Home > Oz Politics, World Events > Beazley on Gallipoli

Beazley on Gallipoli

April 26th, 2005

I was just getting vaguely reconciled to the idea of Beazley as Labor leader when he came out with the following claim in a speech at the Lowy Institute (PDF):

We cannot understand the decisions of 1914, and we cannot understand Gallipoli, if we do not understand that Australia had compelling direct and distinctly Australian reasons for being there, he argued. Australia recognised that Britain would become increasingly less able and willing to guarantee Australia’s future security. So it was in Australian interests to become an active participant in imperial security, to ensure British power was not eclipsed.

This is wrong in just about every way a historical claim can be wrong

First, it’s not true that the Australian government of the day weighed up whether or not to join the war in any serious fashion, or considered terms for entry that would be advantageous to Australia. Fisher’s statement that we would defend the Mother Country “to the last man and the last shilling” may have been rhetorical bombast, but it accurately captured the lack of calculation in Australia’s commitment. Even in 1939, Menzies could assert that Britain’s declaration of war on Germany meant that Australia was also at war[1].

It’s true that having lost so many lives in the War, the Hughes government sought and gained for Australia the status of independent parties in the post war negotiations, and used this for such noble and farsighted ends as blocking a Japanese push to have a racial equality clause included in the covenant of the League of Nations. But this was not an initial objective of participation.

Second, to describe the supposed strategic calculation as ‘prescient’ is bizarre. Our efforts to keep Britain enmeshed in Asia led straight to the disaster of Singapore and the horrors of the Burma railway. We gained nothing from our reliance on the Empire while diverting large numbers of our own troops away from the defence of Australia.

Third, if all this were true, and even if an alliance with Britain was beneficial to Australia, the alleged strategy amounts to a war crime. It’s one thing to suggest that Australia naively committed large numbers of troops to a defensive war aimed at liberating “gallant little Belgium”. The Australian leaders responsible were morally culpable for their failure to stop the bloodbath of the Great War, but not in the same way as those (most obviously the German High Command, but there were many others) who deliberately pursued war as a route to geopolitical advantage. But on Beazley’s account, Australia was just as guilty as the initial aggressors. On this account we made war on Turkey, a country with which we had no quarrel and no concern. This was done, not as part of a British war in which, considered as Australians, we had no part, but in a deliberate attempt to tilt the postwar international balance of power in our favour. The only comforting thing about this claim is that it is untrue.

fn1. Canada asserted its independent right to make decisions on war commitments during the Chanak crisis of 1922 (in a historical irony, this was also in the Dardanelles, a fact exploited by Lloyd George in calling for Dominion troops). Australia was also unhappy about the call, but temporised until the crisis passed.

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  1. April 26th, 2005 at 08:09 | #1

    Both major parties are committed to the pathetic “great and powerful friends” doctrine of foreign policy. I suspect this is an attempt to paint a history, and hence legitimacy, for it.

  2. Dave Ricardo
    April 26th, 2005 at 08:34 | #2

    And, to think, this is Beazley’s area of (supposed) expertise. What must he be like on stuff he knows nothing about?

  3. MB
    April 26th, 2005 at 10:01 | #3

    The fact that Hughes and his government wholeheartedly backed the war on the basis of imperial loyalty becomes even more plausible when we take into account that Hughes was himself born in Britain (the son of Welsh parents) and so was a large part of the labor movement at that time. The view that Mother England had to be defended cut deep within the labor movement, and brought the conflict between Nonconformist Protestants who backed the war, and Irish-born Catholics, who had no love lost for Britain, to the surface.

  4. Paul Norton
    April 26th, 2005 at 10:43 | #4

    Fresh from airbrushing the history of World War 1 for Anzac Day, Colonel Blimp seems to have been appointed as Opinion page editor at The Age, judging from this morning’s pieces by Gerard Henderson, Cam Nguyen and Ted Lapkin. Henderson’s and Nguyen’s attempts to rehabilitate the Vietnam war and smear its critics follow a similar piece by Judy Rymer in the Sydney Morning Herald last week.

    A few simply facts are overlooked by all three:

    1. The Geneva Accords, which attempted to provide for a peace settlement in Vietnam after the defeat of the French by the nationalist Viet Minh in 1954, provided that the division of Vietnam into North and South would be a temporary measure until elections could take place in 1956 to elect a government of a unified Vietnam.

    2. These elections were prevented from taking place by the US and its client regime in Saigon (with Australian support) because all the available intelligence indicated that Ho Chi Minh would win overwhelmingly – and would have been more strongly supported in the South than in the North.

    3. The subsequent war to preserve the anti-communist Saigon regime led to between 2 and 3 million deaths, mostly of Vietnamese, as well as many more disabled, and massive economic and ecological destruction.

