Home > World Events > We shall remember them ? (repost*)

We shall remember them ? (repost*)

April 25th, 2012

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 of soldiers were killed, and tens of millions of civilians starved and mistreated in a fight over trivial causes that were utterly irrelevant by the time the war ended. The War that was supposed to “end 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.

* I’ve posted versions of this on previous Anzac Days. There is really nothing new to say, except to hope that we will soon be able to celebrate an Anzac Day without the thought that Australians are still fighting and dying in pointless wars.

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  1. Paul Norton
    April 25th, 2012 at 09:36 | #1

    It’s telling that Niall Ferguson, coming from a quite different political perspective to Bertrand Russell, comes to almost exactly the same conclusions about the war as Russell in his historical writings about World War I, notably The Pity of War and Virtual History.

  2. Wooster
    April 25th, 2012 at 10:01 | #2

    It’s telling that the British aristocratic class were fervent in their enthusiasm for the Great War. At a time when their time-honoured place and influence was being eroded by middle-class incursion, they gleaned the opportunity to again demonstrate their collective prowess as the “warrior class” – the knights and leaders of men.
    The women were particularly keen in their support, and worked tirelessly to martial the general population to mobilise against the foe. Of course, history shows us that this class was hit particularly hard in the wash-up of hostilities, losing approximately one fifth of their able-bodied men and heirs during the conflict.

  3. Helen
    April 25th, 2012 at 10:26 | #3

    Thank you for this post, a nice corrective to the superficiality and celebratory tone of most Anzac Day coverage in Australia.

    I find it’s a good time of year to re-read Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy.

  4. Chris Warren
    April 25th, 2012 at 10:56 | #4


    Yes, there were a lot of maiden-aunts in the 1940’s spending their days doing ‘good works’ having lost their beaus in the mud of France.

  5. Jim Rose
    April 25th, 2012 at 11:11 | #5

    A victory of the Ottoman Empire would have:
    • brought world war 1 to an earlier conclusion; and
    • Allowed for earlier arrests of the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide.

    Gallipoli turned out to be one of the few moral crusades of World War I.

    On May 24, 1915, the Allied Powers jointly issued a statement explicitly charging for the first time ever another government of committing `a crime against humanity’.

    Australian participation in the invasion of the Ottoman Empire as a by-product set the legal and moral infrastructure for the Nuremberg trials: governments would hold others to account for crimes against humanity and genocide.

    Article 230 of the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres required the defeated Ottoman Empire to hand over to the Allied Powers the persons whose surrender may be required by the latter as being responsible for the massacres committed during the continuance of the state of war on territory which formed part of the Ottoman Empire on August 1, 1914

    Various Ottoman politicians, generals, and intellectuals were transferred to Malta where they were held for some three years while searches were made of archives in Constantinople, London, Paris and Washington to investigate the Armenian genocide.

    The Inter-Allied tribunal never solidified and the detainees were eventually returned to Turkey in exchange for British citizens held by Kemalist Turkey.

    As the World War 1, wars by accident, miscalculation, and surprise are common.

    The belligerents could have settled their territorial disputes by artful compromises only if (1) their payoffs from a peaceful settlement are larger than their expected payoffs from a default to war, and (2) their promises not to attack are credible.

    Historically, over-optimism about the prospects of winning a war seems often to have been a factor both in preventing peaceful settlements of new disputes and cause existing peaceful settlements of old disputes to break down.

    Factors that become important include the advantage of attacking over both defending and counterattacking, the divisibility of the contested territory, the possibility of recurring war, the depreciation or obsolescence of fortifications, and inequality in the effectiveness of mobilized resources. Unverifiable innovations, especially innovations in military technology can cause a settlement to break down and renewal of war.

    A country will think that another state’s promise not to start a war is credible only if the other state would be better off by keeping its promise not to start a war than by breaking its promise. Such a further war was World War 2. Wars are more like if the dispute concerns the survival of one of the belligerents or stakes that cannot be divided.

    p.s. opposition to war does not explain how to negotiate peace. The Vietnam War could have ended at anytime by the communists surrendering. Would that have been enough for the peace movement? Did they ever call for that? If not, does that not make peaceniks warmongers?

  6. Ikonoclast
    April 25th, 2012 at 11:12 | #6

    I agree with the sentiments but disagree with the implied analysis. It is sad that many lost their lives in an ugly war. The war however did not occur because of trival causes. By definition a trivial cause or impetus cannot cause a large and powerful event; not in physics and not in human society.

    To assign WW1 to trivial causes (assination of Archduke Ferdinand etc.) is to misread history in genral and to misread capitalism and imperialism in particular (to name two of the key causes).

    Of course, bourgeois and petty-bourgeois society want to deny the real causes of Western war-mongering namely the oppressive ideology and exploitative economic system.

  7. Dan
    April 25th, 2012 at 11:20 | #7


    Yes, the Great War – like other wars – was about trade and spheres of influence. A continuation of politics by other means.

    It is a shame that politicians are not bound to be in the vanguard when the shells (or IEDs) start bursting; they might otherwise think more carefully about whether they have exhausted other options, whether they can live with a stalemate, etc. etc.

  8. Chris Warren
    April 25th, 2012 at 11:36 | #8

    Jim Rose

    Negotiating peace does not mean opposition to war. Warmongers often present this false fait accompli. You need to prevent war in the first place.

    The Vietnam War would have ended if the West had not got involved (as part of igniting a Cold War) and if French decolonisation had been allowed to run its normal but violent course.

    If the French imperialists had not originally invaded there would have been no Vietnam War.

  9. Ikonoclast
    April 25th, 2012 at 13:37 | #9

    The behaviour of almost all belligerents in WW1 and WW2 was despicable. The belief that we and our allies (the non-German or non-Axis West) are the good guys is naive and simplistic in the extreme. In fact, there are no good guy countries among the large, powerful nations. They are all bad to greater or lesser degrees in ways largely dependent on their instrumental power to have things their own way.

  10. April 25th, 2012 at 15:17 | #10

    @Paul Norton

    Eh, only because he believes the 20th Century would be less bloody if it was a joint venture between the City of London and the German General Staff – a questionable assumption, especially for those born outside those respective metropoles.

  11. Sam
    April 25th, 2012 at 15:49 | #11

    We were pretty close to being the good guys in the Second World War. In the years leading up to the invasion of Poland, the principal allied country’s were were pacifist to a fault. Eventually, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan left the world three choices: Fight now, fight later, or be totally destroyed. We should be grateful to Hitler and Hirohito in only one small respect; they made our decision to commit to total war easy. Post-1945 revelations only make this more clear.

    It’s my belief that WW2 was the single most important event in all of human history so far. If the Axis had won, it would have destroyed the Enlightenment and led to the eventual murder of billions. Its historical outcome is the very best thing that has ever happened that might have been otherwise.

  12. Freelander
    April 25th, 2012 at 18:35 | #12

    Please observe my request not to engage in debate with other commenters

  13. Freelander
    April 25th, 2012 at 18:44 | #13

    Generally, I agree with JQ’s take. WW I was a criminal waste of life and played a role in the horrors of the two dictators who rose in the misery that followed.

    I have no doubt that many who lost their lives on all sides were brave. But I do not honour them, because to honour them is to value something I would not like repeated.

  14. April 25th, 2012 at 19:28 | #14

    War, as beneficial as it appears to be for the development of the State and “military Keynesianism”, is a pretext for behavior often both violent and immoral.

    The Second World War, while sides engaged in criminal behavior, was the last war in which the European participants sought to adhere to a common code of war, as it could apply in the deserts of North Africa. Industrial death dealing overcame the remnant of knightly code, evoking Salidin to something wholly sinister. Recall the aerial fire-bombing of the cities of Germany and Japan were topped by the mushroom cloud over two Japanese cities. Recourse to extreme measures in these contexts is always justified by necessity.

    Colonial and imperial wars, as the evidence of recent revelations of the cover up of atrocities by the British in East Africa are testament, have always been simply criminal. That judgement applies equally to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as it does to the settler reign of terror and dehumanization that took place across Australia and in New Zealand, which strangely are not occasion for memorials to the heroics of human sacrifice.

