Lest we forget the wars fought in our name
ANZAC Day, we’re told, is Australia’s “most important national occasion”. But beyond the clichés about how the Anzac “campaign” at Gallipoli Cove in 1915 “shaped Australia’s identity,” there’s very little political reflection on what happened and why.
The Anzac landing was instigated by the British War Minister, Winston Churchill, at the request of the Russian Tsar. Its aim was to open up a new front against Germany and its allies by invading Turkey and making a grab for control of Istanbul and the Bosphorus, a strategic neck of water connecting the Mediterranean with the Black Sea.
Despite huge opposition to WW1 at home, expressed through two successful anti-conscription campaigns, the lessons of this war have been obscured in favour of an approved gospel to which dissent is deemed treasonous.
Websites, school curriculums, and most media outlets are gearing up to reinforce the myth: it doesn’t matter why you are sent to war, or whether your government lied to you or not, the greatest thing an ordinary Australian can do is die in a war.
My grand uncle Lieutenant Arthur G Hinman was just 24 when, as part of the 15th Battalion, he was killed at Quinn’s Post in Gallipoli – said to be extremely dangerous because of the proximity of the opposing trenches.
Historian Charles Bean in the Story of Anzac describes how Arthur, having only just landed at Gallipoli on April 25th, made clear his disagreement with the commanders’ plans to dig in against the Turks.
Arthur “urged a strong objection to the whole undertaking, pointing out that in the morning following the assault, the Australians certainly would be driven out of any captured trenches by the Turkish machine guns, which would enfilade them from both flanks.” Nevertheless the trench digging went ahead. Arthur followed orders and he, along with 473 others, was killed just 15 days after landing. Killed in a war which was supposed to “end all wars” but which was just one of many wars to reshape colonial empires.
The remorseless propaganda myth that Gallipoli was about “defending freedom and democracy” is aimed at winning support, or at least acquiescence, for new wars. Just as the Turks resisted invasion in WW1, so too have the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. But being no match to the world’s military superpower, these countries have paid a heavy price.
These more recent wars have also been obscured by the Anzac myth-makers, keen to remove any connection between the imperial failures of yesterday and today. To this end the Anzac story has been reduced to a depoliticised, sentimental story of courage and mateship, and the sacrifice of so many innocent young men.
If “Lest we forget” is to have any meaning, we need to resist the glorification of war, listen to those speaking out against wars being fought in our name and prevent more people from being sent to fight and die in senseless wars. This is a better way of honouring the dead.
Words: Pip Hinman, Green Left Weekly.