The Guardian

The Guardian May 3, 2000


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

"Never again!" should be our Anzac Day slogan

SBS news on the evening of Anzac Day featured a sound bite from a very 
elderly war veteran, who had travelled to Gallipoli for the 85th 
anniversary. "What was it all for?, he quavered. "It was futile. His was 
almost the only honest comment in the whole coverage of the occasion.

Prime Minister John Howard actually had the gall to say "We come [to 
Gallipoli] to seek the inspiration of stories of compassion and comfort 
given to others in their time of need, knowing that there are opportunities 
in our own lives to ease the burden of those suffering adversity and 
hardship.

That's rich, coming from the head of a government that has caused so many 
people to suffer "adversity and hardship. And Howard certainly has no 
intention of doing anything to ease their burden.

For all Howard's high-sounding words about "that great-hearted generation 
of Australians who fought here [at Gallipoli], the sad truth is that the 
young men who fought and died at Gallipoli sacrificed themselves for 
British and French bankers and industrialists  for their control of 
markets and resources, in short for the greater profits of a class who made 
sure they were far from the fighting.

The young Australians and New Zealanders were enticed to leave their 
homelands (the British troops were conscripts and had no choice) by lies: 
the Turks were "invaders, their allies the Huns were raping Europe and 
bayonetting babies. Britain was fighting (together with France and Russia, 
but they weren't so important) to save civilisation itself, they were told.

Their King, their country and even their God needed them to go and fight. 
No one said anything about the captains of industry and commerce needing 
them. Perhaps it was felt that that would not have great appeal  or would 
even generate a negative effect!

"They fought to build a nation, said Howard. Not true. The whole scheme to 
force the Dardanelles by a seaborne invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula was 
designed to secure the British, French and Dutch (let us not forget Royal 
Dutch Shell) investments in the oil, coal and steel of southern Russia. 
Australia was merely a source of cannon fodder.

Howard's speech at Gallipoli extolled  as the ruling class is careful to 
do every year  "what was dared and done here and lauded "the scale and 
scope of their achievements. But the scheme was doomed from the beginning.

It was carried out under the command and control of the class-ridden 
British officer caste, where promotion was less on merit than on old school 
ties and family connections (not to mention titles and wealth).

Every noble family's idiot son could be assured of a commission in the 
army, but God help the men under him!

So the British Navy was sent to bombard the landing sites. Having thus 
alerted the Turks to what was in the wind they sailed away  and nobody 
followed up the bombardment for a fortnight! The Turks meanwhile feverishly 
reinforced the peninsula.

When the landing force of Anzacs finally arrived the ships stood so far 
offshore that the boats ferrying them ashore were carried by the current 
along to the wrong beach, with much more difficult terrain to scale under 
fire.

Cut to ribbons on the beaches, they nevertheless courageously fought their 
way to the top of the cliffs and dug in. There followed months of bloody 
but totally ineffectual fighting, until the sheer futility of the 
enterprise became so apparent that even the British High Command had to 
agree that the fiasco must be stopped.

It is significant that the highpoint of the Gallipoli campaign that the 
militarists always cite  and which we were told about at great length in 
primary school  was the cunning way our side fled from the peninsula at 
night. "And the Turks didn't even know the Anzacs had gone until after they 
were all safely aboard!

That a defeat did not become a massacre does not change its status: it is 
still a defeat. And in some mysterious way, that defeat (although they are 
careful not to ever call it that) somehow "made us a nation. 

Not the Eureka Stockade, with its defiance of oppression and courageous 
defence of democracy and independence for Australia. No. Apparently we 
became a nation by dying for the British empire and the wealthy 
industrialists and bankers who ran it. Somehow I don't think so. Do you?

The men who fell at Gallipoli and on the Somme and in Flanders and 
Palestine and Northern Italy and Poland and Russia and everywhere else in 
the Great War were victims of capitalism's insatiable greed for markets and 
profits.

Their deaths should be remembered and commemorated, as Hiroshima is 
commemorated, with the slogan "Never again!

The politicians who shed crocodile tears over their graves and exhort us to 
"learn from their example while studiously and deliberately ignoring the 
reasons for their deaths do them and us a great disservice. And worst of 
all, they do it knowingly.

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