  15. Alan
    April 25th, 2012 at 20:15 | #15

    Strategic bombing was wrong but it was not exclusively an Allied practice. The people of a number of Chinese cities experienced it long before any German city. The first embargo was placed on Japan in retaliation for the repeated firebombing of Chongqing. A number of English cities were firebombed long before any German city. Neither Coventry nor Chongqing make incendiary bombing anything but wrong, and of course the Allies far out-produced and out-bombed the Germans and Japanese towards the end of the war. It is however necessary to see both sides of the question.

    It is not really a hard argument that what distinguished the Axis powers was not so much how they ran their military activities. It is in their treatment and exploitation of conquered peoples where the real abominations happened and that not only had no military justification, towards the end of the war the Nazis actually prioritised their extermination programs over military operations. It is, by contrast, a really hard argument to say that the Allies set out to exterminate entire peoples like the Rom.

    You will not find many Koreans or Poles (picking names out of a hat) who see the Axis and Allies in the same terms.

    WWII also provides a really interesting case when war was perhaps justified and not fought. Czechoslovakia was a democratic state with an excellent army. If Anglo-French promises to Czechoslovakia had been kept the war would almost certainly have been either much shorter or even perhaps not have happened at all.

  16. Ikonoclast
    April 25th, 2012 at 20:22 | #16


    Yes, in WW2, we were in some ways the “least worst” by a considerable margin. However, WW2 as a world event is less black and white than many paint it. Perhaps it was black and all shades of grey incuding very dark grey (as Stalin’s Russia was one of the West’s allies).

    In all seriousness, the Axis was never going to win once the full sides lined up. Let’s see, it was basically Germany, Italy, Finland and Japan versus the Rest of World. The U.S. alone, in the 1940’s, accounted for 45% of the world’s productive power. Then there was manpower; U. S. A. plus Gr. Britain and the Commonwealth plus Russia plus India plus China… need I go on?

    It is a major mistake to regard WW2 as a neat or a discrete event. Finland was more fighting its traditional enemy Russia than a true ally of Germany. Hitler and Stalin initially cosied up while looking for openings for a stab each other in the back. France half resisted and half collaborated with the Nazis (Vichy France) and the English and French navies fought a pitched battle off the coast of N. Africa.

    In some ways WW2 was simply a resumption of much unfinished business from WW1, a kind of round two. Neither did WW2 end cleanly in 1945. Russia essentially conquered and occupied Poland, East Germany, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia turning them into satellite states. As soon as WW2 ended the West and USSR were mortal enemies once more. U.S. General Patton wanted to drive to Moscow. WW2 then shaded into the Korean war where again former “allies” China (thru its proxy Nth Korea) and the U.S.A and allies under the banner of U.N. forces, lined up against each other. General MacArthur wanted to use and the nuke (and probably drive to Peking). Sanity only prevailed because of war exhaustion, war revulsion and fear the Bomb (nulcear weapons). States forever jockey for position, alliances shift and there is only (morally) black and shades of grey.

  17. Alan
    April 25th, 2012 at 20:48 | #17


    Agreed. It actually makes much more sense to look it as a single event encompassing the WWI, WWII, the Cold War and probably the Russian and Chinese Revolutions. Beside the cataclysmic death rates in China and the Soviet Union the campaigns in Western Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. Events across the whole of Eurasia have been quite closely linked since at least the 800s.

  18. April 25th, 2012 at 20:54 | #18

    leinad @ #10 said:

    Eh, only because [Niall Ferguson] believes the 20th Century would be less bloody if it was a joint venture between the City of London and the German General Staff – a questionable assumption, especially for those born outside those respective metropoles.

    The best piece of counter-counter-factualism I’ve seen on this endlessly counter-factualized event. A German-dominated Europe – lorded over by Junker warriors, financed by City bankers and armed by Jewish nuclear physicists – would have been an unholy terror and recipe for war-without-end.

    Its not true that the Great War was a “pointless” war in the sense that the basic cause the Allies fought for was fraudulent or futile. Most of the Diggers were “fully aware” that the war against Prussian militarism was critical to enforcing “the rights of small countries”. Subsequent unpleasantness proved them right.

    Furthermore, they started it and we won, which is certainly a more righteous place to be than the other way around.

    No doubt we would have been better off without WW1 ever starting, giving the horrors it set in train. But the our side did not have much of a say in the matter given the German-Austrian General Staff’s determination to annihilate the Triple Entente.

    And we had a taste of what a German dominated Europe would have been like with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which set the seal on the Second Reich’s ruthless policy of conquest and exploitation. Fat chance of a “peace without annexations” when dealing with that lot.

    The core of the Europe’s German problem was the German military aristocracy which obstinately dominated the state, with Junker’s martial aggression built on the Konzerne’s industrial expansion, giving it an irresistible drive to continental-wide dominance. There was a natural evolution of post-Bismarkian German foreign policy from the Second Reich though to the Third Reich, just as WW1 naturally evolved into WW2.

    Ludendorff, from the outset of hostilities, naturally emerged as the war-lord of Germany and he was a fascist in everything but name. Only the individual Bismark was able curb the institutional Junker’s will-to-power. And he, regrettably, was mortal and unable to dictate a succession.

  19. Sam
    April 25th, 2012 at 21:17 | #19

    More or less in agreement here I suppose. Some objections:

    Bad as he was, there’s no evidence Stalin was looking to break the Non-aggression pact. He was reported to have been in shocked disbelief during the first few days of operation Barbarossa.

    Prior to Pearl Harbour, it was by no means clear the US would actually enter the war of its own choosing, so that would have been 45% of productive forces essentially neutralised. We shouldn’t forget how strong the isolationist sentiment was then. It took a Japanese invasion, and a German declaration of war, to get them to send troops. This might not have happened.

    Russia and Great Britain both may well have eventually fallen without Uncle Sam in Europe. Certainly China was unable to put up any effective resistance of its own. Japan could easily have taken an isolated Australia. India had its own anti-British, pro-Nazi element. Once the rest of the world had fallen, the Third Reich and the Co-prosperity Sphere could have eventually turned their vast, Eurasian slave army to the US. Without prior military engagement, there may have been no Manhattan Project, and America could have been eventually defeated.

    Given their track record of sneak attacks and mutual racial hatred, it seems very likely Germany and Japan would have then turned on each other, possibly with their own nuclear weapons by that time. Billion would eventually have died.

    But none of this happened. Alt WW2 stories are a staple of comic horror sci-fi, and nothing more. Yes, there were small wars after this, about the same amount of famine, and injustices affecting a few million people at a time. But by and large the world got to continue haphazardly groping towards freedom and prosperity and peace. The Allies’ triumph did not bring Heaven to Earth; but it did stop Hell from coming.

    None of this was automatic, none of it was certain. It took millions of brave men and women to make it happen, and today is the day I honour their memories.

    Lest We Forget.

  20. alfred venison
    April 25th, 2012 at 23:42 | #20

    this wikipedia article lists links to other wikipedia articles about various counterfactual literary fictions, comics, plays, movies, tv shows and computer games predicated on the alternative premise that the nazis won world war 2:-

    ridley scott is reported to be adapting philip k dick’s “the man in the high castle” as a four part miniseries for the bbc:-

    i can’t help but wonder what things might have been like if the racist naval treaties of the 1920s & 1930s had not been so pointedly biased against japan. that an industrialised country which had whopped the russians in 1905 & had aligned itself with the angels in world war one, should be so shabbily treated by the vaunted defenders of liberal democracy & vanquishers of prussian militarism was unconscionable, bore in itself seeds of bitter future conflict and ensured it a racialist character when it came.

  21. Freelander
    April 25th, 2012 at 23:56 | #21

    Although I agree that the outcome wouldn’t have been so clear if the US hadn’t been dragged into the war, I think the master races may have suffered from problems of overreach if they had conquered the whole of Eurasia.

    Just as the Americans have found, even if winning the initial war is easy, consolidating gains is another matter. Unless, of course, you slaughter all the original inhabitants.

  22. Alan
    April 26th, 2012 at 01:16 | #22

    Stalin, unlike Hitler, was bright enough to recognise that 2-front wars are a bad thing. Soviet forces under Zhukov had already clashed with the Japanese army on the Manchukuo/Mongol People’s Republic border. Google ‘Khalkin Gol’ or ‘Nomonhan’ some time.

