I recently read Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” researching the source of the ideology behind the biggest crime of the 20th century may be ever. There I found an interesting assessment by the WWI western front veteran why England had won the war. According to Hitler it was because of her superior propaganda.
While England was hammering the message of the hun raping Belgian nuns and eating babies the best the Germans could come up with was calling the English a nation of little shop-keepers.
But the propaganda did not just work against the enemy it worked as well against our own people.
The first casualty of war always is the truth replaced by censorship and propaganda. The Gallipoli/ANZAC myth is one prime example of this fact. What might have been initially justifiable not to undermine ‘morale’ at home has turned into a full blown industry still working overtime 100 years on.
I have been part of my adopted country for over 30 years and still have not quite understood how New Zealand manages to celebrate one of the biggest military cock ups ever as the most important nation building event in our brief history. Was it because it was described as an “Amateurish, Do-It-Yourself Cock-Up”. (Global Research)
The centenary year has produced new information even for me being very interested in the history around WWI. And a wind change could be detected. In the past for instance the matter of an apology to Turkey for the invasion of Gallipoli would not have been discussed or even mentioned.
The picture which has emerged is that the ANZAC myth celebrated in New Zealand and Australia has been forged not in Gallipoli but in the editorial offices and political circles back home. The myth has always been just that a myth created by propaganda.
Gordon Campbell in a carefully researched piece describes when the process of transforming a military folly into (a) a glorious failure and (b) an originary myth of nationhood began in earnest ?
“It happened the moment the news of the landing occurred,’ Historian Jock Phillips says. ‘If you read the New Zealand newspapers…from the time when the first cables came through its all phrased in terms of New Zealanders finally show their value to the British Empire. What the newspapers did particularly well was to draw on the positive comments of the British elite – namely the King, the British newspaper reporter Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett and people like John Masefield. These were the spokespeople of the British ruling class. When they made positive comments about New Zealanders, these comments were recycled and recycled and recycled. There was a sense that New Zealand had won its spurs on behalf of the Empire. And it started from the moment that the first news of the landing arrived in New Zealand.”
During the ensuing months, the newspaper reports filtered their way back to the soldiers themselves, and as Phillips says, the disbelief was almost total. “The troops [at Gallipoli] read the media accounts with incredulity. They were both horrified and contemptuous. They couldn’t believe the disjuncture between the heroic way in which this was being presented, and their experiences.”
This explains why most of the survivors who were actually at Gallipoli or later at the Western front never talked about their horrific experience and did not attend ANZAC day marches and celebrations. Interesting to listen to actor Sam Neil’s personal account from a son of a military family on Radio NZ National.
The later inquiry by the Dardanelles Commission into the disaster had to be a whitewash in which the imperials and the colonials collaborated. Gerry Docherty & Jim Macgregor point out:
Before the final report was published, (general Sir Ian) Hamilton warned Churchill that it had the potential to break up the Empire if it ‘does anything to shatter the belief still confidently clung to in the Antipodes, that the expedition was worth while, and that ‘the Boys’ did die to a great end and were so handled as to be able to sell their lives very dearly. …If the people of Australia and New Zealand feel their sacrifices went for nothing, then never expect them again to have any sort of truck with our superior direction in preparations for future wars.’
Anzac troops who perished at Gallipoli are portrayed by mainstream historians as heroes who died fighting to protect democracy and freedom, not as ordinary young men duped by a great lie.
The forefathers were duped into volunteering a century before at a cost they never foresaw. It is clear that many of those young Australians (and New Zealanders for that matter) who travel en-masse to the shores of Gallipoli every April have also been duped.
The relentless Gallipoli/ANZAC propaganda has been highly successful. To talk about the whole issue even 100 years on is still problematic or even hazardous. It is cold comfort that it is even worse in Australia. Strategic analyst and former Australian Defence Force officer James Brown writes angrily about a cycle of jingoistic commemoration rather than quiet contemplation, with individuals, groups and organisations cashing in on Anzac Day. ‘A century after the war to end all wars, Anzac is being bottled, stamped and sold. …the Anzac industry has gone into hyperdrive. …What started as a simple ceremony is now an enormous commercial enterprise. …Australians are racing to outdo one another with bigger, better, grander and more intricate forms of remembrance.’ Even the Australian War Memorial has devised an official “Anzac Centenary Merchandising Plan” to capitalise on “the spirit.”’
‘To be accused of being “anti-Anzac” in Australia today is to be charged with the most grievous offence.’ (Marilyn Lake & Henry Reynolds)
Sports reporter Scott McIntyre found that out to his peril this week being fired from SBS after some provocative tweets criticizing the ANZACs.
The question should be what are the lessons told and learned from WWI, which had no redeeming features whatsoever.
I agree with a visiting Oxford historian who saw this 100 year anniversary as a big missed opportunity to actually spend some money on the study and teaching of the reasons why little New Zealand ended up in the quack-mire in the first place.
A good start would be Margaret MacMillan‘s book “The War that ended Peace”, which fittingly ends in August 1914. The lessons to be learned are the ones about “The Road to 1914” and not what happened next. That we already know that war in general is shit and WWI in particular was super-shit as the first industrial scale massacre of millions for no good reason. That knowledge alone has not prevented us from joining almost every jolly war going ever since – morally justified or not.
That means that no valuable lesson has been learned so far. These lessons should be funded, researched, promoted, discussed broadcast and screened as all the other centenary projects.
Instead of having learned something from history the “ANZAC spirit” is again being abused when selling us just another military adventure in the Middle East.
Chris Trotter: Weep, Zealandia, Weep! sums it up nicely :
Is this really where we are, 100 years after Gallipoli? Is this how far we’ve come? From a bigoted British Israelite and union-buster; to a “relaxed” golfing partner of the US president and a “playful” hair-fetishist? From dispatching troops to Gallipoli in the name of the King-Emperor; to dispatching troops to Iraq in the name of the “Five Eyes Club”?
Missed opportunities with expensive result at least for the grieving families of all the New Zealand wars ever since. Others made a killing.
I have a more realistic look following the money trail. The reasons for New Zealand’s involvement in WWI and the Gallipoli campaign and the commemorations/celebrations ever since are the same : There is money to be made lots of it.
This year I attended the ANZAC Day service at the local cenotaph, which was nice especially the following afternoon tea at the friendly neighbours.
What I learned this year only increases the risk of me screaming if I would hear one more time that our “heroes” at Gallipoli made the “ultimate sacrifice” for our “Freedom“.
All for the Fatherland. All for Freedom.
As it was not for freedom we should look what or rather who it was for.
Who benefited? Who came out on top?
And who paid the price? Who came up short?
To find the answer to these questions should be one of the top centenary projects.
Where can I get funding?
Don’t hold your breath !
And breathe through all the propaganda !
Recommended reading :
Chris Trotter : Weep, Zealandia, Weep ! (and other post @ Bowalley Road)
Gordon Campbell : What’s To Commemorate?
Gerry Docherty & Jim Macgregor : World War I and the British Empire: The Gallipoli Campaign, The Untold Story – ‘The first casualty of war is truth’
Docherty & Macgregor : Gallipoli 19: Anzac Day; Perpetuating the Myth