lives squandered in war for the greed and powerlust of the worthless
By The Blue Collar Bohemian
Day - the One Day of the Year, the day that "blooded" us as
a "nation". Lest We Forget. As someone who, like many, has
been touched, through the suffering of close relatives, by the scourge
of war, I have mixed feelings about this day of national remembrance.
I need to ask what exactly it is we remember, and why.
1915 Australian and other British imperial forces participated in a
failed invasion of Turkey a reckless attempt by that great fraud
of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill, to seize control of the
Bosphorus. Many soldiers died and were maimed on both sides, and the
victory of the Turkish commander, Mustapha Kemal, propelled him to a
prominence, from which, when the moribund Ottoman empire collapsed,
he was in position as seize power as Kemal Ataturk, and become president
of the Republic of Turkey.
unpleasantnesses were the genocide of the Armenians and the brutal exchange
of Moslem and Christian residents of Greece and Asia Minor. This is
the history, stripped of the jingoistic hoopla, of one stupid and tragic
event among many during WWI. So what makes it special?
from New Zealand, the other WWI allies concentrate on the Armistice
of 11 November 1918 as the major commemoration of the war, so why April
25th? I suspect it is to divert attention from the atmosphere of revolt
and dissent that many returning soldiers brought home with them and
the steps taken to suppress it.
"victorious" troops returning from WWI to "a land fit
for heroes" and encountered the flu pandemic and unemployment,
their the response was split. Right-wing officer-led veterans' groups
were bound by loyalty to the crown and became, publicly, the Returned
Servicemen's Leagues, and secretly, the militias of the "White
Army", "New Guard", "Old Guard" and the other
smaller extreme right groups sworn to defending the "Empire"
against "Bolshevism". These admirers of fascism, approached
Sir John Monash to lead a military coup in 1931 (he declined), which
is something to remember when conservatives rattle on about "threats
Other troops had been radicalised by their war experience, and inspired
by the Russian Revolution. These returned soldiers joined the labour
movement, formed the Communist Party of Australia, or just nursed a
seething bitterness against "the system" that conned them
into a stupid and unconscionable war that killed 60,000 Australians
and maimed and psychologically destroyed many more.
Australia was already split down the middle by the sectarian divide
whipped up by the Labor traitors Billy Hughes and William Holman in
the conscription referendums, the Irish independence struggle, growing
opposition to the war and, importantly in NSW, the 1917 rail- and tramway
strike. For the next forty years the strike engendered hatred between
the staunch strikers who stayed out, and were sacked, or lost seniority
when re-employed, and the scabs who crawled back and betrayed their
union brothers. Some country towns were divided for two generations
over the 1917 strike.
war's impact on two members of my family. My maternal grandfather, born
in 1899, enlisted for the war, putting up his age to join his brothers
in the "great adventure" of the war. He ended up in the carnage
and insanity of 1917 France, fighting with other Australians in the
brutal struggle for Pozieres and Villers-Bretonneux, where his three
brothers died. He returned to a shattered and grief-struck family, married
my grandmother, and got on with his life as best he could, working for
the NSW railways and tramways, and raising a family of two daughters.
with the onslaught of the Depression, he was unemployed. Until 1939
his family survived by boarding teachers in their war service loan home.
When the second war started, grandfather put down his age to re-enlist
for the sake of having a job, and was in military railway construction
in Greece, Palestine, Lebanon and North Africa, where he was wounded.
After the war, he returned to the railway, but soon retired on health
grounds and was declared "totally and permanently incapacitated"
(TPI) as a result of war service. He died at 70, having his final heart
attack after a series of increasingly debilitating health problems.