    The outcome was a very one-sided Soviet victory that almost certainly decided the Japanese, already at war with China, to strike south into the European and US colonies in Southeast Asia. They could not do that without first destroying the US Pacific Fleet. Stalin joined the Allied Powers only once Japan was clearly (over-)committed in the Asia-Pacific. The rest is history.

    Even without the US I doubt the Axis could actually have conquered the Soviet Union. It’s also really hard to see (1) how Japan could have launched its strike south campaign while the US remained a significant Pacific naval power or (2) how Japan could have persisted with a strike north campaign.

    Both Axis powers were exceedingly good at waking up sleeping giants.

  23. Alan
    April 26th, 2012 at 07:33 | #23

    @alfred venison

    the Washington Naval treaty was not particularly racist. It imposed a ratio of 5:5:3:1.75:1.75 on Britain, the US, Japan, Italy and France. It was directed against the outbreak of a British/American naval arms race that broke out after WWI. The treaty was actually relatively generous to Japan which did not have to defend 2 separate coastlines like the US or a huge empire like the British. In 1915 Japan demanded a protectorate over China in the Twenty-One Demands. By 1920 Japan had already imposed a particularly brutal colonial regime on Korea and Taiwan, establishing unhappy precedents they were later to follow in large parts of China and most of Southeast Asia. Japanese expansion in Shandong, Manchuria and Taiwan in 1895, Korea in 1910 and China in 1915 cannot have been caused by a treaty signed in 1920.

    Empires try to expand in all directions and empires extract resources but that does not mean all empires behave equally badly. The brutally extractive regimes Japan imposed on those countries, by explicit government policies, also cannot have been caused by a treaty signed after the policies were imposed.

  24. Katz
    April 26th, 2012 at 07:36 | #24

    Jim Rose:

    A victory of the Ottoman Empire would have:
    • brought world war 1 to an earlier conclusion; and
    • Allowed for earlier arrests of the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide.
    Gallipoli turned out to be one of the few moral crusades of World War I.

    Is a risible example of the triumph of ideologically driven wishful thinking over logic.

    1. When the Dardenelles campaign was projected, the plight of the Armenians was irrelevant to their plans.

    2. In May 1915, after the Entente’s invasion of the Ottoman Empire, the Entente did draw attention to the plight of the Armenians. Thus, the Entente had an additional reason for defeating the Ottoman Empire. Yet, the Entente did not intensify their efforts to achieve victory on Gallipoli. Thus, beyond reaping propaganda value from the plight of the Armenians, the Entente did nothing in 1915 to help the Armenians.

  25. Katz
    April 26th, 2012 at 08:04 | #25

    Jack Strocchi:

    Most of the Diggers were “fully aware” that the war against Prussian militarism was critical to enforcing “the rights of small countries”. Subsequent unpleasantness proved them right.

    But NO Diggers were told by their superiors of the annexationist secret treaties that drove the diplomatic history of the Great War. In other words, the Diggers were stooges of imperialists.

    The world didn’t find out about these annexationist treaties until Trotsky broadcast them to the world in early 1918. By then, the Diggers found themselves subject to military discipline. Any protest was interpreted as mutiny.

  26. Ikonoclast
    April 26th, 2012 at 08:58 | #26

    Certainly, an interesting set of dynamics has driven German history. I am sure I would not properly understand them even if I made a study of it for ten years. As a thumbnail sketch, I wonder whether Germany’s position as a nearly land-locked power wedged between great powers has a bearing. Circa 1800, the German principalities had France to the west, Russia to the east and Austria-Hungary to the south and east. All of these powers basically wanted to swallow Europe for their own and this came to a head from 1805 (Austerlitz) up to 1812 when Napoleon’s forces swept to Moscow and then stalled. This was followed by Russia and its allies sweeping via the Battle of Leipzig all the way back to Paris (Battle of Paris 1814).

    I view excess militarisation (I am thinking in particular of the 18th C and 19th C militarisation of Prussia and then finally the united Germany) as a kind of anti-body reaction or immune response, to use a medical analogy. Any “body” continually attacked or ravaged either undergoes dissolution (if weak) of develops resistance and counter-measures if strong.

    We can also see this immune response to aggression in North Korea’s insanely fully militarised society and economy. Perhaps the north did launch the war but subsequent events put them in fear for their very existence. In a sense, total and permanent militarisation is a rational response to existential fear. Total surrender and acquiesence would actually be a more benign outcome as for Japan but with totalitarian China at their back Nth Korea really do not have that option.

  27. wilful
    April 26th, 2012 at 09:37 | #27

    Speaking on behalf of my grandfather, he wondered what on earth all those people were marching for, and suspected that a lot of them probably didn’t see a lot of combat. He thought that the only sensible thing to do was to try and forget the whole sorry mess.

    You didn’t want to get him started on Johnny Howard when Howard wrapped himself in the khaki.

  28. Doug
    April 26th, 2012 at 10:00 | #28

    Getting back to the way Anzac Day is now celebrated – the whole business has become self referential when the “Anzac spirit” becomes a common trope for sporting leaders and coaches.

    The proposal by the government for a scoping study for a re-enactment of the first convoys to Gallipoli in 1914 is to turn our remembering into a tourist theme part exercise. This is the ultimate in disrespect.

  29. Freelander
    April 26th, 2012 at 12:03 | #29



    Have to agree with you both. Next thing we may see for Gallipoli is a Walt Disney style theme park.

    Although ad I’ve indicated I see no reason to honour the senseless loss of life, there is no reason to show the disrespect that the current circus does.

  30. Freelander
    April 26th, 2012 at 12:04 | #30


  31. Paul Norton
    April 26th, 2012 at 12:37 | #31

    Sam @19:

    “Bad as he was, there’s no evidence Stalin was looking to break the Non-aggression pact. He was reported to have been in shocked disbelief during the first few days of operation Barbarossa.”

    Indeed. Stalin resolutely refused to report credible intelligence reports of German preparations for Operation Barbarossa, and even reports which were public knowledge, such as that all German merchant ships had sailed out of Soviet ports en masse which was an obvious cue that something was on. He dismissed all such reports as disinformation by foreign spies and saboteurs.

    He was in a worse state than “shocked disbelief” after the start of Barbarossa; he went into a blue funk and his colleagues suspected that he was on the brink of resigning as General Secretary.

  32. Romanoz
    April 26th, 2012 at 13:04 | #32

    @Jim Rose. The road of a Vietnam peacenik was littered with lies at all levels – from the labelling of the rebels as guerrilas, an opprobious title (in Europe they would have been recognised as partisans, an honourable title), to the deceit of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (which was the war power for prosecuting the war), to the suppression of the nationalist origins of the conflict, to the “brainwashing”, as George Romney called it, by the miltary/academics/media.
    As Gillard has discovered, when people start thinking with their insula on an issue – the centre for disgust and anger, trying to get them to think with their prefrontal cortex is well neigh impossible!
    The dangers of “manufacturing consent” – dont get caught out!

  33. Freelander
    April 26th, 2012 at 16:02 | #33

    The second of the Gulf of Tonkin incidents now known to be an incident that never occurred, and therefore justified nothing. If the US wasnt ther causing troublr they wouldnt have found trouble. Much like the incident that justified war against the SpanishS.

  34. April 26th, 2012 at 20:15 | #34

    Katz @ #25 said:

    But NO Diggers were told by their superiors of the annexationist secret treaties that drove the diplomatic history of the Great War. In other words, the Diggers were stooges of imperialists. The world didn’t find out about these annexationist treaties until Trotsky broadcast them to the world in early 1918. By then, the Diggers found themselves subject to military discipline. Any protest was interpreted as mutiny.

    Katz gets the explanation of WW1 completely back-to-front, confusing cause with effect. Its also bizarre to see Trotsky’s highly partisan intervention into diplomatic history dragged out for another airing, nearly a century after the fact.

    The “diplomatic history of the Great War” was first theoretically sketched out by Weber, and given an empirical flesh by Fischer, both scholars vastly outranking Trotsky. The cause of the European civil war (parts 1 & 2) was Teutonic militarism, mainly directed towards destroying and exploiting the Slavic nation states. The secret treaties were not the cause of the war on the Allies side, they were bandied about as the war dragged on, just to make the whole thing worthwhile.

