Friday, 25 April 2014

Solemn Falsehoods: ANZAC Day, 2014

Worthy Sons? Every ANZAC Day we tell ourselves that the blood sacrifice of Gallipoli marked the birth of New Zealand nationhood. But as the above poster attests, it was not our independence that George, the King Emperor, acknowledged but our fatal subservience to Britain's imperial interests.
 
THE DEEP SOLEMNITY with which ANZAC Day is commemorated in New Zealand is entirely appropriate. Never before have the people of this country been required to cope with the violent death of so many of their fellow citizens. For New Zealand’s political and military leadership the public’s response to the unprecedented length of the casualty lists was a matter of critical significance.
 
A military disaster on the scale of the Gallipoli campaign can be responded to in one of two ways. Either, the nation recoils in anger and disgust at the unforgiveable failure of both the armed forces and the government to protect its sons; or, it transforms the sordid waste of young lives into an occasion for patriotic and ultimately spiritual exaltation.
 
For the deeply conservative government of the day it, therefore, became a matter of some urgency that the Gallipoli defeat, and its horrific losses, be reconfigured into a blood-sanctified rite of national passage. Having laid upon the altar the “dearest and the best” they had to offer, New Zealanders still at home were told that they had all, by some mysterious patriotic alchemy, been ennobled. Those hundreds of dead Kiwi boys had “stood the test”, and now it was the duty of all those for whom they had made “the final sacrifice” to do the same.
 
This transformation of the botched Dardanelles campaign into a symbol of emergent nationhood was, thus, a stunning example of the most malign and cynical statecraft. By re-presenting the ANZAC defeat as New Zealand’s bloody “coming of age”, the Reform Party Prime Minister, Bill Massey, made certain that the disaster of Gallipoli would never be seriously questioned or criticised. To do so would be tantamount to questioning and criticising “the glorious dead” – and that soon became unthinkable.
 
And so it has continued, down through the ten decades since those ANZAC soldiers first planted their boots on Turkish soil. And in every one of those decades the political and military leadership of New Zealand have reiterated the solemn falsehoods upon which the commemoration of ANZAC Day is founded.
 
That the soldiers died for freedom and democracy.
 
That the battle marked the true birth of the New Zealand nation.
 
That had it been left to the Kiwis and the Aussies, the Gallipoli peninsula could have been secured.
 
The men who died on the unforgiving slopes of Gallipoli were volunteers, brim-full of imperial pride and ready to give their all for their King-Emperor and his empire. Freedom and democracy didn’t come into it. In 1914 Great Britain itself was only barely democratic. Most of the 800,000 British dead gave their lives for a state which did not allow them to vote. New Zealand was a truly democratic state, but the progressive forces which had made it so harboured serious reservations about the war. Conscription was required to keep the blood tribute flowing and the government which oversaw it was brutally authoritarian.
 
Far from marking the birth of the New Zealand nation, the Gallipoli campaign and the subsequent battles in Flanders retarded the development of an independent New Zealand identity. Only in the Second World War could it be truthfully said that New Zealand’s citizen soldiers were consciously fighting for freedom and democracy – along with the job-rich, union-protected, welfare state their votes had brought into being.
 
That the losses in the Second World War were so much less than the First owed a great deal to the lessons drawn from that earlier conflict. Sending farm boys to take the Gallipoli peninsula was always a fool’s errand. The Turks knew it and so did their German advisers. Yes, we took Chunuk Bair, but we couldn’t hold it. Nobody could.
 
Next year we’ll solemnly mark the hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. I hold little hope that we will do so honestly. Age may not weary those dear, best boys, but while we continue to tell ourselves lies about why they died – they will never rest.
 
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 April 2014.

11 comments:

Bruce Ellis said...

Thank you for the thoughtful reflection and the links to the three wonderful songs. It has been a week of much reflection following the movie on TV1 this week with the treatment meted out to Archibald Baxter and his fellow travellers. I remain proud of my father's efforts in WW2 but the willingness of the powers to be to take our citizens to war of questionable morality and legitimacy continues to put a shiver up my spine.

Bruce Ellis

Bruce Ellis said...

Thank you for the thoughtful post and the links to the wonderful three songs. It has been a week of reflections following on from the TV1 movie earlier this week following the treatment of Archibald Baxter and his fellow travellers in WW1. I remain proud of what my father did in WW2 but I continue to have shivers up my spine of what the powers that be do to involve our citizens in wars that have no or at least questionable morality and legitimacy.

Bruce Ellis

Ian Williams said...

Brilliant read Chris. I was wondering recently as to why that Druid Devil Churchill sacrificed the flower of Australasian chivalry under the withering fire of British Vickers equipped Dervishes, hats dipped in Xian blood, and also on the poppy fields of Flanders as these fine young fellows were sacrificed to that Opiate Religion of Rome. But to view it as debacle given the outcomes denies the diabolical intent of Churchill and instead reduces him to a mere fool rather than a cruel tyrant. Given the outcome, to me it seemed quite brilliantly planned and deliberately executed, as was the PR program to eliminate any protest, outrage or honest inquiry. When the Brits first came here they sent in the booze, bullets, drugs and disease - it was biological warfare. Then they sent in the hearts and minds contingent - the Churchmen, to 'steal' their language so that British Contract Law could become the rule and the opiate religion theirs too. What they did not count on was that the Maori saw through their hypocrisy and laughed at them like the dogs that they were, so they sacrificed the finest of them and after another generation sent the sons of those fathers who had collaborated in the coveting and killing of this nation off to be sacrificed themselves. Then in WW2, they killed off a whole bunch of people who could have been the backbone of a Maori renaissance by using them as shock troops, and so the Maori Battalion had the highest casualty and kill rates of any army in WW2. Mission accomplished.

