Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR April 2015 Contents 4 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter APRIL 2015
s we approach the centenary of the
Gallipoli landings it is worth pausing to
reflect on the importance of the occasion.
There is a visceral understanding that
in retrospect April 25, 1915, was the day that
the nation of Australia emerged – even though
Federation had taken place on January 1, 1901.
The day is also remembered for the sacrifice of so
many young lives and the importance of concepts
of mateship combined with a certain egalitarianism.
But why Gallipoli resonates far more than other
actions such as those on the Western Front that
saw greater loss of life is more difficult to unravel –
except for the fact that the landings were the first
major action of the war involving Australians and so
constituted the first significant loss of innocence
that going to war was some sort of adventure.
Even more puzzling is that Second World War
actions – in particular the battle for the Kokoda
Track (or Trail) do not have a particularly strong
place in our culture. That was an action that had
direct relevance for the defence of Australia, which
Gallipoli did not.
Perhaps an important distinction is that the
First World War force was made up entirely of
volunteers, despite two attempts to introduce
conscription. During those four years, more than
400,000 young Australians joined the AIF – a
huge proportion given that the entire population
was a fraction over 4 million. By the time of the
next major conflict, circumstances had changed
and compulsory military service – at least into the
Citizens Military Forces – was introduced as soon
as hostilities started in Europe in September 1939.
Some might say that it is intrinsically more moving
and tragic about young men volunteering to be
sent off to a slaughter rather than being required to
do so – though the end result is exactly the same.
In understanding the significance of ANZAC Day,
it is equally the case that the correct tone be set
and that this is a recognition of sacrifice, heroism
and the emergence of a young nation. It should
never – even indirectly – become a celebration of
war. This is a difficult line to walk and it is important
to keep in mind that for all of the individual acts of
bravery that took place – on the part of Australian,
Turkish, New Zealand, British, Canadian, Indian
and French troops – the operation ultimately was
a military disaster, with all of the lives lost in vain.
Why ANZAC Day has become so important in the
Australian collective memory is more difficult to
explain when one realizes that other countries –
especially New Zealand – suffered proportionately
higher casualties during the operation.
The original intention of the Gallipoli landings
was to break the still relatively fresh deadlock on
the Western Front by knocking the Ottoman Empire
out of the conflict with a surprise invasion. Winston
Churchill in particular has been heavily criticized
by historians as being one of the architects of
the campaign – but people seem to overlook that
the problem was not the strategic vision but very
much the practical implementation. If the Turks had
not been tipped off in advance by naval activity;
if troops had been landed in significant numbers
in places where they were meant to have been;
if the Ottoman Empire had actually been as weak
as many had believed; if some different tactical
decisions had been made – a vastly different
outcome might have occurred.
Ultimately the Ottoman Empire did disintegrate
(a process that was underway long before 1915)
– and that allows us to fast forward to today, when
Australians are once again engaged in conflict in
the Middle East. The vanquishing of empires is
rarely a pretty sight – look at what is continuing to
happen with the former Soviet Union – but what
made the circumstances at the end of the First
World War particularly messy in the long term was
the largely arbitrary drawing of national boundaries
by the victorious British and French. While there
was some understanding of religious and ethnic
issues, these were imperfect and rather like the
carving up of Africa in the previous century, often
ignored in favor of cartographic neatness.
APDR has always been cautious about
Australia’s re-engagement with this very turbulent
and troubled region. Clearly efforts need to be
made to overcome a barbaric, murderous force
when it emerges – it is the responsibility of civilized
nations to attempt to help and protect the innocent.
However, the picture in Iraq is a very concerning
one, with there now being credible evidence that
the people Australia is supporting – the Shia of
Iraq – are now starting to engage in the same sort
of barbarity and ethnic cleansing that IS have been
doing for the past year.
Should we be assisting Iraqi Shiite militias such
as the Badr Brigade to get the upper hand? For
how long will we continue to provide air support if
it is clearly shown that these militias are carrying
out revenge killings, as appears to be the case? It
would seem that for complex reasons – including
a large amount of corruption - the Iraqi Army is not
doing the heavy lifting in the fight against IS and
might remain incapable of doing so and the only
effective fighting forces are those backed by Iran.
At least Australia is not involved in Syria, which if
anything remains an even bigger mess. Now Yemen
is likely to go down the same path, with Saudi
Arabia having been drawn into that civil war.
Perhaps ANZAC Day should be an opportunity
to reflect on the senselessness of war and the
consequences of actively wanting to be engaged
in a futile conflict.
KYM BERGMANN // cANBERRA
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