Home > Life in General > We shall remember them (reposted from 2005)

We shall remember them (reposted from 2005)

April 25th, 2008

On Anzac Day, there are two important things to remember

* Thousands of brave men died at Gallipoli and in the Great War and we should always honour their memory

* The Gallipoli campaign was a bloody and pointless diversionary attack in a bloody and pointless war. Millions were killed over trivial causes that were utterly irrelevant by the time the war ended. The 1914-8 War only paved the way for the even greater horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. Nothing good came of it.

From what I’ve seen of the last surviving Diggers they were fully aware of both of these things. At one time, it seemed possible that, as the generation who fought in the war passed on, we would forget the first of them. Now the danger is that we will forget the second. We should judge as harshly as possible the political and religious leaders who drove millions, mostly young men, to their deaths, and honour the handful who stood out against the War, including Bertrand Russell and Pope Benedict XV.

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  1. Joseph Clark
    April 25th, 2008 at 17:52 | #1

    By the same argument the Japanese and Germans should honour their war dead.

  2. Joseph Clark
    April 25th, 2008 at 17:53 | #2

    Your first comment was dubious, but this one was definitely offensive trolling. As noted in a recent post, I’m taking a hard line on this kind of thing, so please don’t post again along these lines – JQ

  3. Spiros
    April 25th, 2008 at 18:33 | #3

    “Nothing good came of it”

    I disagree.

    The end of the Austro Hungraian and Ottoman Empires were good things.

    The end of the Czar (Feb 1917) was a good thing (Oct 1917 was not).

  4. Geoff Honnor
    April 25th, 2008 at 18:34 | #4

    “By the same argument the Japanese and Germans should honour their war dead.”

    The Japanese commemorate their war dead at Yakusuni Shrine. I understand that it includes the names of those who died during the invasion of China.

    The Germans have a national war dead memorial day, “Volkstrauertag,” held on the Sunday a fortnight before Advent. Since WWII it has also honoured all victims of war. As in Australia, lots of German towns and cities have WWI memorials.

  5. Persse
    April 25th, 2008 at 19:36 | #5

    As I am not sure as to the point that JC is trying to make, I won’t pursue it.

    My Dad as a young bloke fought in New Guinea. And, like many of his generation, the battle he is facing now is of that foe; dementia. In his long life he has never hung onto, or expressed any animus against his wartime opponents. In fact, quite the opposite.

    As a long established immigrant farming family, with both Irish and German backgrounds; that is only as it should be. Those long dead great uncles of mine had to wend their way through several competing loyalties.

    Why would it be any less legitimate to remember those also caught up by circumstance in any war? The vast majority of whom are there by accident of birth date, than by anything other reason.

    Is it reasonable, that the mothers and fathers, or the great nieces and nephews of the war dead of any nation, hold back their sense of loss, because of things beyond their control.

    Personally I sheet home the blame to those great historical disasters of last century to those who were in control. The Kaiser, The Tsar, and our own Billy Hughes, who liquidated the lives and health of a great proportion of the best of Australian youth,of a great generation, because of why?

    Yet this generation, our generation, parades and make a caricature of those hideous events from the past, while by being deaf to the lessons we should have learnt.

    How many young men died in those conflicts convinced that in some small part, their deaths may at least have bought, at the price of their lives a revulsion against war? Regrettably, they were wrong in thinking that their descendants had the same resolve and courage that they had..

    Because of the cowardice and weakness of us, this generation now living, in opposing the forces of mass violence, wherever they originate from, we traduce, not celebrate, the memory of those awful days. We celebrate our ancestors courage with show and rhetoric, but at the same time, be completely craven in opposing the very same thinking and force that lead to those great tragedies.

  6. April 25th, 2008 at 20:19 | #6

    “The Gallipoli campaign was a bloody and pointless diversionary attack in a bloody and pointless war” – ah, no, to both.

    Taking the former point first, as it is simpler, the campaign fell under the general heading of a good idea that didn’t work. Don’t forget, the Germans had themselves forced the Dardanelles with the Goeben in the opening days of the war, so it seemed practical, and there was an immense strategic objective. However, despite encouraging early indications that led the allies to choose to fight there, a tactical stalemate rapidly developed and the campaign degenerated into a bloody and pointless diversion before it was called off.

