Posted by: jkirkby8712 | September 27, 2014

ANZAC Centenary a mission gone wrong

There are many who will probably disagree passionately with the sentiments expressed in parts of this article, which appeared in the Melbourne Age newspaper on the 26th February this year, and written by columnist, James Brown. I generally have felt a great deal of respect and pride for most of our Australian forces who for various reasons have been required to serve overseas in major or minor wars and other conflicts since the days of the Boer War, though perhaps in modern times, our motives and reasons for such involvement have changed. My Grandfather served in Northern Africa and France in World War I, my Father served in New Guinea and associated areas during the Second World War, and my youngest brother’s career was with the Australian Army, including a period in Malaysia during that country’s problems, and as a part of Australia’s peace keeping role in East Timor in more recent years. So my respect is personal as well as general in it’s outlook.
However, I do feel that James Brown makes some relevant points, and I personally feel that there are other areas of war and conflicts that Australian forces have served in, which in many cases, achieved more success, and less loss of life, than the pre-occupation with the disastrous ANZAC campaign at Gallipoli. Mind you, as you read this article, it will become obvious that Brown’s particular concern is with the excess expenditure on such things as the ANZAC commemoration in preference to more contemporary military needs as part of our modern day defence capabilities, and that we don’t just look to the past, but keep the future in mind as well. Whatever readers feel on the subject, I include Brown’s piece in my Column for general interest and consideration of another view of the plans for ANZAC and WWI centenary celebrations……………………
However, before we read James Brown’s article, let me briefly point to the comments of author Jonathan King from his book of a few year’s ago ‘The Western Front Diaries’’ published on the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. There he makes it quite clear, that the importance of the Gallipoli campaign from the 25 April 1915, has wrongly overshadowed Australia’s efforts on the Western Front during most of the duration of World War I. Writing in 2008, King notes: –
“Although Gallipoli may long have held a place in the national psyche as the most important Australian theatre of all, this honour really should belong to the Western Front. Never have so many Australians fought so hard in one campaign to achieve such great results. While they retreated from Gallipoli with great reservations at leaving a job undone and so many mates buried on those hopeless slopes, after the Western Front the Diggers returned to Australia [those who survived] full of pride at having acquitted themselves with honour………………………..many Australians have not heard of major Western Front battles or know where they were, so preoccupied are they with Gallipoli…’ [pp.33-35 in ‘The Western Front Diaries’ by Jonathan King, pub. 2008].
But back to the recent article, referred to at the beginning of this contribution, and while he doesn’t refer directly to the Western Front, his emphasise points to the ‘over-indulgence’ of the Gallipoli campaign to the exclusion of all else, including modern defence needs……………………
By James Brown, the Age, 26th February 2014 – Excess in the Anzac centenary overlooks other military endeavours – Beyond the crass commercialisation, this extravaganza perpetuates a myth that undercuts the work of modern soldiers.
Australia is about to spend $325 million commemorating Anzac. It’s an extraordinary amount of money for a country that already has a war memorial in nearly every suburb. It stands starkly in contrast to the cost-cutting across every other area of policy in cash-strapped state and federal governments.
Though we are absolutely right to mark the significance of the centenary of the First World War, Australia will outspend the United Kingdom’s centenary program by 200 per cent. Anzac remembrance on this side of the Tasman will cost nearly 20 times what our New Zealand colleagues have allocated. Rather than letting silent contemplation be our offering to those who served and died for us, we are embarking on a discordant and exorbitant four-year festival, that looks like an Anzacs arms race of sorts.
Across the country, and in the Dardanelles, Australians are looking for bigger and better ways to salute our military forebears. And many companies are looking to cash in.
In 2015 cruise ships will ply Anzac Cove as Bert Newton narrates the war. One company has applied for permission to market an Anzac ice-cream, another here in Melbourne has been awarded $27million in contracts for Anzac events management. Government is crafting an Anzac merchandising plan to match. A century after Gallipoli, the Anzac spirit is being bottled, stamped, and sold.
But beyond the excesses, and crass commercialisation, the real danger of our approach to this centenary is that all our efforts might be occluding the stories of our modern veterans and undercutting the work of the current Australian Defence Force. Every story we tell about Simpson and his donkey in the next four years is a story we are not telling about the work of our modern military in places like Afghanistan.
Over the past years I’ve been staggered by the fact that despite attending dawn services in increasing numbers, Australians I speak to seem to understand less and less about the nature of modern war and the work of our serving soldiers. We have a limited bandwidth to look at military issues, after all we live in a country thankfully far away from most of the world’s traditional conflict zones and relatively unscathed by direct experience of war.
It’s stretching a little – but only a little – to conclude that most Australians would only have ever seen their soldiers performing ceremonial duties. That is true for surprising numbers of our elected representatives as well. Engaging with the military on only one day of the year may be engendering a superficial public understanding of the Defence Force and modern war.
Compared to our closest allies, public conversations on the military in Australia seem excessively simplistic and bifurcated. On one hand shrill voices deny the legitimacy of a professional military and the possibility of armed conflict. On the other the jingoistic mindlessly trumpet the majesty of the Defence Force without pausing to critically assess its performance. The middle ground, in which we accept military force is sometimes necessary but should not be used capriciously, has fallen away. A nuanced public discussion that should help lift the performance of our military isn’t happening. Putting the soldiers of 100 years ago on too high a pedestal can be problematic too.
Because of our constant stories of Anzac, many Australians believe in the exceptionalism of the Australian soldier. A belief that all Australia needs do in time of war is hand a rifle to every athletic man, and a grenade to every cricket player, engenders complacency about current defence policy.
Inexplicably, while we are planning to construct more war memorials, our Defence Force remains under-funded. Both sides of politics acknowledge that we are spending 0.4 per cent of GDP less on the military than is necessary to keep its equipment modernised and ready, and its people well trained and protected.
In Port Phillip finishing touches are being applied to Australia’s two new helicopter carriers. One hundred years after the landings at Anzac Cove our Defence Force is once again looking to learn the science of amphibious operations and landing troops on distant shores. Though Australians have focused much on the sacrifice at Anzac, we have forgotten many of the lessons of the military operation at Gallipoli.
Today, the military experts on the amphibious battles of the Dardanelles are to be found in Quantico not Canberra. In the 1930s George Patton jnr, then a lieutenant-colonel, was dispatched to Anzac Cove to study the Australian defeat. His conclusions and a multi-year study helped the US Marine Corps develop the amphibious doctrine that underpinned their success in the Pacific during the Second World War. Even today, new Marine Corps officers study the battles of Gallipoli in detail. Yet in the Australian Defence Force, our junior officers engage with Gallipoli mostly through the emotion of Anzac Day.
If we are serious in our concern about the needless loss of lives in battle, then we have a responsibility to understand more about where our soldiers might be deployed tomorrow and how they might be led. Rather than building new multimillion dollar Anzac interpretative centres in far-flung Albany, we need a centre to interpret the lessons of our more modern wars and help shape our thinking about defending against future strife.
Respect for our military dead is important. There is much that is good about Anzac. But we must make sure that we balance looking back to the past with looking ahead to the future.
We cannot bring back our slain soldiers, no matter how grand our commemorations. But we can work to save the lives of soldiers now, and in the future.
[James Brown served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Solomon Islands. He is the author of Anzac’s Long Shadow: the cost of our national obsession.]


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