First World War

The Anzacs’ Battle with the Historians

Australian troops prepare to depart from Albany in November 1914.

The Anzac centenary has come and gone, and the centenary of the Armistice too. Alec William Campbell, the last surviving member of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps of the First World War, passed away in 2002. All the veterans of that war, from all countries, have now gone. The War to End All Wars is now well and truly over.

Thus, after eleven years of dawn services at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux, the French hosts were hoping to sleep in this year. Australian public opinion was incensed. Scott Morrison stood firm, and the Western Front dawn service will go ahead as scheduled this April 25. The First World War Anzacs are also honoured at dawn on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula, and of course in Australia, where every year well over 100,000 people attend dawn services throughout the country. Additional dawn services are held in Malaysia, Thailand and Papua New Guinea to honour those who served in the Second World War.

This review appears in the April edition of Quadrant.
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These days the dawn services on April 25 commemorate the sacrifices of all veterans from Australia and New Zealand. Of course, both countries also celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11, but that’s a commemorative day shared with the rest of the Western world. Anzac Day is different, and distinctively Antipodean. It is at the same time an expression of solidarity with the larger West and a declaration of independence from it.

That schizophrenic quality is what makes Anzac Day doubly controversial. Many Australian and New Zealand intellectuals (especially republican ones) resent the annual reminder of the crimson thread that ties their countries to the United Kingdom and the wider Western world, while at the same time abhorring the patriotism of the masses who rise before dawn to celebrate their hard-won independent national identities. It’s a double-whammy of unwelcome competition for the cosmopolitan intellectual point of view. And it happens every year.

Just in time for this year’s Anzac debate comes First Know Your Enemy: Comprehending Imperial German War Aims & Deciphering the Enigma of Kultur, (download it here) by John A. Moses with Peter Overlack. It’s a shame that Anzac isn’t in the title, since the book strikes at the heart of the cosmopolitan war against Anzac Day. It assaults the “presentism” of latter-day Anglophone historians who selectively reconstruct the Australian and New Zealand world of 1914 to support their own political agendas rather than portraying it (as nearly as possible) as it actually was.

For Moses and Overlack, there is a big difference between conscientiously recognising that our personal prejudices may influence the ways we understand history, and intentionally distorting history to match our personal prejudices. The fact that there are many ways to think about history doesn’t imply that all ways of thinking about history are equally valid. Moses and Overlack are determined to present the German threat as it was, as it was perceived by the Australians and New Zealanders of 1914, and as it was meant by the Germans themselves. They explain why (most of) Australia and New Zealand supported the war effort and had good reasons for doing so. They thoroughly debunk the “futility of war” narrative. And they firmly place Anzac commemoration within the heroic fight for Western civilisation against the barbarism of German militarism.

It is all too easy today to lose the heroism of the First World War in the shadow of the Second World War. The Second World War was captured on film, with Adolf Hitler playing the ultimate villain and his black-clad personal security force, the SS, murdering six million Jews. Yet Moses shows how Hitler built on an existing military-state foundation with deep roots in German history. The Holocaust was not perpetrated by the Kaiser and his intellectual army of militarist professors, but it was made possible by them. As the Kaiser himself is apocryphally said to have telegraphed Hitler in 1940: “Congratulations, you have won using my troops.”

As dominions of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand entered the First World War on August 4, 1914, in response to Germany’s gross violation of Belgian neutrality. The Kingdom of Prussia had guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium in 1839, and its successor state Germany reaffirmed this commitment in 1870. Yet in August 1914 Germany demanded that Belgium open its borders and lay down its arms as German troops marched through the country to invade France. Belgium refused, and as a result suffered German occupation, war crimes and near-starvation for the next four years.

Germany’s Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, usually characterised as a “moderate” leader, expressed his frustration that Britain would go to war against Germany for the sake of a mere “scrap of paper”—the guarantee of Belgian neutrality. The British ambassador in Berlin, Sir Edward Goschen, explained to the Chancellor that a “solemn compact simply had to be kept, or what confidence could anyone have in engagements given by Great Britain in the future?” Goschen reported Bethmann-Hollweg’s reply as: “But at what price will that compact have been kept? Has the British government thought of that?”