    4. The Saigon regime which this carnage was intended to preserve was not a bunch of budding Lech Walesas and Vaclav Havels – one should look to Suharto, Pinochet, Park Chung-Hee, Ferdinand Marcos, the Shah of Iran, and the Argentinian and Brazilian generals for the sort of “free” regime that US policy was installing and supporting at the time.

    5. US policy in Indo-China also encompassed the destabilisation and overthrow of the Sihanouk regime in Cambodia, and the subsequent destructive bombing campaign which ruined the country and provided the genocidal Khmer Rouge with an opportunity which it would never otherwise have had to seize control.

    6. Some people who were politically active at the time, such as Doug Kirsner and Judy Rymer, undoubtedly did barrack for a Communist victory in Vietnam (as distinct from opposing the war and supporting a settlement based on self-determination for Vietnam). They are welcome to recant and apologise for positions which they held, and to ask others who did hold the same positions to do likewise. But they have no business pretending that everyone else who opposed the war held this view.

    7. People who profess a concern for the human rights of the Vietnamese and Cambodians need to do a better job than Henderson, Nguyen and Rymer have done of squaring this concern with their current position of condoning policies which denied democratic self-determination to the Vietnamese in 1956 and subsequently led to the deaths of up to 5 million Vietnamese and Cambodians.

  5. Katz
    April 26th, 2005 at 11:16 | #5

    Beazley’s comments are bizarrely ahistorical.

    1. Australia had no independent foreign policy. Under the Australian constitution, a British declaration of war was ipso facto an Australian declaration of war.

    2. Declaration of war by Britain triggered a return of much of tha RAN to British control.

    3. There was no strategic calculation by the Fisher Government, a state of affairs probably caused by the beleif that the war would be over before any serious Australian involvment.

    4. If Fisher had been more measured in his response to British bellicosity his government would probably have been removed by popular action or by vice-regal intervention. Fisher established an expeditionary force of 20,000 men, which was enormously oversubscribed amidst accusations of temporising hurled by wide sections of the Australian community. In short, political survival required a jingo response, which Fisher was more than happy to comply with in any case.

  6. Homer Paxton
    April 26th, 2005 at 11:50 | #6

    I tend to agree with Katz.
    Remember it is the Labour party spearheaded by Hughes that brought that vastly over-rated Kitchener here because of their fears of defence.
    They started the RAN.
    This was not the major reason but sufficient reason to fight war we shouldn’t have.

  7. Hal9000
    April 26th, 2005 at 12:49 | #7

    Henderson had a piece last week saying how the slaughter at Gallipoli was all justified because Turkey (by which presumably he means the Ottoman Empire) was an ally of Germany. The piece was a snide attack on Eric Bogle, although I doubt somehow Henderson’s writing will live as long.

    A few thoughts about Gallipoli, at which my grandfather fought in the AIF Artillery, and particularly about the myth-making we’ve been witnessing:

    1. ANZAC was one-third composed of New Zealanders, who also have a public holiday to commemorate the event. The crowd who like to talk about April 25 being our national day never seem to recall that it was ANZAC, not AAC. The bloodiest assault at ANZAC was the assault on the fortified mountain Chunuk Bair by the NZ Brigade, for which the appalling slaughter at The Nek commemorated by the Weir film was merely a diversion.

    2. There was only light opposition to the initial dawn landings – it was not as seems to be the mythology somthing like the Omaha Beach scene with Tom Hanks in the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. Great success could have been achieved had commanders been able to co-ordinate an advance. As it was confusion enabled the defenders to rush reinforcements to the scene and recapture the ground of tactical importance (ie the heights) from the disorganised groups of ANZACs (sans ammunition) who had seized it. There was significant fighting on April 25 at ANZAC, but it was later in the day.

    3. The slaughter at the April 25 landings was at Cape Helles and the victims were Irish and English. The SS River Clyde disaster was one of the more pointless massacres in a campaign in a war replete with pointless massacres. It was at Cape Helles the sea was red with blood. The British losses in the campaign were a factor of magnitude greater than the Australian and New Zealand losses. The defenders’ losses were a factor of magnitude greater again.

    4. The point of ANZAC Day, and indeed Remembrance Day November 11, is to keep in mind the dreadful loss that was borne, in case we should be tempted again to embark lightly upon a jingo-driven military adventure. The footage of our latest expeditionary troops observing ANZAC Day ceremonials in what was in 1915 another corner of the Ottoman Empire has an unremarked irony.