    Its rather ironic that Trotsky of all people would make a plague on both imperial houses, given the way he got steam-rolled at Brest Litovsk. Compare the post-conflict behaviour of Germany/Austria towards Russia to that of France/Britain towards Germany. The Allies generally and genuinely pursued a policy of national self-determination at least in Europe, where most of the action was. Whilst Luddendorf ruthlessly carved up Soviet territory as a quid for the pro quo of ordering a halt to the relentlessly advancing Heer’s.

    Its true that the Allies concocted annexationist or imperialist secret treaties, but these were drawn up after the war started, mainly to entice further allies (Italy, Romania) into the war or to defray the exorbitant cost of the war. In effect these imperial designs were pre-emptive war reparations, mainly taken out of the Ottoman Empires hide which strikes me as a tad unfair. Germany did not have much of an empire, apart from that sausage factory in Tanganaika, so the Versailles Treaty took reparations directly out of the Weimar hide, again unwisely.

    The idea that lust for imperial conquest drove British,French and even Russian [1] participation in the Great War is just ludicrous, concocted by Left-wing revisionists in order to pursue an ideological agenda against their own military aristocracies. Undoubtedly the imperial aristocracies of Europe deserved to go for letting Europe fall into a genocidal trap. But the national meritocracies were hardly any better, given the way the second part of the War turned out.

    [1] Nicky II’s telegrams to Willy II were pathetic in their entreaties to somehow draw back from the abyss.

  35. Katz
    April 26th, 2012 at 22:12 | #35

    Strocchers goes off half-cocked again.

    Where did I say that annexationism drove participation? I did not.

    However, annexationism, as Strocchers admits by implication, did drive Entente persistence in fighting the Great War.

    As evidence, the British were prepared to reject Wilson’s Peace without Victory proposals and were delighted and relieved when Germany signified its rejection of Wilson before the British were compelled to make a reply.

    All that palaver about Weber and Fischer is utterly irrelevant to the fact that the governments of Europe lied to their subjects/citizens about the evolution of their war aims.

    Interestingly, when Trotsky published the secret treaties, they received very little publicity in Australia. Only the leftist press picked up on it and even then only a month after publication.

    There was one somewhat ludicrous exception to the above rule. A furore erupted in Australia when it was revealed that the British and Italian governments agreed to cut the Papacy out of postwar annexationist machinations. Australian Catholics perceived a further episode of British anti-Catholicism. One of the legacies of the Great War in Australia was poisonous sectarianism.

    I don’t know why more salient aspects of the secret treaties received so little coverage in the Australian press. Self-censorship perhaps?

  36. Freelander
    April 26th, 2012 at 22:34 | #36

    Sadly, imperial desires,even among the western European powers,did not die with the end of WW II.

    Sadly, even Britain did not relinquish its empire willingly. They didn’t let go until a lot of freedom fighter blood had been shed. Many conflicts today had their genesis in mischievous colonial acts.

  37. Jim Rose
    April 26th, 2012 at 22:50 | #37

    There was an immediate test of whether there was public support for Australia joining the war in Europe. The September 1914 Australian election was held a few weeks after war broke out in Europe on 5 August 1914.

    in the 1914 election, the Cook government was defeated by a Labour Party with Fisher’s promising to stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to the last man and the last shilling. About 13 per cent of the male population of Australia volunteered.

    The 1914-1918 war was popular. Better to explain why that was so, rather than pretend that it was not popular because of popular opposition to conscription.

    as a further test through the ballot box, Billy Hughes won 53 of the 75 seats in the house of reps along with having 24 of the 36 senators after the 1917 general election.

    the view of the UK on the Left was deeply ingrained as per as John Curtin saying in 1941 that “This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race”

  38. zoot
    April 26th, 2012 at 23:39 | #38

    My grandfather and his brother enlisted in Australia in 1915. I have no evidence but it seems to me their willingness to take the King’s shilling owed more to the fact that they were recently arrived from England and believed they were defending the mother country (where their mother still lived) than any “ANZAC spirit”.
    They were both posted to the Western Front. My great uncle’s letters home became more and more dispirited as time wore on. I think I can safely state that the war was not popular with him by the time he was slaughtered at Passchendaele.
    On the other hand my grandfather managed to survive life threatening wounds at Pozieres and carried the weight of his experiences for the rest of his life. He never spoke about the war, ever. I got the impression the war wasn’t too popular with him either.

  39. Freelander
    April 27th, 2012 at 00:10 | #39

    Popularity at a point in time proves little. As time unfolds,and new information circulates, views change. And the reality of the battlefield dispels patriotic fantasies of heroism.

  40. John Quiggin
    April 27th, 2012 at 09:13 | #40

    I was going to mention the secret treaties in the post, but I couldn’t do it and make the post work the way I wanted.

  41. Andrew
    April 27th, 2012 at 09:54 | #41

    It would have been nice not to have a war that killed tens of millions of people, sure. But that did not make the war, from the Allied perspective, avoidable. Germany was absolutely dead-set on European hegemony (justified as ‘self defence’ against the ‘strangling’ Russian-French alliance- war on two fronts!). What was Britain, France and Russia going to do? Give in? That would have been a much worse result than war.

  42. Chris Warren
    April 27th, 2012 at 10:26 | #42


    That is a pretty weak interpretation. There was a massive juggling for colonies and expansion by France, Germany, Russia, Ottomans, Japan, and Britain. Germany had the same aspirations as each other power. The Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese were also loosing and gaining colonies.

    Great Britain was ‘absolutely dead-set’ on an even greater Empire supremacy.

    Russia and Italy were also ‘absolutely dead-set’ on developing their spheres.

    The conflagration that was WWI, or the underlying geopolitical tensions, were all building during the Victorian era and can be seen at the turn of the century in the division of Africa (circa 1898) and China (circa 1900).

    A useful source is “The Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1890-1902” Langer, W. A. [But this bourgeois author ignores the political economic form of Imperialism.]

  43. John Quiggin
    April 27th, 2012 at 11:01 | #43


    Leaving aside the claim that the actual outcome was better than an immediate acceptance of the demands of the Central Powers (arguable, but far from obvious), the German advance had been halted by September 1914 and the trench lines were fully established by October. The Allies could at any time after that have offered a peace without annexations or indemnities. Whether or not the Germans would have accepted such an offer (they came close to making one themselves at various points) its rejection would have been good evidence for the claim that the Allies indeed had no alternatives but to keep fighting or accept German hegemony.

    Instead, as numerous commenters have already pointed out, they signed secret treaties setting out undeclared war aims for territorial gains.

  44. Katz
    April 27th, 2012 at 11:30 | #44

    All sides assumed at the outset that European war would be a cheap war.

    This misapprehension was the result of egregious failures of intelligence.

    The military attachés of the great powers merit especial condemnation for failing to recognise the likelihood of a bloody stalemate. But these gentlemen were simply the frontline of governing classes driven by arrogance and blinded by complacency.

    Unlike H*tler or the maniacs in Kennedy’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, even the most bellicose members of the governing classes in 1914 had a reasonable understanding of the costs and benefits of war. Unfortunately, they grievously underestimated the cost of the looming war.

    The moment when Germany consented to Austria’s demands on Serbia epitomised this ignorance, arrogance and complacency.

  45. April 27th, 2012 at 12:14 | #45

    The truce of Christmas 1914 and the subsequent mutinies on both sides of no-man’s land after that is ample evidence that most soldiers on the ground did not want to fight and that the war was needlessly prolonged to serve the callous needs of the ruling elites in the countries conducting that war.

    Whilst I consider much of the fighting of the Allied forces against Nazi Germany to have been necessary in the Second World War, that war should have ended no later than 1943 and was also prolonged needlessly resulting in the deaths of many millions more.
    Evidence of this is to be found in “Trading with the Enemy” by Charles Higham. (Before I recently learned of Charles Higham’s book) I wrote of this in the article “Need 60 million have died to rid the world of Hitler?” adapted from a comment in response to a review of Max Hastings’ “All Hell Let Loose” in the UK Independent.