Bethmann-Hollweg was certainly right about the price—to Britain, to Belgium, to France, and to dozens of other countries, not least Australia and New Zealand. Even to Germany. But the fact that a “moderate” German civilian leader of 1914 thought that international treaties should be swept aside for the sake of military expedience tells you all you need to know about Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany. Those other scraps of paper, the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, were swept aside as well. Treaty commitments against the bombardment of undefended towns, the targeting of hospital ships, and the use of poison gas in combat were all torn up by Germany in the first year of the war.

Remarkably, hundreds of German academics, jurists and even German theologians issued open letters defending German atrocities in the “Rape of Belgium” as necessary for the survival of German “Kultur”. Germany’s crimes in the very first month of the war included the summary execution of some 6000 civilians for not facilitating the German advance and the burning of the Catholic University of Louvain as a warning to the rest of Belgium. Similar (if not worse) crimes were perpetrated on the Eastern Front. The brutality of the German forces was no secret; it was the pride of the German Bildungsbürgertum, or “educated middle class”. It wasn’t Rudyard Kipling who first compared the Germans to the Huns. It was the Kaiser himself.

Imperial Germany truly was the ISIS or Taliban of its day, and Moses (who is an Anglican priest as well as a professor of history) traces German militarism to deep religious roots in German Lutheranism. He contrasts the historical role of the Lutheran Church as the administrator of the Prussian state with that of the Anglican Church as the conscience of England—and by extension of Australia and New Zealand. According to Moses, Lutheran theology since Luther himself had portrayed the role of the Church as “only relevant in the private sphere” with “no brief to interfere in the business of politics”. Taking its cue from St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (“the powers that be are ordained of God … they are God’s ministers”), the Lutheran Church made itself complicit in the crimes of the German state.

The Anglican Church, by contrast, sought to act as the moral compass of the state. It still does—much to the chagrin of many of its more conservative parishioners. As a result, Moses argues, the “British Empire, as many at the time were convinced, stood for genuinely Christian values against the putatively pagan values of the German Empire”.

And thus in the second half of 1915, at a time when Germany’s Lutheran pastors were exhorting their congregations to follow the Kaiser to victory, Australia’s Anglican priests were busy organising the “solemn day of commemoration” that would become known as Anzac Day. Representatives of Australia’s other denominations were involved as well, but Anglican ministers had the closest associations with government. Roman Catholic rules at the time prohibited “participation at public events where prayers might be said by heretical and schismatic” Protestants, in Moses’s slightly purple prose. The sometime bush missionary, sometime army chaplain Canon David John Garland was appointed secretary of the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland on January 10, 1916, and the “father of Anzac Day” continued to shape Anzac Day traditions right down to his death in 1939.

Throughout his account of Garland’s organisation of the first national Anzac Day, Moses puts the emphasis on solemn. For Moses, Garland was “a leader … who understood how a solemn public service of commemoration should be appropriately organised and performed”. Like Memorial Day in the United States, which emerged in the wake of the American Civil War, and Remembrance Day in the UK and Canada, Anzac Day is a holiday marked by an ultimately victorious nation to remember its losses in war. There are no “Victory Day” celebrations in the Anglo-Saxon world, despite the fact that the West won both world wars. It’s hard to imagine what the Germans of 1914 would have made of that.

Why should Australia and New Zealand have gone to war in 1914 for the sake of Belgian neutrality? That was exactly the question asked by Bethmann-Hollweg of the British. And one might go on to ask why Canada and Newfoundland took up the cause, or indeed why the United States intervened on the Allied side, instead of (as in 1812) invading Canada. Especially where America is concerned, old Marxist arguments based on imperialism and new Marxist arguments based on racial solidarity just won’t cut it. An imperialist America would have done far better to ally with Germany and pick off British outposts at their most vulnerable. And racially, the two largest ethnic groups in America were German and Irish. No Anglophile tendencies there.

Despite a hare-brained German plot to induce Mexico to invade the United States in 1917, the United States was never seriously threatened by imperial Germany, and German dominance of continental Europe would hardly have hindered American global trading interests. As a result, the moral case for war, buttressed by Woodrow Wilson’s call to make the world “safe for democracy”, remains strong (though certainly not unchallenged) in the United States.

