May 8

Gallipolli: The truth about our involvement


During the referendum campaign, Julian Leeser and I debated Malcolm Turnbull and another republican at the Hakoah Club, at Bondi. When it was time for questions from the audience, a young woman put forward a view of the republican debate which was often in the background. She said that Australia should become a republic because the British had sent Australian – rather than British- soldiers to their deaths at Gallipoli to fight a British war! This was too much for John Paul, then at the politics department of the University of NSW.

He abandoned his question. Armed with a wealth of facts, not fiction, he pointed out that Gallipoli was an operation in which we, the British, the French, and the New Zealanders had participated as allies and that the United Kingdom had suffered even greater losses, 20,000, than Australia.

The questioner looked somewhat embarrassed.

Greg Sheridan, who I suspect is no monarchist , wrote about the role of Australia at Gallipoli in a comment in The Australian on 28 April, 2005, "ANZACS DIED FOR A REASON".

He began by saying that this year, the nation had commemorated Anzac Day magnificently, with much debate about its story and meaning. The only sour note came, he wrote, from the New Zealand Chief of the Defence Force, Bruce Ferguson. In what Mr Sheridan found to be a bizarre and puerile speech, the NZ officer had engaged in British bashing, and claimed that Gallipoli represented, for Australia and New Zealand, the high-water mark of our imperial subservience.

It is a sad commentary on New Zealand that this form of politically correct adolescent pouting finds expression at the top of its military, wrote Mr.Sheridan. In his opinion, New Zealand has turned her back on having a modern defence force. Australia has not. Of course, on this ACM has no view, but his analysis of the ANZAC presence at Gallipoli is relevant to an understanding of how we became to be so involved in the First World War.

This came about not out of imperial subservience, but rather as the voluntary decision of a self governing nation. He continued:

"While Anzac Day unites us, it also shows how different we are… (T)hose in Australia who would like us to take the New Zealand option, of isolation, irrelevance and military irresponsibility, have the greatest trouble with Anzac Day. …..

They often take refuge in two clichés of profound dishonesty. One, that all war is futile. Two, that Australia has a history of fighting other people’s wars, which it should have stayed out of.

There is a great arrogance of ignorance at work here. Much of the banality of contemporary intellectual discussion comes from people who read only things that are written in their own lifetime, who have no real sense of the past.

It is a fantastic and insane conceit to imagine that only Australians of the past decade or two, and certainly none before World War II, have ever thought intelligently and independently about the nation’s security.

 In World War I, Australia was contributing to the maintenance of the global order, which provided for our security. As well as being a morally just cause, given that Germany had invaded Belgium and France, it was in our vital national interest that Britain and her allies prevail."

Greg Sheridan found support for his view from Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, who in a recent speech to the Lowy Institute, said:

"It is impossible to imagine a world in which Australians did not go ashore that morning at Gallipoli. But there was nothing inevitable about it. They were there because of … strategic decisions taken by Australian political leaders. The Gallipoli legend of today minimises these decisions. It suggests that Australians found themselves on the Turkish shore that day because their political leaders were too unimaginative, too supine, too emotionally tied to Britain to see that this was someone elses war, in which Australia had no part.

This is a travesty of the truth … Australians as a people thought carefully about their security in the decades before 1914. As the strategic challenge from Germany grew from the 1880s, they recognised that Britain would be less and less able to continue guaranteeing Australia’s security. And they realised that as Britain started looking for allies in Europe and Asia, its interests would sometimes diverge from Australias.

We started to see ourselves, not as a mere strategic appendage of empire, but as an active partner in imperial security. As such we had our own unique interests and perspectives, and our own responsibilities.

We cannot understand the decisions of 1914, and we cannot understand Gallipoli, if we do not understand that Australia had compelling, direct and distinctively Australian strategic reasons to play its part in helping to ensure that British power was not eclipsed. We needed British power to help defend us from what we saw – rather presciently as it turned out – as direct threats closer to home."

 It is the greatest nonsense, writes Greg Sheridan , to say that Australians have traditionally fought other people’s wars. He says that until World War II the international system to which we belonged was the British Empire. He continued:

"With all the Irish blood in my veins I have no subjective nostalgia for the British Empire, but it provided for Australian security. Its limitations became clear with the fall of Singapore.

 Since then, the international system we have belonged to is the US alliance system. It, too, makes a fundamental contribution to Australian security. In supporting those international systems Australian leaders were not succumbing to imperial subservience but trying to provide for the security of their citizens."

 One side issue of the ANZAC commemoration this year was the suppression of the singing of God Save The Queen at the Dawn Service in Melbourne.

The Herald Sun asked me about this. I said I hoped that the veterans had been consulted before any change in the traditional service was made. I suspect that the change for change sake brigade is at it again.

Until next time,

David Flint


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