A look at the ANZACs, their legacy and how to truly honour their memory by not sending them into forever wars.
The ANZAC spirit is something which permeates with pride throughout Aussie culture. We look to the past with a degree of admiration, respect and awe as we recall our ancestors, those none to distant and to those who fought for our newly born nation. Even before the original ANCACs of the First World War, Australia and New Zealand had forged a martial pride together as warriors for Empire. Our two young nations seemed to brilliantly burn on the world stage in its bloodiest conflicts with an honourable star despite the misery and tragedy of those brave moments in time. Australia and New Zealand may be divided by the Tasman Sea but shall be eternally linked as Anzacs.
For whatever reason our bravest went into battle, whether for King, obligations of alliance, solidarity or in our own defence they often gave everything that they had. As a society claim to respect them, we conduct ceremonies in their honour and often romance the fallen with a Pagan like ritual worthy of ancient Roman tributes. Such gestures however are often self-serving. Respect is about more than such symbolism. A symbolism which at times is often less about the fallen and those uniformed warriors and more about those using the occasion as a mere social moment or as a political power point. For many the Anzacs and the dead from war are idols to ink one’s skin, sell books, make movies about but most of all to invent a historical national narrative.
The political elites enjoy our martial devotion, especially those uniformed modern day Anzacs. It allows them a bargaining chip abroad, they can wear the heroic heritage on their hip with a certain swagger. An arrogance like that of a spoilt nephew living in the shadow of an accomplished uncle. The legacy of yesterday used as a currency for today and is at risk of being misspent tomorrow. More and more we celebrate great defeats such as Gallipoli for many of the right reasons but ignore the many wrong reasons as to why it failed or even occurred at all. And yet the same leadership mentality is ever prevalent now as it was then, those who see our bravest as pieces to be used upon an imperial chess board, to be misused in crisis often with little relevance to our defence as they continue to miss the teaching points of history. To the political elites that rule, the Anzac spirit and national pride that comes with it allows for a regional righteousness that assures that Aussies can never do no wrong. No matter how warlike we may be.
A great many Australians and no doubt Kiwis celebrate with vigour the religious holidays for the dead, the national salutes to the fallen, with a certain jingoism. At first it appears on the surface as charming but it has an underlying danger to it. Real knowledge of history and awareness of the bloody realities of its pages is all too lacking instead a mythic idea of the past is reinforced by movies and poetic text books. Such mediums perpetuate a chivalry that has never been so common place as to replace actual human fear and misery that was suffered by our bravest. How can we honour the dead and those living who served? How can we honour those presently abroad risking it all in our name? And how can we honour those yet unborn who shall no doubt bleed beneath our two flags? If we only seek to doom them to perpetual war. How can we honour them all if we only use their memories to ensure that generations of yet to be born shall also suffer as they did, for nought.
Nationalist self-serving symbolism is not how it is done. It often only fans the furnace for more bloodshed. This is not advocating a disbandment of such acts, no far from it. It is however a cautionary warning that one should not only invest one’s remembrance in memorials or for moments of silence. Honouring the fallen, the living and the forgotten is about knowledge of history and a wariness in repeating it, not in token rituals. It is ultimately about ensuring that their sacrifice was not wasted. That their sacrifices should not need to be repeated for many of the same mistakes made by the ruling elites and that the freedom and liberty which they felt they were defending should not recede beneath a blanket of deceit and perceived security.
An appreciation of history, actual history, is a good place to start. Knowing who the brave warriors were while also understanding the moments and days that lead to conflict. Why were we they there? And ultimately was it justified to shed such noble blood? If we do not really understand our own history how can we hope to live a better future? How can we be sure not to repeat yesterday’s tragic glory with the same fervour and loyalty that cost so much on both sides of the many wars?
Just as an understanding of history can allow us to better understand the present, so can an understanding of the present help to save our future. Often from within the Australian democracy we are all too eager to go to war based upon the official declarations that it is in our national interest. Yet despite the courage of our past, many of the wars that we hold dear were in fact fought for less than noble reasons and certainly, besides moments in World War Two, they were not done in our national defence. Instead of singing hymns about battles on foreign lands, taking these distant names and claiming them as our own, telling one sided stories of heroic battle and viewing each enemy as a vicious fiend, Australians and New Zealanders could best to delve into the complexity of history and to question each of the wars.