  46. gerard
    April 27th, 2012 at 12:45 | #46

    @Jack Strocchi

    Its rather ironic that Trotsky of all people would make a plague on both imperial houses, given the way he got steam-rolled at Brest Litovsk.

    The Bolsheviks didn’t really care about getting steam-rolled at Brest Litovsk – they were operating under the assumption that there’d very soon be a communist revolution in Germany that would render all such treaties moot. Close, but the 1918-19 revolution in Germany didn’t turn out the way the Bolsheviks expected (which is the conventional Trotskyist excuse for what happened in the USSR after Lenin).

  47. Alan
    April 27th, 2012 at 14:48 | #47


    Trostkyists tend to promote a good Lenin, evil Stalin theory of history that ignores Lenin’s own conduct as head of the Soviet government.

  48. Chris Warren
    April 27th, 2012 at 15:03 | #48


    So what are you try to say???

    Left wing capitalists tend to promote a good Obama, evil Bush theory of history that ignores Bush’s own conduct as head of the Yankee empire.

    Capitalist academics tend to promote a good Arthur Phillip, evil officers theory of Australian history, that ignores Phillips own conduct as head of the colony of New South Wales.

    Priests tend to promote a good Christian, evil pagan theory of history that ignores Christians own conduct as heads of perverted regimes.

  49. Paul Norton
    April 27th, 2012 at 15:27 | #49

    Bertrand Russell:

    “But when the First World War broke out, I thought it was a folly and a crime on the part of every one of the Powers involved on both sides. I hoped that England might remain neutral and, when this did not happen, I continued to protest. I found myself isolated from most of my former friends and, what I minded even more, estranged from the current of the national life. I had to fall back upon sources of strength that I hardly knew myself to possess. But something that if I had been religious I should have called the Voice of God, compelled me to persist. Neither then nor later did I think all war wrong. It was that war, not all war, that I condemned.
    The Second World War I thought necessary, not because I had changed my opinions on war, but because the circumstances were different. In fact all that made the second war necessary was an outcome of the first war. We owe to the first war and its aftermath Russian Communism, Italian Fascism and German Nazism. We owe to the first war the creation of a chaotic unstable world where there is every reason to fear that the Second World War was not the last, where there is the vast horror of Russian Communism to be combated, where Germany, France and what used to be the Austro-Hungarian Empire have all fallen lower in the scale of civilization, where there is every prospect of chaos in Asia and Africa, where the prospect of vast and horrible carnage inspires daily and hourly terror. All these evils have sprung with the inevitability of Greek tragedy out of the First World War. Consider by way of contrast what would have happened if Britain had remained neutral in that war. The war would have been short. It would have ended in victory for Germany. America would not have been dragged in. Britain would have remained strong and prosperous. Germany would not have been driven into Nazism, Russia, though it would have had a revolution, would in all likelihood have not had the Communist Revolution, since it could not in a short war have been reduced to the condition of utter chaos which prevailed in 1917. The Kaiser’s Germany, although war propaganda on our side represented it as atrocious, was in fact swashbuckling and a little absurd. I had lived in the Kaiser’s Germany and I knew that progressive forces in that country were very strong and had every prospect of ultimate success. There was more freedom in the Kaiser’s Germany than there is now in any country outside Britain and Scandinavia. We were told at the time that it was a war for freedom, a war for democracy and a war against militarism. As a result of that war freedom has vastly diminished and militarism has vastly increased. As for democracy, its future is still in doubt. I cannot think that the world would now be in anything like the bad state in which it is if English neutrality in the first war had allowed a quick victory to Germany. On these grounds I have never thought that I was mistaken in the line that I took at that time. I also do not regret having attempted throughout the war years to persuade people that the Germans were less wicked than official propaganda represented them as being, for a great deal of the subsequent evil resulted from the severity of the Treaty of Versailles and this severity would not have been possible but for the moral horror with which Germany was viewed. The Second World War was a totally different matter. Very largely as a result of our follies, Nazi Germany had to be fought if human life was to remain tolerable. If the Russians seek world dominion it is to be feared that war with them will be supposed equally necessary. But all this dreadful sequence is an outcome of the mistakes of 1914 and would not have occurred if those mistakes had been avoided.”

    – from Portraits From Memory, 1956.

  50. wilful
    April 27th, 2012 at 16:18 | #50

    Thanks for that Paul.

  51. Alan
    April 27th, 2012 at 16:43 | #51

    @Chris Warren

    The trouble with copy-and-paste argument is that the examples you choose need to be valid. I am aware of no-one, for example, who promotes a good Obama, evil Bush theory that ignores Bush’s own conduct. Few who regard Bush as an evil approve his conduct in office.

    The good Lenin, evil Stalin theory, by contrast simply ignores much of Lenin’s own record. Lenin used mass executions, deportations and other forms of state terror both against opponents within the Bolshevik party and outside it. The difference between Lenin and Stalin is only one of degree. Stalin would not have been able to industrialise Lenin’s terror if the Soviet state or party had possessed even the most basic forms of accountability or transparency.

  52. Sam
    April 27th, 2012 at 16:46 | #52

    @Paul Norton
    I’m going to post this on facebook.

  53. Alan
    April 27th, 2012 at 18:16 | #53

    @Paul Norton

    I am in two minds. While I agree with everything Russell argues I wonder how Germany’s rulers would have behaved after a short victorious war and how the progressive forces would have fared in Germany in that situation.

    On a separate issue Harry Turtledove wrote an alternate history where the Confederacy succeeds in seceding, the Great War in 1914 is fought between an Anglo/Franco/Confederate alliance and a German/US alliance, and a Hitler-like figure then emerges in the 1920s and 30s in a defeated Confederacy.

  54. alfred venison
    April 27th, 2012 at 19:41 | #54

    hi Alan
    thanks for the considerate response. you start with the treaties & look forward from there, fair enough, i may have inadvertently tilted discussion in that direction. i’d start with commadore perry opening japan’s door in 1854 & end with the treaties to make a modest point. from perspective of japanese nationalists, the treaties were only the most recent humiliation of their country by westerners wielding double standards. japan was on the receiving end of racist exclusionary policies in british columbia, california & australia from almost the moment its door was forced open by perry. its commerce with these jurisdictions was also restricted: open your door, japan was told, but stay at home. henry reynold & marilyn lake go into some of this in their study “drawing the global colour line” (excerpts available at google books).

    japan had embraced western industrialisation, western style of gov’t, western dress, a western style army trained by germany and a western style navy trained by england. it even had an exploitative & cruel colonial empire, with atrocities on a par with britain’s concentration camps in south africa, or the usa’s counter-insurgency in the philippines, or germay’s genocide against the herero in south east africa. not to mention the belgian congo or haiti.

    japan had negotiated a naval treaty with england during the 1890s which was signed in 1904 & which committed japan to provide an army for the defence of india (15,000 men) if russia attacked. imagine, a japanese army, convoyed by the royal navy, fighting shoulder to shoulder with sepoys in defence the raj from the russians; fantastic sounding, but both countries negotiated it & signed a treaty that committed each to it. the japanese navy had patrolled the south china sea on england’s behalf during ww1 allowing england to concentrate fleet resources in the north sea.

    sure the usa has two coasts & england had a far flung empire, but that ‘s no reason, from the japanese perspective, for japan to have an inferior navy, while these countries had bases in the phillipines & singapore; japan had no corresponding bases in, say, iceland or baja california.

    in an anarchic society of racist imperialist powers japan was distinguished by being consistently treated by the other’s as an inferior. this was not accidental; it was deliberate & racist. the washington treaty precipitated a split in the hitherto england-friendly japanese navy between accommodationists & radicals; it put japanese cosmopolitans & democrats at a marked disadvantage vis a vis growing militarism. these naval treaties were to japan & japanese nationalists what the versailles treaty was to germany or the loss of alsace & lorraine was to france. a cause celebre of national humiliation like this, which affects national pride at a primal level, leaves redress or overturn as the only response to be countenanced by integral nationalists & its integral nationalists who benefit from national humiliation like this.

    how is it we can readily attribute some responsibility for german militarism after ww1 to our side’s versailles treaty, but ignore the role played in japanese militarism by the insults our side meted out to a proud young power that had bent over backwards for decades to fit in?

    for the record, i ‘m not seeking to excuse japanese atrocities by arguing some kind of equivalence of moral depravity.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  55. Chris Warren
    April 27th, 2012 at 20:03 | #55


    Yes – it becomes a copy-and-paste when the original is pretty common template.

