We shall remember them (reposted from 2005)

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.

39 thoughts on “We shall remember them (reposted from 2005)

  1. “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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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..

  6. 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. 🙂

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.


    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.

  10. 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.

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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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