Or as Roosevelt said, "If something happens in politics, you can be sure it was planned that way." These people are not stupid - but they are Machiavellian enough to allow you to think so, as this makes you in turn feel superior, and so you fall into their pride trap...and you pimp their cause without even realising it, but you also answered a big question for me as to why certain things happened. BTW, my wife is a relative of Churchill, my sister used to be the secretary of the British Communist Party and my brother used to be Murray Williams of RNZ. I call it a Truth fart - it is when an ass, any old ass, actually says something that is so insightful, but they themselves are so taken with the scent of their o-pinion that they do not sense the real ramifications of what they have communicated.

Davo Stevens said...

Good summary Chris.

The Galipoli and Flanders Campaigns were the architecture of Kitchener. The Japs supplied the destroyer escorts for both bloodbaths.

Kitchener thought that modern warfare would be fought by two armies facing each other across an open field as it had been in the past. One of his last orders was to shoot mustard gas into the enemies lines. He died on the Hampshire when it hit a mine at Scarpa Flow.

paul scott said...

Yes thanks Mr Trotter

Anonymous said...

Brave observations Chris, considering the degree of romanticisation of the whole business. I was with a small group of embassy military attaches from UK, Turkey, and others that toured the peninsula some ten years ago. The story was told by the Brit in his role as military historian, and was not much more than a litany of first-order cock-ups.

Separately, I am having some difficulty reconciling your point about the non-democratic system of that time -- represented by various monarchies across Europe -- with your recent post about the 'royal' visitors. Are they not (slickly marketed) representatives of the very same principles of inequality?

Greg

Ian Williams said...

Not so Davo, Churchill was the architect, Kitchener the suitable administrator. If you want something royally cocked up, you get the right chap for the job, wot!

Chris, I was a bit amazed at your column re the Royals - those Kraut Kings and Queens of old Blighty who conveniently morphed their German identity as a branch of the Welf/Guelf (Wolf) clan into Windsor commencing 17:7:17.

The fortunes of this family were largely founded upon funds from the Opium trade, and today the top 10 Pharma Co's in the Fartune 500 produce more profit than the other 490 combined. Between the Royals and Rothschild they pretty much own this cash cow colony, so maybe a little forelock tugging is in order, maybe...if you want to keep your cosy kiwi lifestyle...and be welcome between the sheets of the dailies, unlike John Minto...he who is now persona non grata and his son-in-law is dead..they go after your kids...the bastards...

Nice people, those Guelf's in sheep's clothing. Try reading the Pike River Murder Document written under the pseudonym of Dr Jacob Cohen - I think you may find it was in fact Jaimie Vinton-Booth, John's now deceased son-in-law, but then I could be wrong...but read it anyway...you can Google it...and nice to see you have a sense of humour Chris...as for me, I am just one of 88 very special NZ'ers....hahahaha

Anonymous said...

Well said, Chris. The militarisation of Anzac day makes the maudlin sentiment that accompanies it hard to swallow. Most of the young men who served were not soldiers but civilians whose military enlistment was a terrifying, brutal, sometimes fatal interval in their lives. The scale of the loss deserves memorial. It also deserves an honest understanding of the reasons that led so many to death at Gallipoli and France, just as the achievements of our citizen army in the second world war should be understood and applauded.
In the years immediately after the great war, when feelings of loss must have been almost too much to bear, it is perhaps understandable that the crippled and bereaved wished to see some higher purpose in their sacrifice; but to have the same myths retold in 2014 and beyond does the present generation no credit at all.

Davo Stevens said...

Kitchener instigated the original attack on Galipoli. The idea was that taking the peninsula it would give access to the heartland of Turkey. The whole fiasco was dreamed up but looking at a map not actually visiting Galipoli which is hilly and steep. Not a good place for a seabourne invasion.

Churchill set up the invasion force and planned it.

Kitchener was hopeless (a hang-over from the days when a commission could be bought!). He was relieved of his command at Flanders because he couldn't plan the supply of necessities to the front lines. He was going to Russia to negotiate a new treaty with the Tsarists there who were wavering about which side they would stay on.

Richard Jefferis said...

Chris,
The great fallacy of us, that is we as Kiwis and Aussies is that we remember the landing of Aussie and Kiwi forces in Gallipoli for something it was not. There was valour....and futility. NZ was much the worse for it and WW1.
It took me a few decades to discern that the on. As you point out fact one can take from the Gallipoli episode is as follows.....they had absolutely choice about what to do, there was no choice. Rather difficult to bugger off. As you point out the gornment of the day had to invent a plausibe fiction.

Fast forward to the bs in Afghanistan.

AUSSIES have it sorted. Yesterday at the Royal Hotel at Leichhardt and every pub in the dry land 2 up was the go as usual. And sums up the Aussie attitude to it all. You never know your luck, but those poor bastards who had it served up to them at Gallipoli and elsewhere would want all of us to ensure that the same bs is not replicated.
So if you could ask the fallen what they thought of this carry on all this time later they would I suggest frankly be bemused.











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Tauhei Notts said...

At the top of your essay is a poster celebrating New Zealand's involvement. There are three flags shown. Two Australian flags, and the Union Jack. Note how N.Z. is ignored.