Contemporary politics aside, how can we hope to be secure in ourselves as a nation when we are forever conducting ourselves as a trusted and obedient international partner? If we conduct ourselves as a smaller but capable ally we seem to lead ourselves further down a path of tragedy and loss. And dependence upon a bigger friend. With every crisis, there seems to be a call to arms, it is heard from certain elements of each side of the political spectrum and embedded within our culture is a martial obedience to do as we are told. A symbolic spirit that ensures that Aussies should step up and take on each fight.
Australia at War
On the cusp of Federation, Australian volunteers landed in South Africa to fight the Boers. Was this because they were defending Australia’s sun burnt land? Or was this one colony fighting another colony against its independent will for self-determination in the name of Empire? A war of unconventional means which saw brave Aussies beating the insurgent Boers in many battles often besting them at their own Kommando style of warfare. A war which gave us the controversy of Breaker Morant and illustrated just how sacrificial Aussies are as colonists were to the Crown. It was a war that saw the use of concentration camps by the British which would later inspire Germany in World War Two. The Boer Wars were hardly military actions that invoked noble illusions, instead they were grim and brutal and Imperial.
When King George V declared war on Germany on Australia and New Zealand’s behalf, where was the national defence threat? A war that the Mother Country had stumbled into, a war so futile that its post conflict unintended consequences still haunt the world a century on. Was it in securing New Guinea and the German colonies just North of Australia, that we saved ourselves from the Kaisers boots? Or was it on the distant shores of Gallipoli, where alongside the French, Indians and English our ANZACs earned such a heroic reputation against the conscripts of the Ottoman Empire? As we invaded Turkey and threw ourselves against men defending their homeland, so that a romantic First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill may etch his name in history in the delusion that a victory would link the Western Allies up with the crumbling Tsar’s forces of Russia. Was the invasion of Turkey to aid Imperial Russia and the French Empire really in our national self-interest? Was such a distant invasion really in the name of freedom and democracy?
Was it because we felt sincerely concerned when neutral Belgian was invaded? The vile Imperial empire which under its then present Emperor King Albert continued much of the genocidal savagery whose previous regent Leopold II had begun with despotic viciousness in its African colonies. The mass murder and slavery of millions of its African subjects much of which was being continued in plain silence before the World. Is it in the defence of such a putrid regime that we should fight the Kaiser in the muddy death pits of Flanders? Was the freedom that the diggers fought for only limited to some Europeans and not their enslaved subjects?
After the great victory when the world was repainted in new spheres of influences, old Kingdoms died as new ones emerged. Influenza and Bolshevism spread savagely across the lands and took more lives than the war itself. Fermenting with resentment and reactionarism Germany and Japan conspired from within and ultimately together in an effort to regain dignity, vengeance and self-pride. Japan, an ally, had been betrayed in her eyes after the first World War, she was subsequently dropped by the British Empire as a Pacific partner in favour of the USA. Brow beaten by the Washington Naval treaty and other Occidental dominated treaties and misconducts, Japan’s moderates gave way to its radicals and the liberalism of the Meji and Taisho era began to succumb to the Bushido militancy which would slowly lead them down a path of war with the West and Australia, or as many in Asia viewed our land down under, as that racist European alien blob located deep in the oriental sphere.
Hitlerism and the rise of National Socialism has been well recorded but its emergence and the worlds fascination with Fascism and Socialism in its many forms began to militarise national cultures in many ways. In a, less extreme case, the very reforms that the Kaiser had instituted in the late 19th Century to better create a martial culture and to promote a harmony between State, Industry and Labour soon began to take hybrid adaptions in even the most apparently liberal of Western Democracies. Obedient and dependent populations slowly swelled all too easily mustered for the States self-interest at times of crisis, be they real or perceived. Regardless of the nation, the heroic illusions of the Great War helped to invoke a deadly nationalism which would help to stoke the fires for World War Two.