Australia is another matter. Many Australian historians have been notably less patriotic in their appraisals of their own country’s motives for going to war with Germany in 1914. Or put another way, they have formulated a radically different interpretation of Australian patriotism that prioritises Australia’s narrow national interests (in the form of limiting Australian casualties) while decrying what they see as nationalistic and non-inclusive celebrations of Australian militarism (which they derisively call “the Anzac myth”). Moses consistently uses the dismissive phrase “Australian historians and publicists” to refer to “left-nationalist” writers who embrace the “presentism of left-wing thought”. He sees them as “ill-informed and ideologically biased [commentators] who seem only to believe what they want to believe”.

Moses excoriates “Left-wing critics of Australia’s entry into the Great War” for seeking “to dominate the historical-political consciousness of citizens” through a selective reading of the past. In Moses’s telling, these “presentist” writers wilfully ignore the depth of religious sentiment and the adherence to the British Empire of the Australians of 1914. He might have added: the risk-tolerance. Today we are shocked at the fact that some 15 per cent of all Anzac recruits lost their lives in the war. But death was much more pervasive 100 years ago. For example, statistics for England and Wales show that roughly 15 per cent of all women of the time died in childbirth (equivalent statistics are not available for Australia). That does nothing to diminish the tragedy of premature death, but it does put things in perspective.

But the most important charge of “presentism” levelled by Moses is the idea, widespread today, that “Germany constituted no threat to Australia during the era of Anglo-German rivalry”. The seven chapters by Moses lay out the civilisational challenge posed by imperial Germany to Australia’s Western values, while the three chapters by Overlack describe Germany’s specific plans for waging war against Australia and New Zealand. The book as a whole thus combines a history of ideas (Moses) with a history of operations (Overlack). But Overlack says virtually nothing about the Anzacs themselves, Gallipoli, or the Western Front. His subject is Germany in the Pacific.

Australians today are used to seeing Manus Island in the news, but it is likely that few could locate it on a map. It is the westernmost major island of the Bismarck Archipelago that surrounds the Bismarck Sea off the northern coast of New Guinea, the territory once known as Kaiser-Wilhelmsland. Yes, in a slightly alternative history, it could have been the Germans running Manus Island.

In the late nineteenth century, the German empire was on a buying spree all across the South Pacific, having purchased the “rights” (such as they were) to several island chains from the decaying Spanish empire. In the early twentieth century Germany held on-again, off-again negotiations with Portugal to purchase East Timor, too. Strong German influence over the Netherlands also created an ever-present possibility that Germany would take effective control of the Dutch East Indies, today’s Indonesia. In fact, Kaiser Wilhelm fled to the Netherlands at the end of the war. He was still there when the Nazis marched in two decades later.

Overlack details how Germany’s Pacific cruiser squadron planned to raid Australian shipping, loot remote ports in Western Australia and Queensland, and even bombard Sydney. They were especially keen to draw British naval resources away from the North Sea and to delay (or better, sink) Australian troop transports. They hoped that a massive loss of life at sea would reinforce Australian political opposition to the war. Dozens of Allied ships were in fact captured or sunk by the German raiders in the Pacific, and the transfer of the Anzacs to Egypt was delayed by several weeks as a result. Anyone who wants a graphic illustration of German ambitions in the Pacific can visit Sydney’s Hyde Park, where a gun from the German cruiser Emden is mounted in the south-west corner, poised to fire down Oxford Street to Taylor Square.

That Germany’s East Asia Squadron didn’t do more damage is due in part to the diligence of the Australian authorities, who immediately seized several German ships that were in Australian waters at the outbreak of war—ships that the Germans had intended to convert into colliers. Credit also goes to the timely dispatch of the all-volunteer Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force to occupy German outposts in New Guinea. Much more important, however, was the fact that Japan entered the war on the Allied side. It may seem strange to think of Japan as having once been responsible for Australian security, but it was the Japanese who effectively neutralised the German threat in the Pacific. It didn’t do so out of friendship: Japan went to war in order to acquire German-administered Shandong Province in China. Had Germany made a credible counter-offer, things might have turned out very differently.

