Lest we forget

For my Anzac Day post today, I’ll quote the man most directly responsible for the disaster, describing the war of which it was a part (H/T Daniel Quiggin)

Germany having let Hell loose kept well in the van of terror; but she was followed step by step by the desperate and ultimately avenging nations she had assailed. Every outrage against humanity or international law was repaid by reprisals often on a greater scale and longer duration. No truce or parley mitigated the strife of the armies. The wounded died between the lines; the dead moldered into the soil. Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were sunk on the seas and all on board left to their fate, or killed as they swam. Every effort was made to starve whole nations into submission without regard to age or sex. Cities and monuments were smashed by artillery. Bombs from the air were cast down indiscriminately. Poison gas in many forms stifled or seared the soldiers. Liquid fire was projected upon their bodies. Men fell from the air in flames, or were smothered, often slowly, in the dark recesses of the sea. The fighting strength of armies was limited only by the manhood of their countries. Europe and large parts of Asia and Africa became one vast battlefield on which after years of struggle not armies but nations broke and ran. When it was all over, Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian states had been able to deny themselves: and these were of doubtful utility.

As it turned out, even this assessment was too optimistic. The second phase of the great world war saw the end of the few limits that had been observed in the first.

To pay respect to the Anzacs and those who followed them, we should stop repeating the mistakes and crimes of those who sent them to their deaths.

16 thoughts on “Lest we forget

  1. I recall many years ago standing at the back of Brisbane City Hall during a rally calling for Australia to send troops into East Timor. A strong lobby, with a strong Catholic element, was crying for Australian intervention to stop Indonesian massacres of East Timorese. At that time my son was aboard HMAS Tobruk en route from Townsville to Darwin to load troops and equipment for just such an intervention. I remember thinking at the rally, “That’s my son you are talking about.” Peace-loving people calling for war, I thought, I don’t like this. I was concerned that Australia should get a UN mandate before intervening, which subsequently happened. One of the few good things John Howard did as PM; I was more concerned about the potential for political treachery and bungling at home and the risk that could pose for Australian troops, than I was about the danger my son would face on the ground in Dili. Subsequently my son had two tours of duty to East Timor and four to Afghanistan. Every twelve months or so he would be off to war, for six months each deployment. That went on for over a decade: commuting to the war zone. He lost friends in combat. There was a strain on his young family. There was damage to his body, his health. There was constant pain and concern for all who loved him, and his comrades. Much of the time the military chose secrecy to manage the public perception of what our troops were doing: “Oh, we cannot talk about what our Special Forces are doing.” That is all “operational matters”, secret stuff. When my son first went to Afghanistan we were not even supposed to know where he was. We could learn more online about US, UK, Canadian troop activity than about Australian activity. There are many things that could be said about this, but the main one is: most of us do not know the half of what we ask our young service personnel to do, when we send them off to war, whether it is a laudable “peacekeeping” action or the latest American adventure. And all along we have had hardly a word of debate in our Parliament about what we are doing, a disgraceful abdication of responsibility. Instead, we have a shameful “bipartisan” major-party approach to the use of our forces. We have the same shameful shared policy approach to asylum seekers, many of them from the same regions we have sent our troops. Time to think about what we are doing, not just to our service personnel, but to their families, their communities, our society, our nation. Time to ask questions and argue. Time to throw off the absurd charge that if we do ask questions, we are somehow soft on terrorism, deluded, whatever… just as in an earlier generation we were accused of being soft on communism, fellow-travellers, and such nonsense. Maybe, soon, time again for ordinary citizens to march in the streets. To stop the idiocy, which starts here at home, thinking we can support some wars, perhaps giving them nice labels like “peacekeeping”, and condemn others. Thinking there are justifiable interventions that will achieve peace, or stop terror. Thinking, like gods, we can then decide the fate of our young people.

  2. I don’t follow: “I’ll quote the man most directly responsible for the disaster, describing the war of which it was a part (H/T Daniel Quiggin)”.

    Who is H/T Daniel Quiggin?

  3. @Peter Chapman

    I have ‘military age’ children and definitely don’t want them ending up in some stupid illegal war to risk having an opponent shove a bayonet through their guts of cut them in half with a machine gun or if they survive all that ending up with PTSD. Nor do I want my kids to be required to do those things to anyone else.

    I particularly don’t want my kids and others to face this through conscription for some illegal war. I’ve had enough of illegal wars such as our grovelling, puppy like following of the US and Britain into Iraq. I believe that the war on Iraq launched by Bush, Blair and Howard was illegal, that it at least one root cause of the current extent of conflict in the Middle East that the Iraq adventure made war criminals of these great anglophone leaders. No surprise then that I was very pleased to hear recently of moves in the UK to indict Blair for war crimes.