    As for “a bloody and pointless war”, it is certainly true that the Austrian and German offensive strategies actually only led to that. However, it discounts what they hoped to gain; from their perspective, it had a point, just not one worth the adventurism involved. As for the allies – France, Belgium and Serbia had little choice, so all that remains is to consider the British Empire position. That was thoroughly anchored to the Belgian predicament. Without hindsight, there certainly was a point to joining in, on the facts available at the time (a misunderstanding of how much the previous ten years’ advances had enabled German industry to keep supplying their war effort). Even with hindsight, only a “realist” view could have condoned German hegemony in Europe; and by now we should all be aware of just how unrealistic “realism” is in these matters (which is why I used the quotation marks).

    Incidentally, Spiros is probably wrong about Austria, and possibly about Turkey, considering what came of those changes.

  7. Persse
    April 25th, 2008 at 20:29 | #7

    Spiros, how do you know that the implosion, because of the war, of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires was a ‘good’ thing?

    If your point is that it brought about change that would not have occurred through social evolution, I respectfully disagree.

    Change would surely have come anyway, and did not need the catastrophic and bloody events of the war to tip those anachronistic entities over the edge.

    My thinking is that one of the great tragedies of the 1st. World War is the destruction of the pre- war world. I think we would be profoundly different today if events had not so comprehensively destroyed what is to us the Edwardian world.

    And given the machinations of the ‘victors’ of the first war following the demise of the great empires, it can hardly be said that a great contribution was made to world peace today.

  8. Persse
    April 25th, 2008 at 20:52 | #8

    P.M. Lawrence there is a huge gulf between tactics and strategy in war.

    Did the Austrians need to attack the Serbians because of terrorist outrages? Did the Serbians make a mistake not suppressing surreptitious support for the terrorists amongst its own agencies? Did blindness to the consequences, military and civil matter for all the parties involved matter?

    As far as German hegemony is concerned, Europe is a Franco-German entity, has been since Charlemagne. Whether through Napoleon, the Kaiser or the EU, unity was inevitable.

  9. rog
    April 25th, 2008 at 20:54 | #9

    “Nothing good came of it�

    This must also include the value of the subsequent treaties.

    I was surprised at learning of the importance of Australia and in particular John Monash to the outcome of WW1.

    http://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/~rmallett/Generals/monash.html

  10. melanie
    April 25th, 2008 at 21:14 | #10

    The truly courageous were the ‘white feathers’ and those who walked away from the front (they were called ‘deserters’). They actually had the guts to stand up and say that our imperial policy was a pack of … (deferring to comments policy).

    While I’m offending people, I might as well add that I heard on the ABC this morning that the frontal lobes of males don’t develop fully until they’re in their late 20s and this immaturity renders the young male unable to assess risk. This strikes me as a pretty good explanation of what happened at Gallipoli.

  11. Persse
    April 25th, 2008 at 21:15 | #11

    Melanie you are so right!

  12. Geoff Honnor
    April 25th, 2008 at 21:20 | #12

    “I might as well add that I heard on the ABC this morning that the frontal lobes of males don’t develop fully until they’re in their late 20s and this immaturity renders the young male unable to assess risk. This strikes me as a pretty good explanation of what happened at Gallipoli.”

    It strikes me as a cautionary tale about the risk inherent in seizing upon glib, simplistic explanations.

  13. rog
    April 25th, 2008 at 21:22 | #13

    I think it took John Monash to prove that the generals were wrong.

  14. rog
    April 25th, 2008 at 21:26 | #14

    Probably the worst outcome from WW1 was the value of the subsequent treaties and pacifism in general – it took WW2 to clear many of those up.

  15. melanie
    April 25th, 2008 at 21:40 | #15

    Geoff H. Why do you think rulers rely so heavily on immature males to do the fighting? If you want people to be seriously (and idiotically) brutal, you can’t do better than a teenage boy.