    I realise it was an attempt to derail a thread, but if you want to associate the propaganda terms “mass executions”, “deportations”, “state terror”, with Russia – start with Tsar Catherine and the Ochrana and the White terror (backed by the West) just to give context.

    If you really are concerned about “mass executions”, “deportations”, “state terror” try looking at the Armenians executed and deported to the Syrian desert in the 1890’s, or the Colonial British in China or India.

    Remember Lenin was confronted with intervention from the north and from the far east and from Whites inside.

    The number of deaths in Iraq is well over 100,000 and you will not find the worst types of industrialised terror at Guantanamo Bay and various third-party terror camps employed in the secret renditions programs of Bush.

    It is Obama’s conduct in not closing Guantanamo Bay and continuing Military star chambers that is moot. We all know Bush is evil.

  56. Alan
    April 27th, 2012 at 20:27 | #57

    @Chris Warren

    All of those things happened and no-one with half a brain denies that or can possibly approve it in any way. However, all of those things do nothing either to disprove or justify Lenin’s use of terror. Terror is simply wrong. One side’s terror is excusable but another side’s terror is inexcusable is not a tenable argument.

    For the same reason I don’t think Obama’s embrace of Bush’s terror policies is either moot or excusable.

  57. Chris Warren
    April 27th, 2012 at 21:38 | #58


    No one is saying that terror is right.

    No one has said one sides terror is excusable and another’s is not.

    Only one person raised Lenin-Stalin in isolation and without the necessary context. This is not a tenable argument. The terrorism that fed into the Russian revolution pre-existed Lenin, in such gangs as Narodnaya Volya (Peoples Will), although the violence of a civil war can always be categorised as terror.

    But the colonial United States of America was based on deeper and more structural terror than even Stalin encouraged. It was also much longer lasting.

    But it is hard to find any case of terrorism that exceeds the wanton terror used by settlers as they moved across the Australian landmass in the period from 1789 (NSW, Tasmania, Victoria) all the way through to 1920s when the last known massacre occurred in the Kimberly (WA) in 1926.

  58. April 28th, 2012 at 09:39 | #59

    Gosh, the fact that the anzacs fought for a country that had the White Australia policy is about the only sin of the Anzacs that got left out of this slur against Anzac Day.

    I feel like I’m visiting a website inhabited by the sort of people who would have attended “get out of Vietnam” rallies & the like. Cat called returning troops etc.

    ….. though they had lotsa motivation to “oppose war” or somesuch slogan, one always noticed the irresistable urge to chant never ran deep enough in the backbone of those types for them to be still in the vicinity at the time the troops were dismissed…… gee wonder why?

  59. Fran Barlow
    April 28th, 2012 at 09:52 | #60


    Anything at all with two hyperlinks goes to moderation. For the purpose of this calculation, a link to a prior post counts as one. This process takes no account of the content of the post and is automatically generated to preclude link spam.

    Having read your contributions at “Candobetter” there is no reason that I can see why PrQ would have moderated. Occasionally, when he does, he makes this explicit and gives a reason.

    I appreciate that it’s annoying when someting goes into the mod bin. It happens to me occasionally. The other day my use of the word “[email protected]” {replace symbol with “a”} did it.

    It’s regrettable that you’ve implied that he is engaged in some sort of political censorship. You should apologise and amend your comment, IMO.

  60. Sam
    April 28th, 2012 at 10:21 | #61

    @Steve at the Pub
    ” feel like I’m visiting a website inhabited by the sort of people who would have attended “get out of Vietnam” rallies & the like.”

    Err, yes, I’m sure most of the people here would have opposed the Vietnam war, a conflict in which – unlike WW1 – there really was a good side; just not ours.

  61. Chris Warren
    April 28th, 2012 at 10:51 | #62


    There was a third ‘good side’ – draft resisters and Moratorium marchers.

  62. April 28th, 2012 at 11:14 | #63

    Thank you Fran Barlow and also “Anon-i-mouse” for having taken the time to respond to my own previous comments about Professor Quiggin, which I can now can see were ill-considered. For having written those comments I have apologised to Professor Quiggin on my own site and apologise again here and hope that he can put this behind him. The comment containing my apology is reproduced below:

    It has been pointed out to me that what I had written in my previous post could be taken as an unjust implication that Professor John Quiggin deliberately delays posts which challenge his views until such time as they are no longer likely to be read by others. In fact there was a perfectly innocent explanation of why some of the posts I had submitted had their approval publication had been delayed. It is reproduced below in an explanation provided by another contributor:


    Anything at all with two hyperlinks goes to moderation. For the purpose of this calculation, … (See Fran Barlow’s comment above.)

    As has been rightly asked above I do apologise to Professor Quiggin, who has shown himself to an exemplary upholder of free speech and informed critical thought on his web-site.

  63. Fran Barlow
    April 28th, 2012 at 11:38 | #64

    @Steve at the Pub

    You might recall SATP, that the RSL — who were no kinds of left-of-centre radicals, were not all that keen on the Vietnam veterans being counted alongside them.

    I was only 12 when I attended by first Moratorium rally — in Sydney in 1970. I joined the calls for the troops to be recalled but abused nobody. That pattern persisted at other rallies.

    We serious organised left|sts never made our attitude to the troops personal — particularly as in many cases they were conscripts. Culpability always lay with “imperialism” and its governments. The party with which I became involved discouraged its supporters from flight to avoid conscription.

  64. Paul Norton
    April 28th, 2012 at 14:08 | #65

    SATP, I think it’s drawing a long bow to call JQ’s post, or most of the comments here, a “slur on Anzac Day”. Many of us can combine an attitude of respect for the Anzacs and others who have given military service to Australia, and sympathy for the difficult personal circumstances which many of them, and their families, have experienced as a consequence of that service, with a critical political and historical sensibility regarding the wars in which they were and are required to serve by Australian governments past and present.

    Also see Martin Flanagan:

  65. Dan
    April 28th, 2012 at 14:17 | #66

    Agreed; support our troops, don’t send them off to fight other people’s wars.

  66. April 28th, 2012 at 17:02 | #67

    (Thanks, Professor Quiggin.)

    Alan wrote:

    Those Trostkyists tend to promote a good Lenin, evil Stalin theory of history that ignores Lenin’s own conduct as head of the Soviet government.

    At least acknowledge that as as Lenin lay in bed mortally ill in 1923, he instructed Trotsky to remove Stalin from the post of Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This is substantiated in many works including “Lenin’s Last Struggle” of 1968 by Moshe Lewin and “The Prophet Armed” of 1954 by Isaac Deutscher, the first of his three volume trilogy on the life of Leon Trotsky. Had Trotsky acted on Lenin’s instructions instead of largely sitting on his hands until 1927 (also documented by Deutscher) history would have turned out very differently.

    Much of the terrible destruction and bloodshed that occurred through the remainder of the 20th century and the early 21st century:

    Purges of both left and right wing opponents of Stalin, the bloody defeat of Chinese Communism in 1927, Nazi triumph in Germany in 1933, the triumph of Franco in Spain, the Second World War in which possibly as many as 70 million may have died, The Korean War in which 3 million North Koreans died, The Vietnam War in which as many as 5 million may have died, the murder of half a million communists by Suharto in 1965, the invasion of East Timor, the invasion of Yugoslavia, the invasions of Iraq in 1991 which may have killed as many as 2 million, the invasion on Libya in 2011, …

    … may have been avoided.

    As others pointed out, Lenin was faced with a savage civil war and an invasion by the troops over ten foreign nations, including Australia.

    So is it fair to damn Lenin for having resorted to harsh measures to keep his government in power, especially given what his opponents, many professing to be for democracy, both outside the Soviet Union and within, have ‘achieved’ since his death?

    Personally I think Marxism is a flawed philosophy (see Robert Heilbroner’s “The Worldly Philosophers” of 1953), but in spite of that I think the Russian Revolution of 1917 presented humanity with its best opportunity to date to establish a workable and humane global society.

    Sadly, that opportunity was lost.