    5. Speaking of myth-making, I’m reminded here of the myths about how the Vietnam veterans were treated on their return, and how the anti-war people were allegedly responsible for spitting on them and the like. I believe there was an incident when a Battalion was parading in Sydney prior to embarkation for Vietnam where a demonstrator threw some animal blood over an officer. The anti-war organisations immediately condemned the action. The RSL, however, refused for quite a few years to allow Vietnam (and Malaya and Borneo) veterans the right to join the ANZAC Day march because they maintained Vietnam and the other wars weren’t ‘real’ wars. It seems to me that sort of attitude was more likely the source of the much-reported alienation the Vietnam veterans felt upon their return than were the actions of the anti-war movement.

  8. Katz
    April 26th, 2005 at 13:37 | #8

    I agree with Paul Norton, especially this comment:

    6. Some people who were politically active at the time, such as Doug Kirsner and Judy Rymer, undoubtedly did barrack for a Communist victory in Vietnam (as distinct from opposing the war and supporting a settlement based on self-determination for Vietnam). They are welcome to recant and apologise for positions which they held, and to ask others who did hold the same positions to do likewise. But they have no business pretending that everyone else who opposed the war held this view.

    What a farrago of nonsense does Henderson foist upon the reading public, and to think I praised one of his efforts not so long ago!

    The simple fact of the matter is that the US and its allies were unwilling to pay the price to prevent Communist victory. Their approach amounted to a policy of perpetual war and an endless slaughter of the people of Indo China. All toachieve what Kissinger dubbed “an elegant bug-out”. Is this a policy worth the blood of one Australian soldier? Even Communist victory was a release from that appalling fate.

    In 1975 South Vietnam possessed the third biggest airforce in the world. What SVN lacked was legitimacy in the eyes of its own people.

    Political necessity spawns hypocrisy. And yes, some members of the Australian Left made some insincere comments in the wake of the Communist victory in 1975. Is their record any worse than the US supporting the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia? I think not.

    And a take-home lesson: stay tuned for the “elegant bug-out” from Iraq, another place where the US and its allies will prove their unwillingness to pay the price.

  9. April 26th, 2005 at 14:08 | #9

    The anti-war movement took perhaps four years to achieve the scale of the Moratoriums. Like a lot of mass movements, some of the early running was made by people with more extreme positions.

    I can remember very well from 1968 on at Flinders University, for instance, how the most energy came from people who did back the NLF. “Ho,ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is Gunna Win.”

    But these were the squeaky wheels, and the country was ultimately honoured by their stance, though we may disagree with their extremism.

    By the time the antiwar movement was a genuinely mass movement, embraced by at least the Jim Cairn’s of the Labor Party, the very great majority of people were far from supporting the North. While we tended to justify their struggle as a nationalist endeavour, we knew they fought dirty and had their share of atrocities.

    Also, I really don’t remember the antagonism to the soldiers. I remember some instances of serving soldiers being aggressive to us and some verbal clashes. I do remember the RSL rejecting the veterans. An awful lot of them went home to their rural farms and towns, which were hardly hotbeds of radicalism. Could it be that their Country Party voting neighbours didn’t care about them?

    And I do remember that it was the Left who stuck up for them in the Agent Orange enquiry. One of the arguments used against them was precisely that they were rural people who had encountered pesticides before and after serving. How much did the Fraser government do for them?

    Despite some soul-searching among Americans, I have yet to see any of the powerful figures of the wartime Liberal governments concede that they were wrong, and had blood on their hands.

  10. Homer Paxton
    April 26th, 2005 at 14:36 | #10

    those most over-rated men Fisher and Kitchenner over-ruled Churchill and thus made Gallipolli a defeat waiting to happen.

    On this occasion Churchill deserves some sympathy.

    even if it had been successful it wouldn’t had done much to the war which was only solved when the US joined in.
    If not there were have been a draw somehow managed.

  11. Andrew Reynolds
    April 26th, 2005 at 14:58 | #11

    You are forgetting (I believe) what the original intent was of trying to force the Dardanelles. Russia was our (or at least Britain’s) ally in this war and the intent was to force the Dardanelles to allow supplies to reach the Russians. Once the war was bogged down in France the only real hope of a ‘traditional’ war of movement was in the East, where sheer defensive weight was able to be overcome by the distances involved. Britain therefore wanted to help Russia to try to end the war quickly.
    That the campaign was against Turkey was because they were blocking the straits, not against Turkey per se.
    It was not a war crime, by any stretch, because Turkey had declared war on Britain (as their alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary required them to) and blocked the Dardanelles to shipping – the attack on them was not, therefore, a war crime, but a part of a war.
    As Hal9000 rightly points out, on the Empire side at least, most of those in action throughout the whole campaign were British, most of the dead were British etc. etc. The only reason that the ANZACs were involved at all was because they had been training in Egypt and were therefore close by and not currently engaged. In the context of WW I the Dardanelles campaign was just a footnote, but one writ large in Australia because it was our first battle of the war.
    You are right, though, that there was no strategic thinking in the Australian declaration of war, as there was no such declaration. It was taken for granted – not, as Katz indicated, by the operation of the Constitution, but because there was thought to be no need for one. This was corrected under Menzies for WWII, where there was a formal declaration, if a few days late.
    As a side note, as Hal Colebatch’s biography makes clear, the Australian Government is at least partially responsible for the disaster of Singapore. We offered to fund the defences as part of the defences of Australia against the ‘yellow peril’ from the north, but when the time came to pony up, the government of the time objected to funding things for war during the depression and when we had fought the ‘war to end all wars’. So the work stopped after the seaward defences had been completed but before the landward ones had been started.

