorative event is for the people, to remember the dead, their skill and bravery, and the ultimate futility of it; and to recall how the Empire and the Government, and the State and military power is the cause.

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