Sad but true.
We are remembering, commemorating, celebrating – call it what you like – 100 years Gallipoli by again sending our young men into the Middle East on a mission impossible.
Ever since the enormous cost of the WWI remembrance industry became apparent I have wondered if and what value we get for the millions of taxpayers money. Instinctively I had to agree with a visiting Oxford historian who was disappointed that not a greater share of the lavish spending was directed into education around WWI. Among all the pomp and ceremony we did not learn much about why thousands of New Zealanders ended up on the Dardanelles in the first place. Turkey being a country we previously had no angry word with.
And I am not talking about the narrow history of one of the greatest military fuck-ups. I am talking about the political developments leading the world in 1914 into a catastrophe of industrial scale slaughter of millions of men. I am talking about the political situation and climate in New Zealand, which led so many gullible young men to voluntarily join the jolly Great War.
May be if our Prime Minister who’s knowledge of New Zealand history is flaky at the best of times had learned something about that specific period he would not have sent our troops to Iraq invoking the ANZAC spirit and suggesting to serve together with the Australians under a special ANZAC badge. He must have got his ideas from (Sir) Peter Jackson’s monstrous displays at our national museum Te Papa
and he definitely learned the wrong lesson. These images of pure raw emotions go like all propaganda straight to the gut bypassing the brain, which is fair enough as that is the intention.
John Key must have imagined himself as the above heroic officer when he – while cowardly avoiding a vote in Parliament – yelled at the opposition: “Get some guts” (and don’t engage your brain).
What instead of making me sick in the stomach made me think was another picture.
First of all it reminds us that the most or rather only glorious part of the Gallipoli campaign was at the end of it the mass retreat without loss of life.
I am wondering who got the Victoria Cross for that clever military manoeuvre saving thousands of lives. Or can only acts of “bravery”, which also can be called “stupidity” – the more brave the more stupid or vice versa – be rewarded by giving the survivor or in case not his widow a piece of scrap metal from the Crimean war. I am afraid that the later might be the case as the military runs on stupidity not cleverness. Even our latest VC hero from Afghanistan who was decorated for rescuing a comrade under fire acted not only bravely – and his mate will be thankful for the rest of his life – but also incredibly stupidly. Whoever has done a first aid course has learned as the first lesson that in order to help and rescue people you have to make sure first that you are safe. Otherwise you are of no use to the person in need of help. Luckily no OSH officer was in the field.
Then it makes me think about our alleged mission to “train” Iraqi soldiers who according to the US defence secretary lack the will to fight or as our own ex-army officer and MP Ron Marks puts it more bluntly are cowards.
Not that I agree with that assessment. These men are not cowards they are rather clever, which is of course an enigma to an (ex) army officer. They are clever enough to have realised that this corrupt Iraqi regime engaged in a fractional religious civil war is not worth fighting for.
If our Prime Minister had learned a little bit of WWI history he would know that Turkey was a reluctant entrant into the war. However the other empires Britain and France, our allies, were circling the moribund Ottoman Empire like vultures to get their piece of flesh. And as today that piece can be summed up in one word: Oil.
Another lesson from history would be that the Kurds, a people of 20 million, did not get their own state in the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire. They were left as minorities in five countries, which naturally have ever since opposed Kurdish independence. Now it is the Kurds who after almost one hundred years of discrimination have something to fight for: Kurdish Independence. And they fight fiercely especially their women fighters. These are the guys we should be “training”.
Recent history should have taught us another lesson that you reap what you sow.
I recently spoke with an Iraqi doctor who told me about the reason why the Islamic State is so deadly efficient in their religious war. When the US moved into Iraq they disbanded the Iraqi army and interned their officers. After beating them up for years almost daily in prisons like Abu Ghraib they set them loose. Most of them being Sunnis with no prospect in postwar Iraq now peddle their skills at ISIS. They are highly skilled killers who know how to fly fighter jets, handle modern weaponry, computers, the internet you name it. They have nothing to lose and hate the Americans and their allies. Who can blame them ?
And on “our” side you have the new Iraqi army by all reports crippled by corruption where everyone seems to be in there for his own interest. And in the sectarian divide firmly aligned with the Shia majority. No wonder that they drive out of town rather than defend the Sunni city of Ramadi where they were not welcome anyway.
Good luck Kiwi soldiers with that lot.
But we must not forget that the deployment of New Zealand troops had nothing to do with militarily rational – if there is such thing – but a (five eyes, foreign) political rational. Our membership fees were due. We had to be seen as part of the gang asserting our patch.
All we can hope for now is that the 16 instructors don’t just teach the Iraqis how to do a mass retreat without loss of life but heed that lesson themselves and get out of there in one piece.
They shouldn’t have been put there as pawns in a political game of chess where pawns are sometimes taken.