  12. Mark Upcher
    April 26th, 2005 at 15:52 | #12

    Kim appears to be making an appearance on the BBC in Doctor Who: World War Three on April 30. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/

    BTW, where can I find a simple guide to making these html addresses live links?

  13. Mark Upcher
    April 26th, 2005 at 16:00 | #13

    Oh. It did it automatically, this time.

  14. Katz
    April 26th, 2005 at 16:30 | #14

    “It was taken for granted – not, as Katz indicated, by the operation of the Constitution, but because there was thought to be no need for one.”: Andrew Reynolds.

    I’m mystified by this comment. The constitutional status of Australia vis-a-vis His Britannic Majesty’s Government was crystal clear. Britain’s declaration of war on the German Empire on 4 August 1914 automatically entailed Australia.

    Any denial of this fact by Fisher would have been unconstitutional and possibly treasonous. His commission to form a government would have been rescinded by the Governor General and he may have been tried for treason.

    Moreover, Menzies’ statement:

    “It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that in consequence of a persistence by Germany and her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.”

    is not an Australian declaration of war on Germany. It is exactly what its narrow, legalistic reading reveals it to be. It is a jurist’s acknowledgement of the automatic consequence of a British declaration of war on Australia’s relationship with the Enemy Power. (And if Menzies was nothing else, he was a very subtle jurist.)

    Menzies had been offered the opportunity to sever this de jure dominion status by ratifying the Statute of Westminster, an opportunity he explicitly and passionately rejected more than once in the mid 1930s.

  15. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2005 at 16:52 | #15

    Katz, this isn’t entirely clear, as Canada’s refusal to join the proposed Chanak expedition indicates.

  16. Katz
    April 26th, 2005 at 17:11 | #16


    I don’t know enough about the constitutional relationship between the Dominion of Canada and the United Kingdom in 1922 to say anything definitive about it.

    Some suggestions:

    1. Canada established a “Department of External Affairs” in 1909 which seems to have had autonomy in its dealings with foreign powers entirely absent in Australia’s “external affairs” at the same time. Thus, it may be suggested that by 1922 Canada had a constitutionally established autonomy in foreign affairs, a status not claimed or enjoyed by Australia. If Canadian autonomy was not a factor, then consider the following:

    2. Perhaps it was considered very rash in 1922 for Canadian empire loyalists to insist upon compliance with British objectives. On the other hand, empire loyalism was a bulwark of British sympathy in Australia. As proof of this one may consider the enormous size and latent paramilitary power of Australia’s White Guard and Old Guard. These huge but shadowy organisations served as the background to D. H. Lawrence’s “Kangaroo”, researched in the early 1920s.

  17. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2005 at 17:35 | #17

    Katz, I think point 2 is the relevant one. In the unlikely event that Australian public opinion had supported neutrality in either 1914 or 1939, I doubt there would have been an effective constitutional requirement to follow Britain.

  18. Katz
    April 26th, 2005 at 21:36 | #18

    Depends on what you mean by “effective”.

    Laws are effective or enforcible because of a mixture of the moral authority ascribed to the law and fear of punishment arising from breaking the law.

    In short, no constitutional provision is “effective” without consent and/or fear.

    In the case of both Fisher in 1914 and Menzies in 1939 I think an argument can be made that moral authority of existing constitutional arrangements predominated over any other motive for action.

    (As a counter example, Bob Hawke, during the constitutional crisis of 1975 thought that the possibility of an effective right-wing putsch was persuasive as a reason for refusing to call for a political revolution to support Whitlam’s refusal to recognise the authority of Kerr to remove his commission.)

  19. Andrew Reynolds
    April 26th, 2005 at 21:53 | #19

    I have read our Constitution and cannot find a clause that states that a declaration of war by Britain means that Australia is also at war – either implicitly or explicitly. The operation of the Statue of Westminster (and its ratification) I believe also has no effect on this. In a way, and as a result, Fisher’s declaration of ‘war’ is of no effect as well – but it has been accepted that Australia was at war nevertheless.
    It was not a matter of constitutionality – it is not in the constitution – but of accepted belief in 1914 that the declaration bound Australia. Strictly it did not, but anyone pointing it out at the time would have been seen as disloyal.
    It was pointed out to Menzies in 1939, after he had taken us in to the war, and the steps were duly taken in Parliament to put the matter beyond doubt a few days later.

