We shall remember them ? (repost*)

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.

87 thoughts on “We shall remember them ? (repost*)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. @wilful


    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.

  5. 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.

  6. @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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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”

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. @Andrew

    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.]

  17. @Andrew

    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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. @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).

  21. @gerard

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

  22. @Alan

    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.

  23. 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.

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