    At the very least Australian governments should not be allowed to commit military personnel to war or to send our people into war zones WITHOUT a clear express act of the Commonwealth Parliament, preferably involving a joint sitting of both houses and something better than a simple majority, perhaps 75% would do.

  4. H.H.

    Something puzzling like this is usually the result of a typo.

    The quote appears to be from “The World Crisis”, by Winston S. Churchill, Volume one, page 3, Chap. I, 1923, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons.

    J.Q.’s words then make sense.

  5. LOL. I didn’t know that H/T was hat tip. Now I know I guess, so my understanding is GTG (good to go) and I am ROTOT (right on top of things).

  6. Well, as to torture it has been official policy of that most christian nation, the USA, since Bush (at least).

  7. @Peter Chapman

    «Instead, we have a shameful “bipartisan” major-party approach to the use of our forces.»

    There is a strong bipartisan majority for being a client state of the USA, which implies being indeed willing to be part of any “coalition of the willing” the USA want. England under Churchill made the same choice. There is a price to pay for USA suzerainty/”protection”, and that price includes body bags unfortunately.

  8. @Blissex
    Any policy should be subject to regular, even constant review. The shameful aspect of Australia’s approach, ever since Menzies declared that we were at war with Germany because Britain was, and since Holt declared us to be going “all the way with LBJ” (which remark reportedly made even the Americans cringe), is that we do not debate these matters in our Parliament. Even in the UK there is some willingness to be less willing, with Labour now wanting to question automatic participation in bombing campaigns in Syria, for example. Over many years I have met Europeans (Germans, Dutch, others) who assured me that their participation in the Afghanistan conflict was debated in their parliaments… and in some cases those debates led to the withdrawal of troops. All we have here is a combination of secrecy and the blind leading the bland. Same for asylum seeker policy and practices. As for the “body bags” price, we could add that we also gain a legacy of veteran trauma (physical, emotional, mental), PTSD, an epidemic of suicides among veterans, huge impacts on families, etc., which our DVA can barely comprehend let alone respond to. And yet Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan led to relatively few casualties. Had we suffered the same rate of casualties as Canada, for example, perhaps we would have a debate about our membership of the “coalition of the willing”.

  9. The ANZACs at Gallipoli included many men with a gift for writing, poetry and illustration, and their works were compiled in The ANZAC Book. I now possess the copy of the book that my father was given for his 7th birthday all those years ago. I had hoped to post J W S Henderson’s mordantly funny ANZAC Alphabet on Facebook, but I was concerned that the condition of the book would suffer from its being placed for scanning in my multi-function device. I am therefore grateful to David M Hart for publishing The ANZAC Alphabet at his blog. I also can’t help thinking that if Henderson was still with us he would apply his wit to taking the piss out of the jingoistic rubbish that has accumulated around ANZAC Day in the past two decades.

  10. Could not agree more, John. If you let loose the dogs of war, don’t think you can easily chain them up again. Just look at Afghanistan: The longest war Australia has every being involved in, baring the phantom Korean Conflict. War is not only hell, it’s hell on skates – that are there are no brakes, only collisions.

  11. @Peter Chapman

    Well said.

    Having been fortunate enough to have been just too young for Vietnam conscription (thanks Gough !), I have the utmost respect for those who voluntarily put their lives in harms way.

    I do find it troubling though to hear our Prime Minister (and others) saying that all those so very young (mainly) men who gave their lives in WW 1/2 died to “protect our freedom”, when in reality they died for the geo-political ambitions of the ruling class who see the world as their own monopoly board. I was reading a piece this morning about the French Foreign Legion and their action in IndoChina, which they referred to as the “Michelin” war on account of them being their to protect Michelin’s rubber plantations.

    Unhappily, I’m sure many from the Right in the Liberal Party are probably rubbing their hands at the prospect of a new Korean conflict.

  12. This from a collection of recruitment posters

    Early recruits viewed the war as a great adventure which was not to be missed, particularly as the general view was that it would all be over by Christmas 1914.

    ‘Initially these methods of propaganda provided a steady stream of new recruits but by November 1914 there was a marked decline in numbers.

    ‘As it became clear the war was not going to be over as quickly as first thought, more sophisticated and sinister methods were employed.

    ‘The messages were much more direct and even targeted the wives and children of potential soldiers, such as the now famous ‘Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?’

    Nothing much has changed.


  13. Thanks, John. This post has made me realise that I could never respect any public intellectual who fails to place the avoidance of war at the heart of their thinking.

    This also makes me more centrist than I otherwise might be, as sny radical philosophy must contend with the fact that its implementation will likely lead to armed to resistance. Of course the burden of that resistance invariably falls on certain groups, such as the poor and women.

  14. The furore over comments made by Yassmin Abdel-Magied show just how Anzac day has been hijacked by the dominant political class as a cover for their own mistakes, and how that dominant political class exercise power over minority groups to maintain their status.

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