After much manoeuvring and intrigue Germany would slowly expand its borders at the expense of its neighbours. It was not alone in its Imperial lust for new territories however. Japan had already invaded Korea, Manchuria and China. Italy was reforging an illusory new Roman Empire deep into Emperor Halises Ethiopia. The British were holding firm their Empire by aerial bombing and gassing tribesmen and civil villages in Kurdistan and Central Asia or modern day Afghanistan with indiscriminate violence murdering thousands from the air in a new form of Colonial mass murder. Irish nationals looking for home rule were betrayed after the war only to be executed or jailed by the same Empire that had gone to war in the name of democracy and freedom. The promises of an independent India, should so many of her children fight for Empire in the First War, had been denied as the great Moslem, Sikh and Hindi populaces began to swell with discontent beneath the savage rule of the Anglican Crown. Despite Ghandi’s patient protests and leadership thousands were murdered and imprisoned by the British.
The United States had been exercising its extension of Manifest Destiny in much of South America as it secured its interests with cronyism and military interventionism. The former Spanish possessions of the Philippines and Cuba were now very much American colonies. Brutal and murderous suppression of its populaces helped to maintain the American not an empire, empire. And yet this period was proclaimed as being a period of American Isolationism, but all the while its influence grew well beyond its national borders. As the USA invested privately and publicly in the tyrannical regimes of Stalin’s Russia and Hitler dominated Germany. While at home Franklin D. Roosevelt (‘FDR’) exercised domestic policy much akin to the dictators of Europe. The Native American peoples continued to lose their freedoms all the more and much like his fellow first world war time Democrat dictator, Woodrow Wilson, FDR all but segregated the country with subtle extensions of Jim Crowe. As well as exercised greater executive control at the expense of civil and economic liberties.
The Soviet Union was growing and dying. It was transforming through coercion from a peasant agrarian empire into a modern industrial super power. With the lives and labour of millions forced to build a communist utopia with broken bodies and empty stomachs. Much as China would experience some decades later. The Ukraine suffered a murderous period as it was starved and purged so that the West could buy grain to help pay for the industrialisation of the USSR. The smaller nations around the Soviet Union slowly became absorbed, while the West, so bent on Hitler, ignored such imperialism. Japan and Russian would briefly bump heads in a war in Mongolia leading to a short but crucial pact between the two, buying each time at varying periods during the coming war.
So, the stage was set. The second great War was upon the world. The Unnecessary war, as Winston Churchill would later go on to call it. And like many wars it truly was. Perhaps more so than the First. And just like the First, events in Europe lead to an Anzac entry. It was with the invasion of another neutral nation at the hands of Germany that saw Australia and New Zealand enter a global war. As good colonies, should do in obedient loyalty to their monarch. Poland was no Imperial Belgian but it was also no liberty bearing free society either. And yet we went to war for it. And should the reasons of entry for Britain and France be in the defence of neutral Poland, why is it when the Soviet Union invaded the Eastern frontiers of Poland, in accordance with its pre-invasion agreements with Germany, did the West say and do nothing? Why is it that even after two invasion attempts of neutral Finland by the Soviet Union the West sat idle and only went after Hitler? Picking one despotic, genocidal regime over another means that your nation still sided with a despotic and genocidal regime.
The ANZACs were deployed to Egypt so that they could help fight Mussolini’s inept though valiant army as it attempted to secure its own empire. And it was then that history would learn of the name Erwin Rommel who with his small force would wreak so much havoc in North Africa. It was here that the ANZAC legend would resurface. Earning the Afrika Corps respect as well as that of the Italians, who had a reputation for cowardice despite fighting some heroic actions with inferior weapons and leadership. It was not just in North Africa but in Greece and Crete that the ANZACs now found themselves forging great legacies, even fighting a rear guard against superior numbers just as the Spartans had done against the Persians so many centuries before. Unlike the Spartans however our brave ANZACs were far from home.