  16. Persse
    April 25th, 2008 at 21:45 | #16

    In regard again to Melanie’s comment at #10 because I think it important, it has to be said that what I view as the strategic disasters that lead to these terrible conflicts were not created by sub 30 year old males. But by much older men, and by society as a whole. The contribution of women should not be underrated, even to the bad things that societies can do.

    I agree that there is a phenomenological depth to all human activities that should not be ignored.

    But in a sense the first world war ended the adventuristic appeal of war. Mechanised and inhuman, and relentlessly destructive. The models in the public imagination of the time of the Sudan and Afghanistan interventions did not prepare anyone for a proper risk assessment.

  17. April 25th, 2008 at 21:47 | #17

    Taking the former point first, as it is simpler, the campaign fell under the general heading of a good idea that didn’t work. Don’t forget, the Germans had themselves forced the Dardanelles with the Goeben in the opening days of the war, so it seemed practical, and there was an immense strategic objective.

    The Goeben (and the Breslau) didn’t force the Dardanelles — it was allowed through by the Turks. But generally, I agree: attacking through Gallipoli wasn’t an inherently bad idea. Giving Turkey a month’s warning by way of a hasty and botched naval bombardment was a spectacularly bad idea, though.

  18. April 25th, 2008 at 21:48 | #18

    Speaking of botched operations, that didn’t work too well — the second para is my comment …

  19. Geoff Honnor
    April 25th, 2008 at 21:58 | #19

    “Geoff H. Why do you think rulers rely so heavily on immature males to do the fighting? If you want people to be seriously (and idiotically) brutal, you can’t do better than a teenage boy.”

    I’m familiar with the theory, Melanie, I just think that it’s an inadequate explanation for Gallipoli. You presumably are less emphatic about the regrettable influence of under-developed male frontal lobes in respect of the opposition to fascism in WWII?

  20. Persse
    April 25th, 2008 at 22:08 | #20

    GH

    ‘You presumably are less emphatic about the regrettable influence of under-developed male frontal lobes in respect of the opposition to fascism in WWII?’

    Have absolutely no idea about what you are trying to get at here.

    With respect that is more than a little ambiguous.

    Tragically it is well documented the suitability of sub- adult males as operatives in a military sense.

    The African child soldier is the most extreme manifestation of this.

  21. melanie
    April 25th, 2008 at 22:09 | #21

    I agree with Persse. WWI did end, at least as far as this country is concerned, the notion of war as adventure for the idealist. I don’t think we’ve seen the phenomenon of kids concealing their age in order to sign up for later wars.

    And yes, the disasters were surely not created by young men, but it takes young men to provide the cannon fodder.

  22. Persse
    April 25th, 2008 at 22:41 | #22

    M#21

    Strangely enough, in the Great War it was more common for men to put their age down than up, initially there was upper age limits to keep older applicants out of the war.

    In the 2nd. World War my dad had to put his age up by a year, and also forge his parents signature, they being of the mind that it was the English who were the real enemy of the Irish :) .

    But in all seriousness it is in the thinking that leads us to war, as Barack Obama has said in his campaign for the US presidency that has to change.

  23. rog
    April 25th, 2008 at 22:58 | #23

    The average age for WW2 was 26 and for Vietnam 23.

    Currently the average age for US soldier is 28, in some countries it can be as high as 40 (Belgium)

  24. April 26th, 2008 at 13:57 | #24

    “We should judge as harshly as possible the political and religious leaders who drove millions, mostly young men, to their deaths, and honour the handful who stood out against the War, including Bertrand Russell and Pope Benedict XV”

    Thanx for this post. Anzac Day has always confused me, from primary school onwards. I could never understand what it was about. The explanations never seemed to make sense.

    Now, in order to keep the peace, I have to stand up at the footy and observe a minutes silence, but all I want to do is scream out about how bloody stupid it all was.

    But no-one wants to have that conversation with me, and in fact, I run the risk of getting into a fist fight for saying it.

    It’s all so bloody strange. It is good to see a forum somewhere where my opinion is not regarded as some form of anti-australian treachery.