He died feeling betrayed by the country he went to war for twice, hating
the RSL, Billy Hughes (who he blamed for WWII), "blood-sucking
profiteers" (his term) and "war mongering politicians who
never faced a bullet". This was strong stuff for a nine year old
boy to hear from his grandfather, who said only the barest minimum about
his war experience, while my grandmother would say to me, "Be careful
not to repeat that, you'll get into trouble". In "democratic
Australia, where did that come from?
born in 1919, (his father was too old for WWI) grew up through the twenties
and thirties in a shattered postwar society of damaged veterans and
sad widows, women who lost fiancees and then never married, and the
war-debt poverty that led to the Great Depression. My paternal grandfather
was a pharmacist in Dulwich Hill, who got his qualifications in a hard
slog at night classes and by correspondence while working as a deckhand
on coastal freighters and harbour lighters, so he wasn't a typical conservative
shopowner. Dad went to Canterbury Boys High, passed his leaving certificate,
and played rugby union to national standard. He enjoyed riding motorcycles,
his last bike being an Ariel Square Four. He worked for his father while
studying accountancy at night, a typical way of gaining qualifications
at the time.
began he enlisted in the army to "do his bit". After initially
fighting in North Africa and other parts of the Middle East he was brought
back to Australia to retrain for jungle warfare in the Pacific. By 1945
he was fighting in New Guinea, where the event that changed his life
took place, and has left its mark on his family and children.
got some information about this event from a friend of my father, whom
my aunt (my late mother's sister) met again after many years at a funeral.
My fathers friend was with him in New Guinea when he was grievously
injured only a week before hostilities ceased. On a jungle track in
the highlands near Aitape, while on patrol, a grenade was snagged from
his belt, losing its safety pin. After warning his mates to get clear
he attempted to kick the grenade away to a safe distance, but it exploded,
shattering his right leg and severely injuring his left. After evacuation
and initial treatment he was given Penicillin. This almost killed him
because he was allergic to it, and it permanently weakened his heart.
He received no official recognition of this lifesaving, self-sacrificing
act of courage.
others my father was reduced from a fit young man to a maimed and shattered
invalid. No more rugby, no more motorcycles. So much opportunity snatched
away from a life barely lived. His first family, with whom he had a
daughter, soon fell apart from the stresses of his condition. I know
nothing of this part of his life, and have had no contact with this
met my mother, and they agreed to marry, his mother told mine what she
would be taking on, and how difficult it would surely be for her as
the wife of a severely disabled war veteran, and what had had transpired
previously. Nevertheless, they married and had two children before Dad
died in1965 aged 48, cheated of his health and his rightful lifespan.
I was six and my sister two when this happened. He never left a will,
and my mother was so poor after his death we grew up in our grandparents'
of my father and grandfather are precious beyond description. The things
I did and learned with my Dad as a small child have influenced me to
this day, and as time passes my understanding of the effort he put into
making his time with us as normal as he could for us has increased my
admiration for him. I can still see him in my mind's eye, coming in
from work on a hot day, bathed in sweat, and taking off his artificial
leg to relieve the pain in the stump. I remember going to the Limbless
Soldiers' Association christmas parties at Nielsen Park, and being surrounded
by men with missing arms, legs, and in wheelchairs, on crutches and
sticks. I remember being vaguely surprised, when I started school, that
the other boys fathers weren't disabled in some way, and the terrible
difference I felt from my schoolmates after he died, as if I carried
some mark. My sister was only two when he died, and feels even more
acutely the loss of her father.
Dad's death we were enrolled in Sydney Legacy, where the ideology of
"National Sacrifice" was revered and promoted, and the loss
of our fathers was marked by a remembrance ceremony every week at the
meetings, where boys (it was always segregated) were taught to march
around a gymnasium, do basic calisthenics and gymnastics, and to box.
all pretty horrible, but there were country holidays on farms organised
for us, and an annual event called "Operation Float", where
people with big motor boats took Legacy kids from Church Point to The
Basin, at Broken Bay. That made the weekly ritual at least tolerable,
but the whole thing was pretty alienating. During the time I was a participant
in the activities the first kids whose fathers died in Vietnam began
to turn up, and older kids who lost their fathers to WW2 were being
conscripted for that war. I began to realise what a sick cycle of slaughter
the whole thing represented, something my TPI grandfather remarked on
just before he died.
So I dropped
out of Legacy and increasingly developed an anti-militarist, anti-imperialist,
anti-state, anti-corporation attitude. I'm sure the Legacy people mean
well, but they are locked into the obscene paradigm of patriotism and
militarism as "a noble duty" and "tragic but necessary".