After sanctions and an indirect war in China the unpleasant back and forth between the two powers lead to the savage Empire of Japan attacking the US military base of Pearl Harbour in a bold and precise blow. It was an act of War. Bringing the USA in on the side of the Western allies. Adolf Hitler, in support of his ally Japan declared war on the USA. FDR now had his reason to go to war. The War was now closer to home. And yet it was not to Australia that our professional soldiers were sent, but to the Imperial bastion of Singapore. Fodder to the clever Japanese general Yamashita who with far less numbers managed to defeat so many British and Australian soldiers, defying the arrogance of their European supremacy in doing so. Again, it was with the political elites in Canberra and London along with the Old Boys Club of military leadership which saw our bravest succumb to another military disaster. Landing them in some of the most hellish of conditions as prisoners of a Bushido zealot military that viewed individual suffering as a distant second to ideology. In this case for the Japanese, their obedience to their Emperor, a living God. The brutality suffered by the Prisoners of War (POWs) of the Japanese army was beyond horrific.
No Australian grows up not hearing about the exploits of the diggers along the Kokoda trail. When the Japanese army had been defeated for the first time on land in the war. When a collection of under armed, mostly unpaid, volunteer militia from all over Australia turned back the invading professional modern day Samurai army, it seemed a turning point of the war had been subtly reached. While the arrogant American General McArthur was crawling away from his failure in defending the Philippines, he mocked the Aussie chocolate soldiers. Yet the Aussie militia men who did something he was yet to do. Defeat the Japanese. Along with the Naval victory at the battle of Midway, it now seemed the tide was slowly turning in the allied favour.
The one time in our history, when our military was truly defending the nation it would be in the thick jungles of New Guinea and it was being done so by civilian part time soldiers of the Australian Military Forces (‘AMF’). While the regulars and Australian Imperial Force (‘AIF’) were chasing the Desert Fox across North Africa, toughing it out in Tobruk or succumbing to terrible abuse in Japanese prison camps, our irregulars fought a pitched battle along the Kokoda trail, despite the fumbling arrogance of their political masters who were safe at home. The Diggers prevailed.
While the union work force on the docks and in the factories, went on strike, public servants did their best to shirk the sacrifice of rationing on the home front. The under supplied and brave men fought in unimaginable conditions. Though tourists would later frequent the tamer parts of the Kokoda track with peacetime intrigue, the conditions and environment in which the ANZACs fought a determined enemy was no tourist attraction. And despite being considered scabs by those cowards on the docks at home, the brave warriors fought on with courage and a will seldom matched.
Though called chocolate soldiers or ‘chockos’ it was assumed that the rag tag elements sent to face the Japanese military just North of Australia would melt in the heat of the battle. And yet, with no elite professional military masters that helped lead to the defeat at Singapore the Aussie ‘Chockos’ fought valiantly.
The ANZACs fought alongside the Western Allies right up to the coast of Japan whereby the Japanese Empire surrendered, though the Emperor remained. And after the rubble of Europe and the charred Jungles of the Pacific had momentarily succumbed to the brief silence of Peace the world, as it did after the First World War, shifted into new dangers. More war and uncertainty would rise.
Poland, that nation which the British and French Empires had gone to war over, was still occupied. Along with half of Europe and much of Mongolia, the Soviet Union occupied and ruled with direct savagery or through proxies with an iron hammer and sickle over its subjugated possessions. In the East, soon after the Japanese had been defeated, China’s long running civil war had been lost by Fascist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek and his Warlords as they fled to the Island of Formosa from the Peasant army of Mao Tse Tung, soon to be the bloodiest dictator in history. Formosa becoming Taiwan and China now becoming a new emerging totalitarian Communist regime. It seemed that Europe and Asia had replaced one bloody and tyrannical set of regimes for another. The War that was supposedly about freedom and liberation had ended with a compromise of oppression and new totalitarian regimes.
The Cold War had begun and a new and bloody peace would emerge, fortunately this time no inevitable show down between the super powers and no Third World War inside the same Century would occur. After a brief peace for the ANZACs the extreme communist regime of North Korea invaded the military dictatorship of South Korea. Like most anti-communist dictatorships South Korea’s was pro American and thus an ally of the Western nations. Supplied and supported by both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, North Korea all but overran the South before a large United Nations force landed and fought a bloody and vicious war up the Korean peninsula. In a war that saw both dog fighting jets high above the battlefield to the large-scale use of helicopters for the first time it also saw the more ancient throwbacks of warfare such as the mass human wave attacks of hundreds of thousands of men. Australians armed with experience and the same shoulder arm used in both World Wars faced an ideological fuelled mass army with seemingly endless numbers. Fighting bravely and gloriously, our ANZACs would go home after three years with the war never ending. And even to this day it remains an ongoing simmering point. Millions still suffering under the despotic rule in the North.