If anything, Overlack understates the German threat to Australia. In the early 1900s, Germany was eager to acquire overseas colonies for emigration and settlement, and all of Western Australia had a white population of only 300,000; the Northern Territory, less than 4000. In the event of a total defeat of Britain, including a German victory over the Grand Fleet in the North Sea, it is not unlikely that Germany would have demanded substantial portions of northern and western Australia for colonisation. In such a scenario, Australia would have been in no position—legal or practical—to say no.

The idea of Germans in Darwin is not as fantastical as it sounds. Japan might very well have stayed neutral early in the war to see which way the winds were blowing, Germany might very well have won the 1916 Battle of Jutland, and Japan almost certainly would have joined Germany in the carve-up of Russia in 1917. Had there been a Germany–Japan axis in the First World War, back when Germany still had Pacific ambitions, things might have gone very badly for Australia. And if Britain had lost the war, it is very unlikely that the United States would have come to Australia’s rescue.

Though they mostly avoid current events, it is clear that both Moses and Overlack advocate a muscular foreign policy for Australia that closely aligns the country with other liberal democracies. Moses claims in his preface that “This book will show why the ability to stand up and fight when national security is challenged is still an urgent necessity.” Moses asserts, and Overlack clearly shows, that Australian national security was severely challenged in 1914 by German aggression, and that Australia’s only viable course of action was to participate fully in the British war effort. They are at pains to emphasise that the Australian Anzacs fought (and many of them died) to protect Australia, and that their struggles and sufferings were thus not in vain.

Perhaps this focus on the necessity of Australia’s participation in the war is inevitable in the light of the “presentist” Australian narrative of the futility of the war, of Anzacs going overseas to fight other people’s battles. But if one accepts the authors’ argument that Australia had no choice but to defend itself against Germany, several persuasive chapters of this book are wasted on establishing the high moral fibre of the British Empire and the Anglican Church. After all, although it is certainly reasonable to defend oneself in the face of foreign aggression, it is not particularly noble. The two qualities are not mutually exclusive—the heroism of the Royal Air Force in 1940 was both necessary and noble—but Moses and Overlack seem to miss the point that they have very different foreign policy implications.

If, as Moses would have it, the Anzac story shows that “the ability to stand up and fight when national security is challenged is still an urgent necessity”, what does it show when national security isn’t challenged? It’s hard to imagine any country threatening Australia in the near future. If the overall conclusion to be drawn from Anzac history is that Australia fought the First World War primarily in self-defence, then surely the main lesson to be learned for today is that Australians should look out for themselves, save $36 billion a year in defence spending, and disarm. That’s the lesson New Zealand has learned. Why not Australia, too?

Yet if we take the many eloquent Australians quoted by Moses at their word, they didn’t go to war to defend Australia. They went to war to defend their honour, the freedom of others, and the future of Christian civilisation. They risked life and limb in an idealistic war of choice, not an unavoidable war of necessity.

The idealism of Australian soldiers showed in their morale. In 1918, it was Australian troops under Australian command who made the crucial breakthrough at Amiens that ruptured the German lines and presaged the end of the war in France. They did so alongside another group of soldiers who were fighting a war of choice: the Canadians. By contrast, French troops, who were fighting a war of necessity on their very own soil, mutinied in 1917 and were unreliable in 1918, despite having taken losses no worse than those sustained by the Anzacs.

There is no more noble testament to the power of ideals than the continuing dedication to duty of Australian volunteers right up till the end of the war. To turn their sacrifices into a narrative of the futility of war, as so many Australians do today, is a betrayal of the ideals that they fought for, no matter how sympathetic or well-intentioned the purpose may be. Moses and Overlack recognise this, and are rightly critical of such “presentism” in present-day tellings of the Anzac story. But in their eagerness to establish that Australia’s war was one of necessity, they, too, come close to writing present debates into past events.

Australians didn’t go to war in 1914 because they were afraid of German encirclement. They went to war in 1914 because it was the right thing to do. It is obvious from the tone of his book that Moses shares this sentiment. A book that made this straightforward argument would have been a better tribute to the values that Moses clearly holds so dear.

Salvatore Babones is an associate professor at the University of Sydney and the author of The New Authoritarianism: Trump, Populism, and the Tyranny of Experts, recently published by Polity. He wrote “The Chinese Delusion of a Greater Eurasia” in the March issue.