  67. Katz
    April 28th, 2012 at 18:23 | #68

    Gosh, the fact that the anzacs fought for a country that had the White Australia policy is about the only sin of the Anzacs that got left out of this slur against Anzac Day.

    Glad you mentioned this SATP.

    Billie Hughes at Versailles led the charge against a declaration of racial equality. In other words, the Prime Minister of Australia was in 1919 the world’s most prominent racist.

    Either members of the AIF supported Hughes’ racism, which makes them racists too, or members of the AIF opposed Hughes’ racism, which makes them dupes, because the British Empire did not state openly that they were fighting the Great War to perpetuate racism (though, in fact, that is precisely what the British Empire was trying to do).

    Hughes’ crass racism infuriated the Japanese, concluded that they would forever be treated as inferiors. Japanese fascists gained much credit in Japan by pointing out Japan’s inferior status in the post-Versailles world.

  68. Alan
    April 28th, 2012 at 18:38 | #69


    The mark of Hughes’ intransigence on the issue is that South Africa tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hughes to accept a compromise.

  69. Jim Rose
    April 28th, 2012 at 19:18 | #70

    katz, the japanese proposal was problematic for arch-racist and warmonger Woodrow Wilson, who knew he was dependent on pro-segregation Southern Democrats if he was to have any hope of getting the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the treaty in the Senate.

    The opposition from the British Empire delegations gave him a pretext.

    11 of the 17 delegates present voted in favor of Japan’s racial equality amendment to the charter, and no negative vote was taken.

    as chairman, Wilson overturned this vote, saying that although the proposal had been approved by a clear majority, that in this particular matter, strong opposition had manifested itself, and that on this issue a unanimous vote would be required.

    HT: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_Equality_Proposal,_1919

  70. Katz
    April 28th, 2012 at 19:23 | #71

    @Jim Rose

    So? Hughes was Wilson’s willing accomplice. Wilson used Hughes as his stalking horse.

    Wilson may have been the most powerful racist at Versailles. But this doesn’t stop Hughes from being, as I said, the most prominent racist at Versailles.

    And the relevant question for this thread is how does this fact relate to the identity of the First AIF?

  71. April 29th, 2012 at 14:53 | #72

    Katz @35 said

    Strocchers goes off half-cocked again.
    Where did I say that annexationism drove participation? I did not.
    However, annexationism, as Strocchers admits by implication, did drive Entente persistence in fighting the Great War. All that palaver about Weber and Fischer is utterly irrelevant to the fact that the governments of Europe lied to their subjects/citizens about the evolution of their war aims.

    I think my burst was short and well-aimed, althougt the butt party likes to play silly buggers by moving the target.

    I have never denied the culpability of Allied powers in rejecting a compromise peace once stalemate had set in -1915, nearly a year into the war began. However I am most eager to affirm the culpability of the Central Powers for starting the damn thing in the first place.

    It can’t be helped if you use ambiguous phrase like “diplomatic history of the Great War” which a reasonable man would associate with the complex system of alliances (Entente Cordiale, Triple Entente) that the Allied powers drew up in the lead up to the war, With the express purpose of containing Prussian militarism which was from the get-go obviously in danger of going off the leash without the restraining hand of Bismark to reign it in. (So far as the Junkers were concerned Bismark was the brake, Kaiser WII was angel gear and Hitler was overdrive)

    Its a bit rich for you to refer to “palaver from Weber and Fischer” given the tripe served up by the revisionists. I favor the Sonderweg theory of the post-unification evolution of the German state and its fundamental role in causing the Great War, because of its predictive power in explaining WWII.

    And in doing so I want to once and for all bury the zombie Left-liberal revisionist theory of the causes of the Great War which attempts to spread a plague on both houses, based on a debunked theory of imperialism. Which theory had the odious consequence of partially exculpating the Prussians against whom my ancestors fought and died to contain.

    Pretty obviously it was Teutonic militarism that caused the Great War ((pts 1 & 2) and drove it to its apocalyptic conclusions during both episodes of the conflict. Yet intellectuals including Pr Q continue to spread the myth that the Allied leaders were just as guilty as the Teutonic militarists in starting the war:

    The names of Asquith,  Bethmann-Hollweg, Berchtold and Poincare are barely remembered, yet on any reasonable accounting they belong among the great criminals of history. Not only did they create the conditions for war, and rush (eagerly in most cases) in…How could such ordinary, seemingly decent, men pursue such an evil and self-destructive course, and yet, in most cases, attract and retain the support of their people? I find it hard to understand.

    The war guilt of the Teutons was blatantly obvious to most people (Diggers included) at the time which is why the Allied leaders “retained the support of their people”, even when they prolonged and escalated the conflict long beyond the point of fair and reasonable return. Yet the Teutonic powers primal war guilt has been consistently denied or down-played by Left-liberal commentators who are as ever keen to heap blame on our side, As they always do in all debates, making every post a loser for our horse

    The Allied leaders did not “eagerly rush in” to the War in any “cases”. All the Allied leaders tried to avoid the looming conflict with the Central Powers, specifically by building up defensive alliances in the run-up to the war and then by undertaking frantic last minute diplomatic negotiations to arrest the Conrrad-von Moltke juggernaut. Most obviously Serbia which bent over backward to accommodate Austria’s utterly outrageous demands for reparation and retribution. But also Grey and even Nicky II. All to no avail, as it was in the Second Act, where alliances, defensive fortifications and appeasers were equally useless in arresting the Teutonic juggernaut. (The Romans had the same problem, as the Gladiator said “don’t these people know when they are beaten?”)

    And obviously the public supported the war guilt clauses, together with a Carthaginian peace, never mind revelations of diplomatic intrigues. No doubt un-Christian and un-wise of them. But it just goes to show that it is silly and pointless to contrive some moral gap between leaders and followers when it comes to apportioning blame on our side. Or has the popularity of the “little Digger” been flushed down the memory hole as well?


  72. alfred venison
    April 29th, 2012 at 16:35 | #73

    hi Jack Stocchi
    so there’s life in this old thread yet. i agree with you when you say that the “they’re all equally culpable” theory of the origins of ww1 is untenable, since fritz fisher’s paradigm shattering work in the archives. the “they’re all equally culpable” theory certainly was not taught at sydney uni when i was a grad student in the 90s; it was fischer all the way, and with serious rigour. the origins of the first world war, as we were taught, began with the franco-prussian war & the founding of the reich; with the annexation of alsace lorraine, the prussian franchise, and the bankruptcy of the bavarian state upon unification, the course was well set for ww1 long before the entente cordiale.

    my profs & fellow tutors spoke about the dismay they felt that what was taught in nsw high schools about the “origins of ww1” did not, despite persistent efforts of professional historians, include anything about fischer’s findings & that students still came to first year modern history at uni with head full of a discredited theory, that had to be untaught before they could learn the fruits of real, modern historiography. you could tell, from the answers they gave to the stock “origins of ww1” exam question, which students had read their university course material (including fischer) and which hadn’t & who had therefore relied in the exam on what they’d been taught in high school. like them i’m dismayed that fischer’s findings have still not yet penetrated to high schools & the broader community, and that the “they’re all equally culpable” theory is still taught in schools as normative & still forms the basis of historical documentaries & popular discussions. this is a disservice to the country, to the memory of the soldiers, and to the students who are taught as normative a theory that was discredited in the 1960s.

    but i don’t think you’ll get from fritz fischer to ww2 without also taking on board something like paul massing’s “rehearsal for destruction: a study of political anti-semitism in imperial germany” for the complete sonderweg to ww2 road map.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  73. John Quiggin
    April 29th, 2012 at 17:00 | #74

    Jack and AV – exactly how can anything discovered by Fischer in the archives serve to exculpate the Entente powers?

    With ten million dead, the question of whether the shares of guilt were exactly equal or not is utterly irrelevant.

    It’s obvious that the Central Powers started the war with imperialist and expansionist aims. It’s equally obvious that the Allies made no serious attempt to end it, except by a victory achieved through attrition. In fact, they rejected all attempts that were made to start such negotiations. Moreover, the fact that their stated war aims were contradicted by secret treaties meant that any position they took was in bad faith. That’s not to say the Central Powers weren’t even worse, but so what?