As millions died beneath the bombs of the allied forces, starved by the excess of both sides, executed by the regimes of each Korean dictator the Anzacs fought in frozen battlefields with courage and valour and yet could not hope to claim any victory. What victory was had, would now become the reoccurring tragedy for the new Cold War a choice between evils.
The Cold War would bring about new challenges as would the end of Empire. Indonesia and Malaysia would slowly leave their respective Imperial rulers, the Dutch struggled to hold its East Indies while the many peoples of Malaysia sought independence from the British Crown. It was with both that Australia found itself again sending its forces, though on a lesser scale. In a precursor for our deployment to Vietnam, the Australian forces fought a low intensity struggle against Guerrilla elements. Doing so relatively successfully and pioneering many minor infantry tactics and jungle borne methods which would become a staple of modern warfare. Such methods as roping down from a helicopter to the hearts and mind relationships with the isolated villagers.
Vietnam was a crucial point for many of the Western democratic nations. The war in Vietnam began under false pretences at the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 and could have been avoided from the very start. The Viet Minh, former anti-Japanese allies of the Americans sought independence as nearly every colonial nation did. It was with the drafting of a constitution based upon the one apparently used in United States that the Vietnamese felt assured that they could find American sponsorship for independence from France. Certainly, like many revolutionaries and independence movements of the time the Viet Minh found some resonation with communism. It was however with the American support of the French that the Viet Minh further secured ties with both great Communist empires including the Vietnamese traditional enemy, China.
After the defeat of the French, Vietnam had been divided into North and South. The Americans again supported and propped up a corrupt and vile regime in the South under President Diem. He was the apparent free counter balance to the Communist North. Again, North and South would be opposed in an Asian nation separated by the politics of the Cold War. Despite historical differences between culture, peoples and national interests the elites in Washington and other Western capitals followed a simplistic play book based upon conclusions drawn from 19th Century socialist revolutionary theory that suggested that Communism would spread from nation to nation. This socialist miasma was now threatening to consume Asia. A domino theory as such it was suggested. This Internationalism of Communism had yet to be truly realised, instead Communism like other ideologies had been very nationalistic and culturally specific.
The arrogant mindset was that Communism would potentially spread all the way to Australia should Vietnam fall. Despite the Fabian socialism already at work in both Australia and the UK, social democracy was already softly spreading the revolutionary ideals of Marx and Engels. While the more violent Lennin-Stallinist and Maoist thought was being labelled as the Communist threat. It seemed Communism was bad, so long as it was in the more extreme cases found abroad. But it was okay if exercised at home by our political elites, academics and big labour. This was one of the many pretences that Australia invited itself and New Zealand into the war.
This paranoia of ‘communism’ spread and served to confuse many principles and institutions, damaging the ideals of the rule of law but ultimately harming liberty. Australia would again introduce conscription and war time measures, many of the hallmarks of communism and fascism. Again, liberty would be sacrificed at home so our soldiers would go abroad to a distant nation to stop the apparent destruction of freedom. From 1966 to 1972, ANZACs fought an inevitably unpopular war only to go home disgraced and ostracised by the public and many smug student elites. The conscripts and volunteers had no control in their deployment and despite a degree of reluctance by many served with valour and honour, as best as they could. Only to come home and find themselves in a political mess created by many of the same leaders who now claimed to champion ‘peace’. Even the often-empty symbolism so reserved for our fallen and returning service men was overlooked for the many veterans of the Vietnam War. Just as many of the Korean and Malaysian war veterans should experience, Vietnam veterans would take time to be considered with any regard despite the nation and its political apparatus seeing the urgent need to send them to kill and die inside another’s jungle.