I suppose they have to believe in these things to do what they do, just
as many war veterans lock themselves into a conservative perspective
to live with what they've had to do in combat.
repetition of "They shall not grow old as we who are left grow
Nor the years condemn" etc, the reinforcement of belief
in the monarchy, the state, the flag-worship, only generated a closed
and unquestioning cycle of obedience to state power and the cult of
militarism. It all seemed to be on the point of eclipse when I was in
my teens, forever discredited by the disgrace that was the Vietnam War.
We thought only lunatics or terminal reactionaries would join the military,
and all the rituals of Anzac Day and other militaristic occasions would
fade away with the men who were there.
since has defied reason. From the mid-eighties on, the "rehabilitation"
of the sad and broken veterans of the Vietnam War has come together
with the orchestrated vilification of war opponents and the peace movement
in general, as if they were the people who conscripted the soldiers,
sent them off to a contrived war where their "allies" dumped
filthy chemical weapons (the defoliant Agent Orange) on them, where
they were complicit by association in the US atrocities against the
Vietnamese population, and where they inevitably found themselves on
the "losing side". This cult of militarism has led to the
fetishisation of Gallipoli, transformed every April into a theme park
of dinki-di dumbness, cricket ground style flag waving and meathead-oriented
"entertainment" (the fucking Bee Gees for fuck's sake) you
would expect for the kind of Cronulla-Crowd Patriots who dominate the
commemoration these days. Never think, never reflect, never ask why
it happened, never question why the mistakes of Versailles were never
learned, why the youth of the world continue to be sacrificed to the
Molochs of Empire, Greed and Death-cult Religions.
that the amnesia of the horrors of Vietnam arrived in time for the loathsome
little quislings of the Howard government to exploit it yet again; for
these lackey agents of the global greedmill of corporate capitalist
militarism to defile the memory of my father and grandfather, and his
long dead brothers, and every other soldier from anywhere conned into
fighting wars on behalf of the most loathsome scum on the planet, the
toady politicians in the thrall of the gloating rich men who have always
waxed fat on the misery of humanity, and the rape and degradation of
would have been no-one, done nothing, without the order-followers, the
little Eichmanns that made it all possible. In Vietnam, when ordinary
soldiers realised the obscenity of what they were doing, they turned
their weapons on their own officers. If that had happened in 1914, or
1915 or 16 or 17 or 18, to a greater degree than it no doubt did, if
western troops had joined their Russian comrades in slaughtering the
imperialist beast in 1917 and 1918, the twentieth century would have
indeed been a "Land Fit for Heroes". While it was not to be,
the sentiment was not unknown at the end of WWI. Consider the words
of poet Siegfried Sassoon, in this 1918 poem called "Fight to a
boys came back, bands played and flags were flying
And crowds of yellow pressmen filled the street,
To cheer the soldiers who'd refrained from dying
And hear the music of returning feet.
"Of all the thrills and ardors war has brought
This moment is the finest", (so they thought).
on their bayonets to charge the mob,
Grim fusiliers broke rank with glint of steel.
At last the boys had found a cushy job,
I heard the yellow pressmen grunt and squeal.
And with my trusty bombers turned and went
To clear the butchers out of Parliament!
expect that one to be prominent in the Telegraph Anzac Day feature,
but it is as relevant now as it was in 1918. And if there was ever a
government and propaganda mongers it should apply to, it should apply
to the Howard government and its creatures in the media. There is no
irony that the greatest spruikers of "patriotism" in Australia
in 2006 are, like their predecessors, agents of a foreign imperial power.
And, as followers the ideas of Leo Strauss, they don't have to believe
a word of it themselves, just get the voters to believe it.
contemplating a military adventure should also know is that once the
state has used you for its filthy purpose, you shouldnt expect
much in return. As any ex-soldier with Agent Orange poisoning, nuclear
radiation exposure, depleted uranium contamination, psychological damage
or physical injuries (or all of the above) knows, if its really
going to cost them, you're on your own. After they've used you up, you're
just spat out. One-way patriotism indeed.
thoughts on Anzac Day turn to the fallen, whether they be those damaged
men who nurtured me for such a short, precious time in my childhood,
or the countless others whose lives have been squandered in war over
the centuries for the greed and powerlust of the worthless few at the
top of this society, I will feel a terrible grief at the waste of it
all. And disgust at why they died and suffered in vain.