  20. April 26th, 2005 at 22:09 | #20

    Great thread. Thanks for all your comments.

  21. April 27th, 2005 at 00:42 | #21

    what Nicholas said

  22. zoot
    April 27th, 2005 at 04:27 | #22

    Poor old Kim – already heading for his next defeat.
    And I too would like to thank all commenters for providing such an informative thread.

  23. snuh
    April 27th, 2005 at 08:56 | #23

    “war crime”? surely this must be judged by the standards of the time, and the laws of war have changed somewhat in the last 80 years. i’m not aware for any legal authority extant in 1915 which considered aggressive war to necessarily be a crime.

    aggression, in a criminal sense, is one of nuremburg’s “crimes against peace”. the kellogg-briand pact of 1928 did make aggression illegal, however it did not make it a crime [in the sense that leaders could be punished for waging aggressive war].

  24. Katz
    April 27th, 2005 at 10:32 | #24

    Andrew Reynolds, the relevant sections of the constitution are:

    “(xxix.) External Affairs:

    (xxx.) The relations of the Commonwealth with the islands of the Pacific:”

    Now this requires some explanation. A convenient way to place these words in contemporary context is to quote from La Nauze’s biography of Alfred Deakin:

    “In the beginning [this may be interpreted as everyone’s understanding of the constitution until 1914 and Menzies’ interpretation as late as 1939] the scope of ‘external affiars’ was conceived narrowly. Deakin did not assume that even in theory the Commonwealth had the power to conduct direct nepgiations with foreign powers. Relations with the other self-governing British domonions were another matter; and there might be some direct action about ‘relations … with the islands of the Pacific’, in the vague phrase of the Constitution. It is significant that even to a ‘colonial nationalist’ [i.e., Deakin] activity in external affairs was, in 1900, seen almost exclusively as the making of representations to the government of the United Kingdom.”

    La Nauze does a good job in deconstructing the conceptual map that all right-thinking Australians had of the world up to the outbreak of war in 1914, and the conceptual map of empire loyalists such as Menzies for decades thereafter.

    It is important to recognise that the Australian Constitution, as an Act of the British Parliament, came under close scrutiny of the British Government jealous of their own rights and privileges in the world.

    Relevant to our discussion, it is important to recognise the quadripartite division of the world as conceived by the Australian Constitution: Foreign Powers; Britain which dealt with foreign powers in the name of the British Empire of which Australia was a part; other British Dominions with which Australia conducted a stunted form of diplomacy; “The Islands of the Pacific” with which Australia might conduct a fully fledged form of diplomacy.

    This division of the world thus appears in explicit form in the Australian Constitution. Implicitly it conceded British responsibility for conducting foreign affairs with all foreign powers. Andrew Fisher recognised and respected these constitutional provisions in 1914. Menzies respected them in 1939, but in a concession to rising nationalism allowed a constitutionally irrelevant resolution favouring war to be passed.

    Of course, Australia now conducts its own foreign policy under s. 51 (xxix) of the Constitution. But that could only happen as a result of a willing amnesia about the original meaning of that section. A more elegant solution to the problem of Australian autonomy might have arisen from a redefinition of “Islands of the Pacific” to encompass the entire globe.

    The Australian Constitution remains completely silent about the process by which an Australian declaration of war might be made. This is a legacy of Australia’s stunted origins as a nation, and all the more remarkable given that the model used for the Australian Constitution was the US Constitution which makes the process very clear (though now fairly comprehensively undermined by the repid evolution of the Security State.)

  25. Paul Norton
    April 27th, 2005 at 11:27 | #25

    There is a school of thought which holds that Australia was officially constituted under international law as an independent nation, capable of running an independent foreign policy, by dint of its being accepted as a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI, and a foundation member of the League of Nations in 1920. This is contested, some arguing that Australia achieved independence at the time of federation, some arguing that independence was achieved through a combination of the Statute of Westminster (1931) and the Australia Act (1986), and some arguing that independence will not be achieved until Australia becomes a republic.

    Some of those who regard the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and membership of the League of Nations as the decisive steps to Australian independence have sought to argue that the Australian Constitution ceased to be effective at this time, that all Federal, State and Local governments from 1920 on have not been validly constituted, and that all laws and policies of those governments have been null and void. This argument is invoked by individuals contesting prosecution for refusal to pay taxes and/or local government rates. It is also invoked by old men as justification for organising private armed militias in small country towns.