The generation of warriors was on the wrong side of history. The ANZACs as instruments of national policy were now being blamed and punished in perhaps the worst way while many of those who so easily danced on the war drums were now throwing eggs at marching soldiers. Returning Vets were welcomed home proudly in some areas while some RSL (Return Serviceman League) clubs went so far as to deny the Vietnam war vets entry and membership. Vietnam and its horrors were no different to any other war however the myth had gone from one extreme to the other. Now instead of being held as gallant knights on a crusade as was the case for the returning in previous wars, many condemned the returning ANZACs from Vietnam as being baby killers and rapists. Perhaps this was because it was a war against Communism and many in influence had a certain affection for such a political disease. Baby killing, rape and murder of civilians is the nature of all war, by all armies. What the veterans of the Vietnam war did was no different to their fore fathers in the Great War and World War Two. All helped to murder innocents, all helped to support oppression and among their uniformed ranks lurked rapists.
After Vietnam came the International emergencies of the United Nations, our soldiers wearing blue helmets were now going abroad in an effort to fix and deter famine and genocide. Despite this Internationalism of blue helmets, famine and genocide was sadly ever present. The bandaid of UN deployments seemed to be of little effect when greater issues were afoot that needed to be addressed. With great frustration and benevolence our warriors did their best despite half-hearted policy makers and symbolic gestures by the governing bureaucrats.
Then came the Invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Saddam Hussein the Baathist dictator of Iraq was fresh from his bloody and victoryless war against Iran. The decade long struggle had claimed millions and was fuelled by the USA and the West in an effort to punish and provide a strong counter balance to the recently Islamic revolutionary republic of Iran. Iraq felt that it had assurances from its ‘friends’ that it could nationalise the Gulf State of Kuwait’s oil to help pay for the long war with Iran. Iraq had felt that it was fighting for all the Arab states against the Persian threat, something that many of the Arab nations had alluded to during much of the struggle. It seemed now however that these Arab allies would not be present when the authoritarian regime of Iraq needed its reparations.
And so, built on lies of violent Iraqi occupation, the Western nations again went to war in the defence of a distant neutral nation. Australia joined in this large coalition. All too eager to play its hand in modern post-Cold War internationalism. It was a brief and unfulfilling war. The status quo being retained and though many died, the putrid dictator remained the same in Iraq. This time however the USA kept forces in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom which holds the holiest of sites for the Islamic world. Infidels defending the holy land from Saddam’s Iraq was a bad enough insult to many Islamic followers but occupying parts of the Kingdom indefinitely had so offended many of the varying radicals of Islam that modern day Saracens needed to emerge to avenge this presence of a Crusader army. One such Saracen was Osama Bin laden.
Fighting one Gulf War for no gain other than to punish the Iraqi people through sanctions and starvation. The embargoes and airborne sorties ultimately rallied many of the people around Hussein while the Western powers starved hundreds of thousands to death through the arrogant policy. According to US Secretary of State Albright ‘one needs to break some eggs in order to make an omelette’ in this case half a million children’s lives were broken. No democracy came to Iraq, just further suffering from the outside and from within. Australia was an eager enforcer of the embargoes offering naval support and aerial elements to help contain the dying Iraqi populace.
When an apparently new form of terrorism lashed out at the heart of the United States in 2001. Reacting with concern for our ‘friend’ Australians felt compelled to leap into war and ‘smoke out’ the terrorist enemy in solidarity with the USA, though Australia itself had not been targeted. Afghanistan would be the first place that the Coalition of the Willing deployed to bring to justice the new face of terror. Australia was an obedient ally as the war soon spread to Iraq. Saddam’s pariah regime was in position of world ending WMDs so the popular decree went. The public and political ignorance of Islam and its various nuances were lost on the Australian public as it had been with the US populace. Instead war fever directed against Islam made the link between Iraq’s despot to the masterminds of the terror attacks that had occurred on that September morning, easy. Clumsily the Americans lead the charge and again the Crusaders returned to the Islamic East. Only serving to ferment hatred and further expand the war on every front. The Anzacs again dove in as obedient and loyal war fighters, again in some one else’s land. Where 100 years before light horsemen rushed the Turk, now Australian SAS and RAAF crews operated among and above those distantly familiar sands of Mesopotamia.
