Foreign land grab disaster in Pomio
Anzac must honour values of peace, not war

The Anzac myth & our ignored frontier wars

Map showing locations of Australia’s colonial massacres
This map shows more than 500 locations where colonial forces or individuals massacred Australia's Indigenous people. Australia has never come to terms with the Frontier Wars than continued for about 140 years

| Pearls & Irritations

SYDNEY - Conservatives and militarists want us to cling to a disastrous imperial war. They encourage us to focus on how our soldiers fought to avoid the central issue of why we fought.

We fought in World War I for Britain’s imperial interests not our own. The AIF was the ‘Australian Imperial Force’. It could not be clearer.

And we won’t face up to the genocide of our own Frontier Wars.

World War I is depicted as the glorious starting point of our nation, our coming of age.

It was nothing of the sort. It was a sign of our international immaturity and dependence on others.

What was glorious about involving ourselves in the hatreds and rivalry of European powers that had wrought such carnage in Europe over centuries?

Many of our forebears came to Australia to get away from this. But conservatives, war historians and Colonel Blimps choose deliberately to draw us back to the stupidities and hatreds of Europe. 

They encourage us to focus on how our soldiers fought in order to avoid the central issue of why we fought.

It seems that the greater the political and military stupidity of wars that we have been involved in, the more we are encouraged to hide behind the valour of our service people at Gallipoli, the Western Front and elsewhere.

The ‘leadership’ of Winston Churchill and General Ian Hamilton were catastrophic both for the British and for us.

Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli were commanded by a British general. No hiding behind the sacrifice of troops can avoid the facts. We should not have been there and it was a disaster.

Unfortunately the more we ignore the political and military mistakes of the past, the more likely we are to make similar mistakes in the future. And we keep doing it.

If we had a sense of our calamitous involvement in wars in the past like World War I, we would be less likely to make foolish decisions to involve ourselves in wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan - and next maybe Taiwan.

Our history is littered with tragic military adventures, being led by the nose by either the UK or the US - through the Boer War, the Sudan War and, more recently, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In all these cases, and just like in World War I, we desperately hide behind the valour of our service people.

Colonial mounted police skirmish with Indigenous defenders

The most important and justified war in which we have fought as a nation in the last century was World War II, in defence of our own people and land.

But World War II is rated by the Australian War Memorial, and so many others, as of much less significance. World War I Is the Holy Grail.

Pope Francis describes arms manufactures as ‘merchants of death’. Yet these merchants of death generously fund the Australian War Memorial to help fill the minds of young and old alike with the glories and hardware of imperial wars.

It rejects any real memorial to the Frontier Wars, the violent conflicts between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous settlers during the British colonisation of Australia - the most significant wars in our short European history.

The Australian War Memorial governors believes the Frontier Wars are a matter for the Australian Museum, which focuses on nature, science and culture. Not history. What planet do those people think we live on.

On 25 April each year we are told that the great sacrifice of World War I was in defence of freedom. But I don’t think that the perpetrators of this myth even believe it themselves. It just does not ring true.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said World War I was a ‘just war’. But he did not explain what was ‘just’ about it.

It is claimed that World War I united our country, but it divided us in a way that we had never seen before or since. Then prime minister Billy Hughes exploited the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment of the time over conscription.

Hughes made two attempts through referendums to introduce conscription in 1916 and 1917. Both lost. There was no conscription.

417,000 men enlisted of a population of less than five million chose to enlist and 62,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded. World War I was a great divider. It was not a unifier despite the platitudes of Anzac Day.

We sent soldiers to Afghanistan at the ‘request’ of the US. We are now withdrawing them because the US realises after 20 years that it was all in vain and at terrible cost particularly for the Afghan people.

And then to justify our involvement in a war triggered initially by the invasion of Iraq, prime minister Scott Morrison says that in Afghanistan our soldiers “served in the name of freedom”.

What nonsense. What a cover up for our complicity in helping to promote US imperialism and its determination to secure oil supplies from the Muslim lands of the Middle East.

But, in relation to our population, our greatest loss of lives was in the Frontier Wars where over 30,000 First Nation People died in defence of their own land.

But we ignore this in favour of the myths of Anzac. Best we forget the Frontier Wars.

The Frontier Wars were the beginning of a great genocide in Australia. The frontier killings were followed by policies of assimilation to ‘breed out’ the Indigenous race.

 Our First Nation People were herded into missions. Children were separated from their families. This was genocide in our own land. We have now moderated from genocide – but still perpetuate human rights abuses.

Yet the genocide we hear about most today is alleged genocide in China. What hypocrites we are.

The first time Australians and New Zealanders fought together was against the Maoris in New Zealand in the 1850s and 1860s.

The Anzac connection was not forged at Gallipoli but half a century before, in the Maori Wars.

It’s best that we forget that too. It doesn’t do our self-respect much good to recall that we fought together with New Zealanders in a race war to quell the Maori people.

The early and remarkable achievements of this young country at the turn of the century and early in the 19th century are blotted out by the blood and blather of World War I, Anzac and Gallipoli.

We talk endlessly about the Gallipoli landings. A more honest description would be the invasion of Turkey to support Imperial Britain.

Federation in 1901 was a remarkable achievement, pulling together our six colonies into a nation. We led the world in universal suffrage, the rights of women, industrial democracy and the minimum wage.