    Some discussion of this issue can be found at http://www.ozpolitics.info/rules/ind.htm

  26. Katz
    April 27th, 2005 at 11:53 | #26

    Paul N., Thanks for the above reference. Very useful.

    It is a clear exposition of the obscure and gradual process of transition of Australian sovereignty.

    Of particular interest is the following:

    “Independence for the Commonwealth Parliament was largely achieved through the Imperial Statute of Westminster 1931; however, it was only adopted formally in Australia in 1942, backdated to 3 September 1939, via the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942.”

    Reference has already been made in this discussion to the reluctance of Australian conservatives to adopt the Statute of Westminster during the 1930s.

    I’m interested in Curtin’s decision to make eventual adoption of the Statute of Westminster retrospective to the date of the British declaration of war on Germany. Could this have been provoked by the persisting fear that Britain might have been defeated by Germany, thus rendering Australia’s persisting bellicosity with Germany an illegal act by a rogue state were Australia’s standing as an independent power not legitimised?

    This would tend to support the thesis that the Curtin Government shared concerns about Australia’s status as a sovereign entity along lines already discussed in earlier posts.

  27. Fyodor
    April 27th, 2005 at 12:10 | #27


    I’ve obviously come late to this thread, so apologies up front. On your three points:

    1) To say that the Australian government committed itself automatically to the British Empire cause is not the same as saying there was no calculation. There was no real division between Imperial defence and Australian defence – a threat to the Empire was perceived as a threat to Australia, which saw itself as an integral part of the empire, not a country possessed of independent foreign policy. Australian contributions to the Maori Wars, the Boxer Rebellion and – most importantly – the Boer War provided significant precedents for Australians fighting in the cause of the Empire, if not “Australia”. You’re making an assumption about Australian foreign policy decision making that is, IMO, incorrect.

    2) The disaster of Singapore and horrors of Burma were caused by Japanese imperialism, not Australian solicitation of Imperial defence. Australia was complacent about the threat from Japan, and Britain over-stretched, but those losses were inflicted by the Japanese, not self-inflicted.

    3) You’re being facetious in your reference to “Little Belgium” and loose in your definition of war crimes. The slaughter of the Great War was fought over mastery of continental Europe, and you’re quite frankly loopy if you believe that Australia was in any way responsible for either the outbreak of war or its prolongation. Leaving aside the superficialities of the Balkan context, the proximate cause of the war was German Imperialism, and for that Australia was not responsible. You say “we” had no interest in attacking Turkey, but you’re speaking for people who had a radically different identity to yours. Turkey had joined the Central Powers in an opportunistic attack on Russia’s interests and the CRITICAL Suez canal, the key lifeline between Britain and its empire in Asia. From an imperial perspective, Turkey WAS a threat to “us”. Turkey was correspondingly attacked and the Dardanelles consequently became a legitimate strategic target, regardless of the bungled Gallipolli campaign.

    I think your biggest mistake in this thread is your unspoken assumption that “we” Australians should have distinguished our strategic objectives from “you” British, whereas these identities and objectives were much closer than you assume.

  28. Paul Norton
    April 27th, 2005 at 13:29 | #28

    “the proximate cause of the war was German Imperialism”

    Without wishing to absolve the Kaiser and the Junkers aristocracy of their due share of guilt, I think it makes more sense to regard WW1 as the consequence of the breakdown of 19th century “balance of power” diplomacy under the strains produced by the growth tendencies of capitalism at a particular phase in its development, and the correspondence between national capitalist and nation-state interests. This was aggravated by the dying lashings-out of the decadent absolutisms of Austria-Hungary, Russia, the Ottoman Empire and Germany in the face of internal democratic and modernising pressures.

    If any particular country is to be singled out for special blame, I would nominate the Habsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary for its belligerence towards Serbia, which thereby set in train a cascade effect whereby Russia felt obliged to respond to Austria-Hungary belligerence, Germany felt obliged to respond to Russia’s response, the UK and France felt obliged to respond to Germany’s response, and the US eventually felt obliged to make sure that France and the UK wouldn’t default on their debts. As I’ve previously said the end result was a disaster so absolute that it’s difficult to see how the democracies (mainly the UK, France, US and the British Dominions) could have done worse by simply staying out of what would then have become a central and eastern European war rather than a world war.

  29. Katz
    April 27th, 2005 at 13:47 | #29

    There are at least two reasons for singling out the Germans as especially blameworthy for the Great War.

    1. In its Central European phase the Germans were uniquely reckless. The Imperial German Government guaranteed support for the Austro-Hungarian Government regardless of how outrageous its demands were in its ultimatum to the Serbian Government. The Austro-Hungarian Government simply cashed in this blank cheque signed by their great and powerful friend by issuing absolutely outrageous demands, all of which but ONE were acceded to by the Serbians. (The Austrians were refused a triumphant march through Belgrade.)