The Australians as always stood head and shoulder above their allies in professionalism, conduct and efficiency, this is how the public always views the Anzacs so it was a given. The controversies and repugnant disregard to the very rules of War, supposedly safeguarded by the Western nations, were not caused by any Australians. Only by our closest ally. Allegations that Australians were involved in torture in Abu Ghraib was always shirked away as lies and an attempt to besmirch the good name of the Anzac. Australians would never torture and were honourable in their war fighting. Bayoneting POWs or burning surrendering soldiers with flame throwers in the World Wars are supposed allegations and insults. Just as illusions that Australians may torture are also considered misplaced lies. Though the domestic detention centres and youth prisons operated in Australia and on our coast line would suggest an instinct to alienate and torture. And obediently serving an American master who admits to torture, cannot and does not taint nor dim the spirits for war and legacy.
The political elites ignorant of the lessons of the past had no respect for the culture and geography of Afghanistan. The realisation that such a country and peoples had consumed and destroyed the British Lion and Soviet Bear in years’ past was ignored or unknown and with a swagger that was both costly and degrading to our bravest on the ground, the war still flickers on to this day. Over a decade after the fact. With no end in sight or outcome reachable. Australian special forces continue to operate for extended periods alternating between Afghanistan and Iraq-Syria. To the public and the political elites the enemy is essentially the same.
Iraq, the ancient land yet such a new and artificial state, created in the years after World War One tore itself apart thanks to the calamity caused by the 2003 invasion. The very terror group, Al Qaeda, which was the apparent principle enemy in the new war on terror, had never existed in Iraq up until the invasion. Now it found a new battlefield to fight upon and it recruited from an ever growing legion of supporters. With every dead civilian at the hands of the Coalition so did expand the ‘terrorists’ ranks. The Hearts and Mind campaigns that the Australians had so mastered in Malaysia and Vietnam would never hope to match the culturally insensitive war machine that tore apart Iraq. And despite all the photos shown before the world and the assurances that they existed, no strategic weapons of mass destruction could be found nor was there any evidence that any had ever existed. The one nation to have used such devices on heavily populated cities twice had begun the pre-emptive war under the fictional illusion of such a threat. The ANZACs found themselves deployed in a coalition based on deceit and yet the mission still went on. And still they fight on and still they loyally obey their Coalition leader.
Despite the noble intentions and efforts of our military and the sincere benevolence of its members, the mission’s objective was never fully satisfied whether that happened to be liberating Iraq or ending the Taliban influence in Afghanistan. How does one occupy, divide, destroy and imprison a nation and call this liberation? Iraq is still a place devoid of stability and despite falling from the mainstream headlines, because ‘we’ are no longer there, the violent daily tragedy continues. While Afghanistan remains a hot zone full of factions and violent struggle. Iraq and Syria are consumed by not merely a civil war that would rival the Spanish Civil war in its intensity but also the many factions fighting for control. Every single flame that burns, every ounce of blood spilt and every bomb that explodes all is because of the interventions and invasions of the past decades. Actions that our brave Anzacs contributed towards.
The new war like those of the past generation which was fought against Communism is being waged against an apparent ideology. A nonphysical entity or an idea which like a gas or a smell cannot be grasped though it lingers. Its numbers are unknown and its homeland is non-existent. Yet we only feed into its growth with our widening wars and conduct. So long as we chase after this elusive ideal and trample innocence both at home and abroad, so shall it grow and seek to spread with its pungent violence. Islamic Terror the bogey man that threatens every virtue of Western Christendom apparently needs to be fought endlessly with perpetual war. How many more decades can our Anzacs deploy overseas killing and dying to fight such a war? So long as the Australian public is naïve to the realities and the political elites continue to feed such ignorance, perhaps for a handful more.
Australia and New Zealand does have a history to be both proud of and, in many ways, one to be wary of. Proud because, no matter the reason, the men and women in uniform forged legends and exhibited great courage. Proud because many, if not all, sacrificed and risked because they believed that they were doing a good job. Wary because all that sacrifice, benevolence and intention was often taken advantage of. A courage which was misused and abused by those lacking such a quality. Disregarded or overlooked by men and women who know nothing of the terrors of war. Instead our brave warriors were instruments in political self-importance and nationalism which flowed when it did not need to. Courage and Bravery are not moral virtues.