  25. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2008 at 14:08 | #25

    “This must also include the value of the subsequent treaties.”

    Thanks for spelling this point out, Rog. The disastrous nature of the treaty of Versailles was pointed out at the time by Keynes, and the direct line it pointed to WWII has been noted by many historians.

    But it’s worth recalling that the treaties of Brest-Litovsk, Trianon and Sevres, the Sykes-Picot agreement and the secret Treaty of London were as bad or worse in many respects.

    As you observe, all of these were disasters, with consequences in some cases haunting us right down to the present day, most obviously in the Middle East.

  26. April 26th, 2008 at 15:01 | #26

    The Gallipoli campaign was not pointless. It was an attempt to break the deadlock of trench warfare in France. Better 100,000 dead in Turkey than 1,000,000 dead at Verdun and the Somme.

    It was a failed attempt, but it was fair to try. Had Gallipoli never happened, amateur historians would be saying,

    “if only instead of stuffing about in France we’d done something like try to knock the Turks out of the war, why, all we had to do was land at the Dardanelles and march a few miles to the capital, and they would have been out, perhaps the Austrians would then have sued for peace, and we could divert the rest of the troops to fight the Germans, and… it was a great mistake to only fight on the Western Front…”

    To ask if anything good came of the Great War one must ask what might have happened had the Allies surrendered to the Germans. The German plan in the Great War was remarkably similar to that of the Second World War: they wanted to clear out or enslave the Slavs in the east while Germans colonised the place, and they wanted to absorb the Netherlands, Belgium, and make France a puppet state.

    The Germans had only been in Belgium a week before they had massacred a village of 200 village, and shipped thousands of Belgians off to work in German armaments factories. They set up an electric fence between occupied Belgium and the neutral Netherlands, and 20,000 Belgians died on it, shot or electrocuted as they tried to flee their country.

    Nazism did not create German barbarism; German barbarism created Nazism. It was simply a formalisation of attitudes and behaviours they already had, with some anti-semitism tossed in – and I say that as a Jew, so I’m not trivialising it.

    If Nazism arose from the defeat of the Germans, why then did fascism arise in Italy first, when the Italians had won? Fascism came from something in the national character of those two peoples.

    Stalinism came from communism, which was a force in Russia long before the Great War. The country was having a revolution every five years already, and the Tsar would grant some freedoms then roll them back. The Tsar’s empire was a rotten, termite-ridden house which was bound to topple, the war just gave it the final push.

    Once the Germans had invaded Belgium, it was right for the Allies to fight the Great War, to prevent tyranny and mass murder encompassing all Europe. That does not mean every tactical decision in every battle and campaign was sound and sensible. But it does mean that the sacrifice of those young men was not in vain.

  27. April 26th, 2008 at 17:01 | #27

    Brett, in my book what the Goeben did was forcing the Dardanelles, using “let us through or else” to do it. The fact that the Turks yielded to the threat of force does not mean that force was not applied, only that it was applied very successfully. Similar arguments apply to the idea that the Goeben “became” a Turkish vessel, not a continuing threat, considering that the German crew remained.

  28. April 26th, 2008 at 17:07 | #28

    JQ, none those treaties was a disaster in its own right, merely incorrectly followed through. That is, Carthaginian peaces work – in their own terms. What does not work is, a harsh treaty ineffectively carried through; that works out as Machiavelli’s warning never to do an enemy a small injury. The peacemongers should have considered the means at their disposal better, and either aimed for less or done more to hit their mark.

  29. rog
    April 26th, 2008 at 17:18 | #29

    Most if not all the treaties spawned by WW1 led to worse outcomes; it was the death of pacifism.

    By comparison the Marshall plan, in Europe and Japan, were inspired. If only the Soviets had accepted the Marshall plan..

  30. Persse
    April 26th, 2008 at 17:54 | #30

    PML#28

    ‘That is, Carthaginian peaces do work’ OK. For Iraq that is 438446 km² by say a centimetre of salt. That may or may not be doable, expect the price of salt to go a little high. It is the 10 to 15 million women and children that have to be sold into slavery that may cause a little market disruption. :)

  31. April 26th, 2008 at 18:27 | #31

    Oh, I wasn’t recommending it, just pointing out how these things work. And if the USA wanted, it could just dispose of the Iraqis by marching them, the way it did the Cherokees.