    2. In its Western European phase the Germans were uniquely aggressive. They pre-emptively invaded neutral Belgium. The British had already warned the Germans not to do it, reminding them of Britain’s publicly acknowledged treaty with Belgium defending its neutrality. But the Germans invaded anyway, declaring disbelief that Britain would endanger world peace for a “scrap of paper”. This made it impossible for the British to avoid war and maintain any shread of dignity.

  30. Fyodor
    April 27th, 2005 at 13:50 | #30


    I agree with you on the (im)balance of power, but as I said previously, the Balkans were a sideshow compared to the main game, namely Germany’s ambition to assume the leadership position occupied by Great Britain. Under a more skilful politician, e.g. Bismarck, this might have been achieved without a global war, but his successors effectively blundered into WWI by under-estimating Britain’s historic resistance to any power dominating continental Europe.

    BTW, Russia wasn’t just responding to “Austria-Hungary for its belligerence towards Serbia”. The Russians (or rather, the Romanovs) had their own imperial agenda in the Balkans which they’d been following for most of the 19th Century, much to the chagrin of their rivals in the West (the Hapsburgs) and the East (the Ottomans). Each of the great powers in that region felt they had something to gain from war. Unfortunately, Austria-Hungary’s ally, Germany (i.e. the Hohenzollerns) desired another victory over France and the despatch of its other main rival in (continental) Europe, Russia. This brought it into direct conflict with its most powerful rival, Britain. It was a gross strategic miscalculation.

    It’s easy in retrospect to say the war was a disaster with tragic consequences, but then Harry Hindsight is a bit of a smartarse.

  31. jquiggin
    April 27th, 2005 at 14:05 | #31

    “I think your biggest mistake in this thread is your unspoken assumption that “weâ€? Australians should have distinguished our strategic objectives from “youâ€? British, whereas these identities and objectives were much closer than you assume.”

    Fyodor, you’re missing my point completely. Beazley is claiming that we did in fact distinguish our strategic objectives from those of Britain. I said that
    (1) We didn’t (You clearly agree)
    (2) If we had, the appropriate response would have been to keep out of the war (interested in your view)

  32. Fyodor
    April 27th, 2005 at 14:26 | #32

    Apologies for missing your point – I wasn’t able to open the PDF, so I’m working off your comments, not Beazley’s.

    On the appropriate response, I think participating in the war was the “correct” choice. I say this because Australia was entirely dependent upon Imperial protection [plus ca change] for its defence, economically enmeshed in the Imperial market and umbilically tied to the “Motherland” in terms of culture. Not participating would have jeopardised all those relationships, and was probably unthinkable at that time. I’d also add, again, that nobody anticipated the bloodbath that would ensue, i.e. the “cost” side of the cost-benefit calculation was vastly under-estimated.

    By construction I’m essentially avoiding your question, because I don’t think an Australian government of that era would have had the courage (in the Sir Humphrey Appleby sense) to pursue a ruthlessly independent foreign policy. I’m not even sure we can now.

  33. Paul Norton
    April 27th, 2005 at 15:03 | #33

    “nobody anticipated the bloodbath that would ensue”

    But there were those who saw the issues clearly enough at the time to oppose the war and (where relevant) their country’s participation in it, e.g. Bertrand Russell, Jean Jaures, Eduard Bernstein, Rosa Luxemburg, Pope Benedict XV, Woodrow Wilson, John Curtin, to name a few.

  34. Fyodor
    April 27th, 2005 at 15:46 | #34

    Yes, Paul, there are always people who oppose wars. My point is that the ensuing slaughter was not predicted, so that it’s not helpful to say that we would have done things differently if we had been in charge, because we know what they did not.

  35. April 27th, 2005 at 16:06 | #35

    Fyodor, to be fair, the tenor of comments here is about what we SHOULD have done not what we WOULD have done had we been there.

    It is not futile to make this point. The majority probably still believe we fought in a just and necessary war. Especially in the current climate of shallow glorification of the Australian contingent that stepped ashore at Gallipoli.

  36. Fyodor
    April 27th, 2005 at 16:14 | #36

    “Fyodor, to be fair, the tenor of comments here is about what we SHOULD have done not what we WOULD have done had we been there.”

    Fair enough, WBB, but retrospective hypotheticals are pointless if you don’t acknowledge the limitations faced by contemporary decision makers.

  37. roberto
    April 27th, 2005 at 16:39 | #37

    Have any of you supposed experts – pointing at those critical of Beazley – turned your email applications towards his office and made your opinions known to him?