  74. John Quiggin
    April 29th, 2012 at 17:03 | #75

    And of course, this had nothing to do with either Australia or Turkey. We ended up on the other side from the Turks through happenstance. If negotiations had gone differently, the ANZACs could just as easily been sent to put down the Arab revolt in support of our glorious Turkish allies, or to fight against the Czar for the freedom of some different oppressed minorities.

  75. Katz
    April 29th, 2012 at 17:10 | #76

    @Jack Strocchi

    I prefer not to be your straw man.

    In your hurry to respond perhaps you missed my reference to Germany’s conniving in the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. I believe that the Central Powers were mostly culpable for the outbreak of the Great War. I am guardedly favourable to the Fischer thesis.

    My sole reason for my “palaver” comment is that we don’t need the Fischer thesis or any other thesis to observe that the Entente lied about the evolution of their war aims.

    But if you really need a straw man, then so be it. Attentive readers, however, may question the reasons for this need.

    Certainly, by 1919, when it was all done and dusted, the citizens of the victorious powers proved to be vengeful. This makes one wonder about their attitudes in 1915-1917. Perhaps if their governments had told them about all the lovely loot they’d get, they might have fought harder and not mutinied, etc.

    Why, oh why, didn’t these governments tell their citizens about those splendidly rapacious secret treaties. Their soldiers may have fought harder and got the war over before revolution broke out in Russia.

    A lost opportunity for truth-driven ruthlessness, perhaps?


  76. Jim Rose
    April 29th, 2012 at 17:15 | #77

    for xmas reading, I recommend Margaret Mcmillian’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. It was a New York Times Editors’ Choice.

    When German governments were resigning daily after seeing the terms of the treaty, France started to remobilise. Those terms were worse than the German foreign office expected but not whole a lot worse.

    The Greek territorial demands initially included Constantinople as the new Greek capital. That was about the level of self-interest and reasonableness shown by many.

    See http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/27/books/books-of-the-times-guide-to-how-not-to-alter-the-world.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

  77. alfred venison
    April 29th, 2012 at 18:18 | #78

    it is well known that the first generation of anglo-american historians cultivated the “equal responsibility” thesis partly in reaction to the severity of the verseilles treaty & especially its war guilt clause. french historians did not feel similarly constrained. fischer had access in 1961 to material not available to earlier historians & he was meticulous in his use of it. he reviewed material available to earlier historians without their preconceptions of “equal responsibility”.

    nothing fischer discovered in the archives “exculpates the entente” nor was that the aim of his research. i do not dispute that entente war aims changed; i dispute that all powers share equally in the responsibility for the start of the war. i think because ten million died it especially behoves us to sort out responsibility (1) for the start of the war, and (2) for its continuation after stalemate.

    here is how australian historian john a moses (a student of fischer) summarised fischer’s thesis: “that germany in august 1914 not only willingly accepted the risk of a world war emerging from the austro-serbian crisis but that the german government wanted this great war, and therefore prepared it & brought it about.” [moses’ emphasis]. other powers sought to prevent the crisis from escalating into war, germany did not and in fact had prepared its self to take the crisis to war.

    from the wikipedia article on the historiography of ww1:- “fischer was the first historian to draw attention to the war council held by the kaiser wilhelm II and the reich’s top military-naval leadership on december 8, 1912 in which it was declared that germany would start a war of aggression in the summer of 1914”. germany was responsible for the crisis of august 1914 turning into a world war, it was not solely responsible for the war continuing after stalemate.

    for his trouble fischer was excoriated by german nationalists, personally threatened and denounced in the federal republic’s parliament. his thesis is now (50 years later) considered well founded by anglo-american historians who have reviewed the documentation he relied on and found it solid as well as the conclusions he drew from it.
    alfred vension

  78. April 29th, 2012 at 19:45 | #79

    Alfred Venison is right to point to the culpability of Germany in starting the First World War.

    However, if we were to accept that the French, British, Russians and Italians behaved less cynically towards Germany than Germany did towards them, then what about their conduct in the rest of the world?:

    Most of Africa was brutally conquered by France, Britain and Belgium, with Germany only able to colonise small amounts of leftover territory, the most sizable being South West Africa (which was given to South Africa at the end of WW1 and which only became independent in 1990 after having had to fight a brutal colonial occupation for decades.

    In 1911 Italy started a war with the Ottomon Empire out of which she was able to colonise Libya (which she also helped NATO to re-colonise Libya last year, a century later). Out of the First World War Britain created Iraq from its conquest of the Ottoman territory in which a client state was set up. Another client state was set up in neighbouring Jordan, whilst France colonised Syria, both also conquered from the Ottoman empire.

    So, the claim that virtue and more principled conduct were to be found in the Allied camp of the First World War seems shaky to me.

  79. John Quiggin
    April 29th, 2012 at 20:39 | #80

    AV – against whom, exactly, do you think you are arguing here?

    “The first generation of anglo-american historians” of the Great War are long dead, and no one here has invoked their shades except you. Neither the original post, nor any commenter has denied that Germany and Austria started the war. So what?

  80. John Quiggin
    April 29th, 2012 at 20:52 | #81

    As regards the view that German militarism was unique, it’s worth noting that Britain and France were on the brink of war in 1898, as were Britain and Russia in 1878. And all three had fought the Crimean War over “the keys to a church in Jerusalem”. The peace-loving Allies were quite prepared to war among themselves, or with anyone else if they saw it as in their national interest

    The eventual line-up, and the fact that the Central Powers were the aggressors in 1914 was, as I said, largely happenstance.

  81. Jim Rose
    April 29th, 2012 at 20:54 | #82

    John, tom schelling wrote about the guns of 1914 noting that various sides mobilised, but had no plans in place on how to stop that military mobilisation if they changed their minds.

    with nuclear weapons around, a lot of work was done at rand in the 1950s on controlled escalations and having the ability to back-down with credibility and mutual assurance.

    wars by blunder and miscalculation are common. getting out of a war is not easy because a peace without credibility may only be a short interlude to rearm and fight again.

  82. April 29th, 2012 at 22:03 | #83

    Jim Rose :
    with nuclear weapons around, a lot of work was done at rand in the 1950s on controlled escalations and having the ability to back-down with credibility and mutual assurance.
    wars by blunder and miscalculation are common. …

    On no less than three occasions, the late President John F Kennedy over-ruled the US Joint Chiefs of Staff’s plans to launch a first strike nuclear war against the USSR. Humanity’s debt to JFK is inestimable.

  83. April 30th, 2012 at 00:12 | #84

    OK, Jack you’re back on your hobby horse now. Nothing more from you on this thread please. – JQ

  84. Katz
    April 30th, 2012 at 08:53 | #85

    To return to JQ’s elegant OP:

    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.

    Certainly, the last diggers remaining were unanimous in voicing that opinion. I don’t know whether or not these men always had that opinion, or whether they formed that opinion while scrutinising over their long lives the dire consequences of the disaster of the Great War.

    Two possible conclusions:

    1. Left wing opinions promote longevity.

    2. Historical perspective improves judgment. Perhaps, in their heart of hearts, most diggers rejected the notion that their sacrifice produced a positive outcome but were bullied into compliance by the manufactures of consent.

    The Vietnam generation learned from this history, detecting before it was too late the lies of their governments and refusing to knuckle under to the manufacturers of consent.

    It is possible to learn from history but those who do are seldom admired by the conformists who swallow whole government lies.

  85. alfred venison
    April 30th, 2012 at 18:34 | #86

    respectfully, and my last word on the topic:-

    (1) moses, john a., “the politics of illusion: the fischer controversy in german historiography”, university of queensland press, 1975. (148pp)
    -> university of queensland library (fryer research only):- DD86.7.F54 M59 1975A – status:- available
    -> university of queensland library (ssah):- DD86.7.F54 M59 1975 – status:- due 16-5-12

    (2) moses, john a., “the war aims of imperial germany: professor fritz fischer & his critics”, university of queensland press, 1975. (48pp)
    -> university of queensland library (ssah):- DD86.7.F54 M6 1975 – status:- available

    because the ghosts of post-war anglo-american historiography (“that the Central Powers were the aggressors in 1914 was … largely happenstance”) still walk among us.
    yours respectfully
    alfred venison

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