Empty Gestures is no kit to fight with.
And despite having a ravenous appetite for war we often seek to send our warriors into battle with less than ideal equipment. The corruption and politics of procurement is vile and disgusting. The principle consideration should be about how effective and efficient an item should perform under the stresses of conflict. It seems however that this is a secondary consideration. Instead the first consideration is a political currency. With every candle lit, poppy worn or flag waved, those at home cheer leaders for war and lovers of the Anzacs could do more to support them by caring about what ordinance and equipment that they go to war with. Empty gestures and token salutes will not stop the bullets from finding them. Defence industries and self-serving unions full of promises of more jobs or better opportunities consider Anzac lives a very distant second. The public at home, cares nought, except enough to attend a dawn service or to drink a beer for Grandpa.
The political policy makers are concerned with abstracts which need not be considered in the procurement of weapons and material for our war fighters. Satisfying friends abroad and at home at the expense of those who put it all on the line is disgusting. Buying expensive and over blown American hardware simply because of some less than transparent deal has been made, is both dangerous and costly. As is the ill-conceived circus in producing domestic war ships and boats in the manner of our recent past. Thinking about ‘Australian jobs’ and the Keynesian economic mould of large public works at the expense of efficient and effective vessels is downright putrid. The prime consideration should be effectiveness and efficiency for our sailors first. If you expect men and women to lay down their lives for policy and defence, then the least you can do is show them respect by supplying them with the best material. Whether built here or purchased from abroad it does not matter. What matters is how effective the weapon system is. The key principle in mind should be about the best material for the job. Nothing else matters when it comes to the lives of our ANZACs. Government unfortunately is the perfect marriage of waste and politics, its off spring, tragic coercion and scandalous consequences. The public seems to love the whole family.
And yet our nation continues its symbolism and mythic celebration of the fallen and forgotten. It provides an empty lip service in tribute to the Anzac heroes. It however fails to honour them in action. It fails to respect them in supply and in policy. And with every wave of the flag or self-serving speech about ‘battlers’ by a political parasite, a fallen hero rolls in their grave. No matter how many songs, poems or tributes are made and how far the romantic illusions spread, one cannot appreciate the very real physical fear and pain that was lived by such heroic humans. So long as one continues to live in a culture that only ever finds a romantic myth of war, we will continue to subject to pain and fear those very fallen which we inevitably shall go on to romance post humously.
Each ANZAC day please consider most of the above and appreciate that it is simply not a public holiday or a National day for bigotry, nor is it a mere social gathering by which to ride some glory of others accomplishments, so as to call yourself a ‘proud Aussie’. Just as it is not a day for public servants to shirk their apparent duty to the individual or to utilise the memory of the fallen as a punch line in a speech or as a resounding piece in their sound byte. The ANZACs are not brands or products and they are not symbols to project on the world stage as a form of realpolitik. They are ever present in living and dead memory, just as they are those men and women who may not have to give their lives but most certainly sacrifice months and years away from home in some dirty foreign base or deep in the hull of a warship riding waves of violent uncertainty. The greatest respect shown to the memory of such heroic icons is to not dare repeat the emergencies of the past to create present and future heroes in non-defensive actions abroad. To not invent the perception of crisis to serve a political means of the moment and to simply not follow the mob of other nations into the mix of conflict void of our own national identity and self-interest. The Anzacs should be here at home, on Australian and New Zealand soil poised only for the defence of their home lands and communities.
The true travesty is that the Canberra War Memorial overlooks Parliament, no doubt every man and woman who walks inside the highest office of law and policy in the nation has visited or claimed to have visited this spiritual heart of Australia. It clearly shows however that the message from within the national tomb is lost on such selfish political animals. For those policy makers seem all too eager time and time again to add more names up on the walls dedicated in memory to the fallen. The political animals have little consideration or respect for what it means to wear the uniform or to fall for one’s nation. Instead it is with absolute disregard that they regard those in uniform as expendable. The dead and fallen only ever seem to matter long after a war, in romantic prose. And so, shall the political elites and the public continue to utter the words ‘lest we forget’ the fallen, never once truly caring about those yet to fall.
Kym Robinson, April 2014