______________________

First Know Your Enemy: Comprehending Imperial German War Aims & Deciphering the Enigma of Kultur
by John A. Moses with Peter Overlack

Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2019, 321 pages, $49.95
______________________

10 comments
  • lloveday

    “Additional dawn services are held in Malaysia, Thailand and Papua New Guinea”.

    And Indonesia.

  • Bushranger71

    Hello Salvatore. Herewith a warrior perspective to counter the politicized views being peddled via the Federal Government propaganda machinery.
    Firstly; we lost 3 family in WW1 with another decorated although badly gassed, an uncle 3.5 years POW on the Burma railway, a brother in the Army during the Malaya Emergency, 2 nephews served at Swanbourne and me 21 years flying in the Air Force (Confrontation and Vietnam x 3) – my wife also a former RAAF Nursing Sister.
    The lessons from the decay of empires are insufficiently aired. The Romans could not manage their dispersed territorial interests, neither could England nor can America today.
    The first 2 years of the 1939-1945 conflict was a European War and the Germans offered generous peace terms to offset the punishing Treaty of Versailles. Bob Menzies and the leaders of other nations strongly advised acceptance before the military situation escalated, but Churchill stubbornly refused. The Brits were supposed to open the files in 2016 on Germany’s offer, but they remain closed. Arguably; WW2 could have been stillborn.
    In 1940, Britain was near bankrupt and the notion that they could defend far flung interests was fantasy. They had to lean very heavily on the dominions for cannon fodder – the Empire Air Training Scheme for aircrew, for example.
    ‘…although it is certainly reasonable to defend oneself in the face of foreign aggression, it is not particularly noble…’ – Salvatore Babones.
    The Battle of Britain is lauded as ‘their finest hour’; but consider the Bomber Command slaughter of 600,000 German civilians and maiming of another 1.6 million.
    The US joined WW2 on opportunity to broaden industrial capacity and to achieve world financial dominance, which eventuated. Ever since, they have availed widespread military interventions to enhance the productivity of their Military Industrial Complex (Australia is now a virtual branch).
    Back in time to WW1. Involvement therein sucked away the cream of Australian manpower and youth just 14 years after federation, when nation building was of paramount importance. With 75 percent of the world land mass located in the northern hemisphere, ‘compulsorily’ supporting England in faraway conflict was hugely detrimental.
    Australia’s fundamentally flawed federation model based on colonialism has since proved too fragmented to be functional and national integrity suffered hugely from the penalties of involving in WW1 and WW2.
    While Germany was a near neighbour in north-eastern New Guinea and did maraud the southern oceans for a time, broader territorial domination would not have been sustainable, as proved by the decline of other empires. This was further proven by the military failure of Japan during WW2 through support becoming too stretched.
    At near 82, I have lived in several other countries and widely toured the world, including viewing perhaps 150 monuments, museums, galleries. My conclusion is the dignity we once valued for commemorations in Australia has been lost and they have become more media extravaganzas.
    In the 1990s, we drove from Istanbul around the Sea of Marmara and discovered a tiny little town named Geriboldi (the real Gallipoli) embracing an old stone tower which housed a small museum containing amazing original relics of the campaign.
    My wife’s brother was with Foreign Affairs and ran the Gallipoli commemorative event for that year. There was a gathering of younger Australians draped in flags and I had to intervene when their inappropriate rowdy behaviour and bad language became embarrassing. It seemed to us that they participate because it is trendy and less so for dignified pilgrimage reasons.
    The aftermath was even more nationally embarrassing with Australian media complaints about inadequate space, parking and other facilities that was offensive to the Turkish people.
    It is grossly inappropriate for Australia to insist on establishing commemorative infrastructure and conducting annual events in foreign lands that we invaded or occupied as components of other military forces (unless invited).
    I lauded the recent Vietnamese Government refusal to allow Battle of Long Tan commemorations to be conducted in their country as a media extravaganza.
    Being among families who have suffered substantially from involvement in conflicts, my view is we need to move away from the mythology that it has been noble and glorious to support the Brits and Americans in former military exploits and detune regarding our military exploits.
    Quieter and more dignified commemoration would be appropriate.

  • Wayne

    The sometime bush missionary, sometime army chaplain Canon David John Garland was appointed secretary of the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland on January 10, 2016, and the “father of Anzac Day” continued to shape Anzac Day traditions right down to his death in 1939.