The ‘Australian ballot’, or secret ballot, was progressively adopted in the Australian states in the latter half of the nineteenth century. We were a world leader. Our ballot was adopted in Canada, UK and US. New Zealand was a few years ahead of us.

In 1904 Australia’s Labor government was the first in the world. The rights of working people as expressed in the Harvester Judgement of 1907 put Australia as a leader on the world stage.

We were an advanced social laboratory. Before World War I there had been two decades of remarkable nationhood and advancement for ordinary people.

Large scale warfare and massacres often ensued as colonisers press to subdue Indigenous tribes, move them off their land and even hunt them for sport

But conservatives were frightened of the future. They wanted to drag us back to the heartbreak of the past. And they succeeded with the help of Billy Hughes.

In the process we broke our own heart – or as Marilyn Lake has expressed it, “World War I fractured the nation’s soul”.

It is time we were honest with ourselves and discounted the myths of World War I, Anzac and Gallipoli.

Instead we should celebrate the two remarkable decades of progress before the catastrophe of World War I. And never forget the Frontier Wars.


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Chris Overland

Ross, I don't think that John Menadue could be characterised as a poor researcher, even though you may dispute his conclusions.

The facts are rarely in dispute in history, only how they are interpreted, and the Anzac story falls into that category.

It has been mythologised to a significant degree, presenting the undoubted heroism and fortitude of the Anzacs as an exemplar of something intrinsic and unique to the Australian character.

However, it does not detract in anyway from the Anzacs to note that the Turkish troops endured equally arduous conditions and died in droves when they too were sent into battle in the worst possible conditions.

The Anzacs came to greatly respect the Turkish soldiers and that feeling was heartedly reciprocated.

I can attest from first hand contact with today's Turkish veterans that the feeling of comradeship forged in unspeakable adversity is still alive and well in Turkey.

The truth is that the Turks bravely defended their homeland and died in large numbers while doing so. The British and Australians suffered a serious defeat at Gallipoli.

However, in doing so, they unknowingly helped spawn the Turkish nationalist movement (the original Young Turks), headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (a Divisional commander at Gallipoli), who brought about the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of modern Turkey.

Ataturk was a genuinely great historic figure. He understood that Gallipoli had been the crucible within which modern Turkish nationalism had been formed and that the Anzacs had undergone a somewhat similar experience.

The famous words of comfort he reputedly directed towards Australian mothers bear repeating:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well."

These words still resonate powerfully today.

Philip Fitzpatrick

You need to do a bit more research, Ross.

The conscription issue during World War I created a huge division in Australia. The struggle between Daniel Mannix, the Archbishop of Melbourne, and prime minister Billy Hughes was monumental.

Thank goodness that Mannix prevailed or more young Australian men would have died over and above those who fell for Hughes' imperial jingoism.

And then Hughes went on to launch racist attacks against the Japanese in the League of Nations and we all know how that ended up.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It won't be this prime minister speaking to the people about the truth, Chris.

For Scott Morrison the truth, as Al Gore put it, is inconvenient.

It's only value to Scomo is how it can be spun and subverted.

Chris Overland

I must agree with John Menadue in relation to the way in which World War I (sometimes called the Great War or the First German War) has been consistently misinterpreted as a fight for freedom and democracy.

It was, in fact, the violent death throes of European imperialism, during which the imperial powers immolated themselves in a destructive frenzy of ultimately pointless violence.

It was truly a war over nothing, driven by ego, ambition and arrogance. Democracy and freedom had nothing to do with it.

Australia's role was that of an enthusiastic but ignorant servant of the British Empire. The price was around 62,000 killed and around 160,000 wounded, gassed or captured.

This sad imperial legacy is reflected in the ubiquitous war memorials found in even the tiniest country towns across Australia.

As a direct consequence of the war, the sclerotic Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires collapsed, leaving the British, French, Dutch and Belgian empires tottering. They would either collapse or be dismantled following World War II.

As for the Frontier Wars, these raged on for decades as Aboriginal people resisted as best they could their dispossession and removal from their traditional lands.

All too often, unsanctioned and unreported murder was carried out by settlers who viewed them more as feral pests than fellow humans.

This could happen because, very often, there was a conspiracy of silence amongst the broader community amongst whom there were many who, while often not liking what was being done, were unwilling to do anything about it.

This is the same mentality that was demonstrated in Germany during the Nazi regime, where people remained silent even though they knew about the concentration camps and what went on there.

Truly, for evil to flourish, it only requires good people to do nothing.

No-one knows for sure how many Aboriginal people died at the hands of murderous settlers but it was certainly many thousands.

The acts themselves were shameful as is our current inability or unwillingness to admit to these crimes.

Distressing as it is to contemplate, facing up to this awful truth is necessary to purge our collective soul of the burden of a guilt unacknowledged.

I hope to live long enough to see our prime minister finally speak the truth to the people about this matter.

Ross Wilkinson

Just a quick point to show the poor level of research in this piece. Menadue alludes to the ANZAC tradition being forged during the Maori Wars meaning Australian troops joining with New Zealand troops to fight the Maoris.

In actual fact the troops from Australia were from British Regiments serving in the various colonies on the Australian mainland.

And as for the First World War dividing our nation, the Australian prime Minister promised Britain a force of 20,000 when the War broke out in September 1914. By November 50,000 had attended the Recruitment Centres to volunteer for service in the First AIF. And that didn't include the 2,000 who volunteered to join the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force that invaded German New Guinea.

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