  32. Persse
    April 26th, 2008 at 18:36 | #32

    Rog#29

    Given that a strong motivator for the Marshall Plan was anti-communism it was not that surprising that the soviets dismissed the plan as ‘dollar imperialism’.

    The refugee work undertaken by the UN probably was as effective in stabilising and laying the foundations of economic recovery.

  33. Katz
    April 27th, 2008 at 09:21 | #33

    Once the Germans had invaded Belgium, it was right for the Allies to fight the Great War, to prevent tyranny and mass murder encompassing all Europe. That does not mean every tactical decision in every battle and campaign was sound and sensible. But it does mean that the sacrifice of those young men was not in vain.

    Simplistic.

    Britain had a treaty with Belgium guaranteeing its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Britain entered the war on the basis of that treaty commitment.

    However, Britain also entered into several imperialist, secret treaties. Necessarily, these treaties were not divulged to the soldiers who were ordered to achieve the victory required to impose those treaties.

    Thus, British soldiers, including Australians, did not know what they were actually fighting for.

    Many of these soldiers fought valiantly, but they weren’t heroes. They were patsies.

  34. wbb
    April 27th, 2008 at 15:55 | #34

    Now, in order to keep the peace, I have to stand up at the footy and observe a minutes silence, but all I want to do is scream out about how bloody stupid it all was.

    The Ess-Coll Anzac day match is blood curdling in its emotional intensity these days. (Sounds like hyperbole only until you have actually stood in that stadium on that day in any of the last couple of years.)

    I watch it happily on the box these days. I don’t have the stomach for mass rallies, it seems.

  35. Doug
    April 28th, 2008 at 13:20 | #35

    The connection between the Gallipoli debacle and the genocide of the Armenians has been made by a number of historians.

  36. Peter Pan
    April 28th, 2008 at 16:11 | #36

    To doug re #36.

    I think historians should be looking at the Crimean War to see the seeds of the Gallipoli campaign. This was one of the first wars where British war “correspondents� were allowed. But there were really just propaganda writers. They made out the British troops to be far more effective than then really were and wrote the Turks out of the story. For example, in the battle of Balaclava, the “The Thin Read Line� was mainly Turkish soldiers. They basically held the siege but you would never know that if you read the British accounts of the battle. (See the entry in Wikipedia for the battle as an example of this mis-reporting.)

    I believe this led to the abilities of the Turkish Army being under-estimated by the British leaders. (Winston Churchill’s description of Turkey as the “Soft Underbelly of Europe� for example). I think Gallipoli is a classic example of what happens when people start believing their own propaganda.

  37. April 28th, 2008 at 18:59 | #37

    No, the war correspondents of the Crimea were not just propagandists. They, particularly Russell of the Times, pointed out the lack of supplies and medical care and caused matters in that area to change. (This pretty much made the Times’s reputation.)

    Winston Churchill did not describe Turkey as the “Soft Underbelly of Europe”, he called Italy that (in the Second World War, not the First).

    The great misdescription of the Crimean War was “Crimean”; there were also hostilities in the northeast Balkans/southwest Ukraine, the Caucasus, the White Sea, the Baltic, and Kamchatka – not to mention defensive measures throughout the British Empire. Much of the Turkish effort went on the first two, and proportionately more British and French (and Savoy) effort went on the Crimean campaign, which accordingly got more of the reportage. This drove most of the emphasis.

  38. gerard
    May 1st, 2008 at 17:12 | #38

    Anzac Day is for fools. It was deliberately promoted by the government to glorify mindless, suicidal self-immolation. The British Empire was one of the most monstrously violent organizations in human history. We are spoon fed this nationalist mythology from primary school – and never taught anything about WHERE Gallipolli actually is and WHY Australians were offered up as cannon-fodder in an invasion of a country that had never threatened Australia on the other side of the world.

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