    Correction needed.

    • Roger Franklin

      Thanks, Wayne, for your eagle eye. That blooper has now been de-blooped.

  • Peter Rowe

    This article makes a good point. But it leaves open a question. There are many battles and causes worth fighting for. Why if it’s the right thing to do, don’t we do it in every case? Every country is going to make choices about the battles it fights on the basis of necessity. Surely, in the case of the First World War, the strategic threat from Germany to our security and as shown here, to our borders, our commitment was sustained by the threat, as well as by doing the right thing.

  • Peter Sandery

    I must take issue with Bushranger 71’s riposte that “Australia’s fundamentally flawed federation model based on colonialism has since proved too fragmented to be functional…”.

    My take on the issue of the Australian federation goes along these lines:-

    Whilst no one can deny that the current Senate as it is, is more of a hindrance then a help to good government, this is not a result of colonialism, but the result of venal politicians and their apparatchiks totally usurping the geographical representation that was a major pillar of why our founding fathers chose such a system – even in the 1890’s there were far more people living in cities and conurbations than there were in the country where the vast majority of the nation’s wealth lies and the situation is far worse now – and largely emasculating the Senate’s powers of overview of the executive by setting up a huge number of tribunals, commissions etc which are seemingly responsible to no one but those who appointed them – the executive Government. No where is this more obvious than in the State of Queensland where politicians from all sides did away with an upper house in the 1920’s and have no intention to even listen at suggestions to re-introduce it, As a result of this, eventually, there will be absolutely no MP who will represent the current seat of Kennedy as its population decreases whereas that of the SE corner of the State continues to increase rapidly. Ill informed members of the State parliament try to overcome this by gerrymandering electorates, but with a reformed Senate ( replace the multimember constituency of the State with 12 equal geographical zones with a residency qualification for candidates) and a State upper house, similarly structured. this problem could well be mitigated.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I am almost certainly a RAAF contemporary of Bushranger 71 although, fortunately for me, I lack his active service experience. As my then kindergarten-aged son proudly told his class “My daddy is an Air Traffic Controller. He tells the pilots where to go”. Such wisdom!

    I absolutely agree with Bushranger on the disgraceful, media-driven corruption in recent years of Anzac Day commemorations. His is not the only eye-witness account I’ve heard of the “inappropriate rowdy behaviour” of young Australians at Gallipoli. Several close friends have been to ceremonies there and were similarly embarrassed. 115 years after the event, and long since the last surviving participant in the campaign has passed away, would not be one moment too soon to abandon this particular ceremony. Turkey has been far too tolerant of Australian boorishness for far too long.
    While I respect his greater experience, I don’t agree with many of his arguments about Australia’s participation in the wars of the British and/or American “empires”. What we know now, we didn’t know then.
    We were entirely different peoples, much more culturally homogeneous and, in many ways, congenitally paranoid. (Consider the extensive coastal defences, eg Forts Denison, Queenscliff, etc, and other fortifications, many if not most of which predated World War I or even Federation and which were built in response to anticipated Russian invasion.) That such an invasion never eventuated doesn’t mean that contemporary governments were wrong to prepare.
    As for our participation in the World Wars, we really didn’t have a choice, certainly not morally, even if it is arguable (as it was argued) that we should never have sent our forces overseas. But, had we not, how could we, with populations of around 5 millions and 7 millions respectively at the start of the World Wars, have hoped to defend ourselves. Our foreign affairs were still governed by the British at the time of World War I, so where would we have obtained the necessary materiel. We might have managed to produce a few small arms, and perhaps some minor artillery, but production of sufficient aircraft and combat ships would have been beyond us. A few German minelayers could have closed our ports within weeks and, operating with relative impunity from their New Guinea and other Pacific territories, could have kept them closed and harassed our overseas trade. While British and, later, American vested interests might have forced the British Government to divert resources to defend their investments here, I wouldn’t have expected more than minimal assistance. More or less ditto for World War II.
    As for Korea and Vietnam, Bushranger will no doubt recall the lingering post-war anti-Japanese hysteria, and lack of confidence in the capacity or willingness of the British to defend us, that sent our post-war governments scurrying in pursuit of the ANZUS Treaty. While, contrary to much political mythology, that treaty binds none of the signatories to do more than to consult in the event of any threat.
    But dare we declare ourselves neutral should the US invoke the Treaty? I think not. Of course, with the wisdom of hindsight, things begin to look vastly different, and it’s amazing how much steel hindsight injects into our national spine that had previously barely supported our weight in more parlous times.