  38. derrida derider
    April 27th, 2005 at 16:53 | #38

    Never mind arguments about what *should* have been done, Fyodor, Paul was simply denying that the bloodbath was not foreseen. It most certainly was, and not only by opponents of the war. It was the British foreign minister who remarked in August 1914 that “the lights are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in my lifetime”. Kitchener advised the PM in September 1914 that “the war will go on for at least four years and shall require us to build and maintain a great army”.

    True, the masses were fobbed off with the “home for Christmas” line, but that’s the usual contemptuous way those in power treat the rest of us if we let them.

  39. Fyodor
    April 27th, 2005 at 17:11 | #39


    Paul provided neither of those quotes and, for that matter, neither of them foretold the miseries of trench warfare, prior to the commencement of war. In September, 1914, the French and British fought the (first) Battle of the Marne which, while it dented the German advance through Northern France, began the effective stalemate that was to last for four years. The obvious conclusion at that time was that Britain’s (relatively tiny) professional army would need massive recruitment to even come close to matching the German army.

  40. Homer Paxton
    April 27th, 2005 at 21:09 | #40

    One would have had to completely miss the US Civil War not to understand what trench warfare wouldd mean particularly as weaponary improved ssince that bloodbath.

  41. April 27th, 2005 at 21:55 | #41

    “The last war, during the years of 1915, 1916, 1917 was the most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery that has ever taken place on earth. Any writer who said otherwise lied.”

    – Hemingway

  42. Fyodor
    April 28th, 2005 at 10:20 | #42


    The US Civil War was a bloody, miserable business war, but you’re obviously not aware that the Prussians had altogether different results from the wars they fought at the same time, using the same technology:

    Denmark (1864): Prussian army swiftly annihilates the Danish army
    Austria (1866): Prussian army swiftly annihilates the Austro-Hungarian army (it’s often referred to as the “Seven Weeks War”)
    France (1870): Prussian army swiftly annihilates the French army

    So, no, it was not that obvious that another European war would collapse into a prolonged stalemate.

  43. April 28th, 2005 at 17:48 | #43

    Oh Dear.

    The long march to succession starts moving…

  44. April 29th, 2005 at 00:41 | #44

    The two significant wars most recently preceding 1914 were the Boer and the Russo-Japanese, in that they provided useful lessons. The lessons were mistakes to avoid and some kinds of tactics against machine guns and barbed wire.

    Result: proper attention to logistics, trench warfare and a proper territorial army capable of being ramped up rather than the mistakes of the Boer War, and both sides using the tactics used at Port Arthur. But that was a combination not previously encountered, and led to deadlock.

    I will post more on Gallipoli proper (and perhaps Zeebrugge) later, if I get around to it.

  45. Homer Paxton
    April 29th, 2005 at 14:02 | #45

    Fyodor, I was referring to the trench warfare on a smallscale that happened during civil war.

  46. April 29th, 2005 at 18:24 | #46

    Beazley’s attempt to argue that the AIF was operating in the national interest is based on a mis-premise. There was no AUS national interest in WW1, or rather there was a British Imperial nation of which AUS was an integral part.
    The key point about AUS’s participation in WW1 is captured by the name of the AUS military organisation: Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). Most of AUS considered itself a dominion of the British Empire. Indeed AUS’s were over keen members of said organisation on account of the felt need to prove themselves worthy citizens to erase the stain of a convict heritage. Therefore the idea that AUS would not have served in the war is preposterous, like imagining Yorkshiremen not serving.

    if all this were true…the alleged strategy amounts to a war crime…on Beazley’s account, Australia was just as guilty as the initial aggressors. On this account we made war on Turkey, a country with which we had no quarrel and no concern. This was done…in a deliberate attempt to tilt the postwar international balance of power in our favour. The only comforting thing about this claim is that it is untrue.

    Pr Q’s construction of Beazley is wrong, I think. Beazley was not suggesting that AUS had a real interest in the Mesopotamian post-war balance of power. Beazley’s comment about the eclipse of British power was an allusion to the threat of Asian powers. The Great Game for control of Mesopotamian oil only became a consideration after the withdrawal from Gallipoli.
    The AIF’s participation in the Gallipoli campaign had the same aim as the BEF’s [sic?] participation in the same campaign: to “knock the props out” of the Central Powers, clear a Black Sea supply route to Russia and open a new front on the soft underbelly southern flank of Europe.

    Churchill’s idea was simple. Creating another front would force the Germans to split their army still further as they would need to support the badly rated Turkish army. When the Germans went to assist the Turks, that would leave their lines weakened in the west or east and lead to greater mobility there as the Allies would have a weakened army to fight against.
    The Turks had joined the Central Powers in November 1914 and they were seen by Churchill as being the weak underbelly of those who fought against the Allies.

    This was a bad strategic conception, not a “war crime”. It is fair and reasonable to fight a key ally of an enemy in prosecution of a just war.

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