  • Bushranger71

    Hello DT.
    I attended an ANZAC Day event at coastal Emu Park, Queensland (a unique WW1 commemorative venue in Australia) to honour family. 3 perished and a surviving Step Grandfather was with 31 Battalion, AIF. They initially deployed to Egypt and then to France in 1916, just prior to the Battle of Fromelles in which they were decimated.
    A week after surviving that carnage, he was promoted to Corporal and then transferred to 1st Australian Salvage Company with the hazardous role of recovering weapons and equipment from the battlefields for re-use. He was subsequently decorated with the Meritorious Service Medal and then suffered severe burns and gassing from being shelled with mustard gas.
    The more genuine involvement in ANZAC Day commemorations is increasing attendance at dawn services around the country. Restoring appropriate dignity to the day could be simply achieved by abolishing associated marches, which have become akin to a mardi gras (carnival) shambles. They originally involved only the surviving members of units who dressed appropriately and bore themselves in traditional military fashion.
    I offer some further thoughts.
    As you say; Australians were more homogeneous during our earlier history, particularly pre-1960s. We did then have more robust national integrity that has since become much weakened in my view.
    The preponderance of coastal defences stemmed from British thinking and their influence on colonial governance and also following federation.
    Foresighted Lee Kuan Yew astutely observed the weaknesses of Australia as viewed by regional nations. Middle East and South East Asian nations largely respect independent strength, but generally distrust countries more subject to British and American hegemonic influences.
    ‘…Our foreign affairs were still governed by the British at the time of World War I, so where would we have obtained the necessary materiel. We might have managed to produce a few small arms, and perhaps some minor artillery, but production of sufficient aircraft and combat ships would have been beyond us…’ – Doubting Thomas
    The 2 key aspects then were financial and industrial capacities and Australia having only been spawned in 1901 was in the very early throes of national development, which is why the manpower considerations of involving in WW1 and WW2 were so detrimental.
    Too complex for discussion this thread, but the financing of WW1 is fascinating reading here: https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/war_finance
    England could not possibly defend a far flung empire without heavy reliance on the manpower of the dominions and a belief that the Royal Navy ruled the seas of the world was somewhat a fallacy and later exposed with the fall of Singapore in WW2. Britain was also of course near bankrupt in 1940.
    An interesting little known aspect re Australia’s shrinking industrial capacity is shipbuilding and repair dating before federation. The shipbuilding efforts during WW2 (including 60 Corvettes) were also quite creditable for a small young nation. See these enlightenments:
    https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Foreign_Affairs_Defence_and_Trade/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/shipping/report/c03
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bathurst-class_corvette
    So-called Australian Defence Industry is now principally foreign-owned or controlled with most shipyards and aircraft manufacturing/repair facilities having been sold off to major defence manufacturing conglomerates. Australian Federal Governments seem to have an aversion to national ownership of crucial industries and infrastructure.
    Around Year 2000, John Howard set in train an overly ambitious (and unaffordable) Force 2030 military restructuring program and the ADF is now being shaped for Expeditionary Force requirements moreso than regional capabilities, thus virtually locking Australia into somewhat automatic support of US military interventions as one of 4 preferred allies.
    Being seen as a virtual 51st US State makes Australia a pariah among regional nations, to our detriment.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Bushranger, thanks for your response. I’ll read those links ASAP.

  • sbabones

    Thank you everyone for reading, and for your comments. I’m sorry that I’ve been so slow to respond. I don’t pretend to tell Australians how to honor Anzac Day. But I don’t agree with Bushranger71 that Germany and Japan posed little threat to the civilized world in World War Two. Or for that matter in World War One. I’m proud that my own country (the United States) volunteered to fight in both wars, and I applaud Australia for doing the same. I agree with Peter Rowe that we can’t fight for every cause, and that not all wars are worth fighting. But in the case of World War One (and by extension in World War Two), I’m glad that my country did fight. And I hope you will be glad that your country did, too.

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