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The Forum > Article Comments > Australia and WWI: proportion or propaganda > Comments

Australia and WWI: proportion or propaganda : Comments

By Bruce Haigh, published 5/11/2014

With a limited knowledge of Australian history Abbott was prepared to trot out the hoary old chestnuts that Australian sacrifice at Gallipoli and on the Western Front shaped the future of the nation.

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Although Bruce Haig gets some things right, his slanted hard-left views make his commentary too distorted to be of much benefit.. Note his frequent reference to "right wing" historians which, I suspect, means everyone but him.. you'll note he carefully leaves out the per-capita and per active combatant death toll.
And there was this howler "No nation was ever built as a result of war." But what about the American Revolutionary war, and the Greek and Italian wars of independence, just for starters?
Anzac day and Rememberence day should be seen as commemorating Australia coming out as a nation - rather than nation building as such.. a focus.
Posted by Curmudgeon, Wednesday, 5 November 2014 9:18:09 AM
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"No nation was ever built as a result of war," says Bruce.

Someone should tell the Yanks this. They appear to think that war waged right across the world will eventually bring them the trophy of world domination.

What it will bring them is desolation and death on a scale beyond human comprehension.
Posted by David G, Wednesday, 5 November 2014 10:31:34 AM
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That Abbott's and broader Australian feelings on ANZAC and Remembrance don't tick the boxes of Bruce Haigh's shallow leftwing trendiness is Haigh's own personal problem.

The main reason for the deaths of Australians in World War One (most on the Western Front) was in the struggle to stop the Germans dominating Europe. It came very close. The Allies, which included Australians, almost lost.

The German authorities were unkind to the parts of Europe they invaded then occupied:

Germany invaded neutral Belgium on 4 August 1914. From the next day, civilians were executed en masse. To retaliate for the shelling from the Belgian forts at Liège, the German troops rounded up inhabitants of surrounding villages. Victims were selected and shot, those still alive being killed off with bayonets.

By 8 August 1914, nearly 850 civilians were dead. By then, several of the dynamics of this particular type of violence had fully emerged. First, the massacres occurred where the invading army suffered setbacks; the German military did not consider Belgium’s military defence to be legitimate.

Second, the victims were accused, incorrectly, of being civilian snipers (terrorists). Most of the German rank and file genuinely believed that the locals were attacking them; this sniper delusion was sometimes countered by the commanding officers, sometimes not.

Third, there were women, children and old men among the victims but the vast majority were men of military age. These were more likely to be suspected of sniping; moreover, the invading troops resented them for still enjoying the civilian life that they themselves had so recently been torn from.

Fourth, and last, the massacres went together with rituals designed to show civilians how helpless they were. People were made to cheer the troops; local dignitaries (mayors, priests) were publicly mistreated, in some cases killed. -

I don't think Bruce Haigh has yet thought why our troops really fought and died.

Posted by plantagenet, Wednesday, 5 November 2014 12:02:05 PM
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Have to agree with Curmudgeon; given I lost thirteen blood relatives in WW1.
I hardly think they died in vain, but to protect those folk at home that meant the world to them.
And but for the sacrifice of many, but particularly the yanks and particularly in/during the battle of the coral sea, we would now be speaking German or Japanese, and from an occupied place as barely tolerated tenants/slave labor.
There's this story about a new chum arriving at Gallipoli, at the height of the conflict; with high powered rounds continually cracking overhead, and shell fire concussion fairly making the knee deep feces and urine covered ground beneath his feet repeatedly quake; remarked, "this must be what hell is like"!
To which one of the more seasoned veterans remarked, "yes, but at least there's no flamin' flies".
It wasn't just combatants killed, but unarmed merchant navy men as well; and those civilian noncombatants bombed out of existence, if not house and home.
Of the two world wars referenced, there were absolutely no winners, just losers!
Even so, we must maintain eternal vigilance, and be prepared to don the khaki/send young men and women into harms way again, to protect the innocent from yet another pogrom or genocide; or eliminate a madman, before he does what Hitler did, and forces the whole world into another world war.
I would discourage intending Isil volunteers, by locking them in an ensuited room for up to 24 weeks, and forced listen to the endless audio of a young gut shot solider pleading for mercy, his mum, and somebody, anybody, to put a bullet in his head, to end his unendurable pain, and or hasten his inevitable end!
Or allowed to doze off, only to be ripped awake, again and again, night after night, by the sound of gunfire or high explosives!
And if continued long enough, enough to drive many of them mad, via endless sleep deprivation!
If it's daring do fun and electrifying explosive adventure you want, we've got it in spades! How much do you want?
Posted by Rhrosty, Wednesday, 5 November 2014 12:28:26 PM
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Bruce, to be fair to Tony Abbott, WWI did shape the nation of Australia. The sheer scale of the proportion of men who shipped off for service and those killed and wounded meant Australia would never be the same again. This wasn't perhaps the shaping that Tony Abbott might have been referring to, but unless you can read his mind better than I can.

It also changed internal attitudes in Australia from the UK being 'home' (as if Australia was a foreign land) to Australia being its own country with its own destiny.

As for WWI being unnecessary, that is a hard point to argue. It was probably unnecessary for Australia to be involved so early, but guessing the outcome had different decisions been made is impossible. It is almost certain a war based on the Balkans would occur sooner or later. The continuing weakness of the Ottoman Empire, the jostling of the European powers for influence was always going to lead to conflict. The big surprise to everyone involved was how far reaching and long the conflict was. This should have been no surprise really given the defensive treaties that were in place.

I also think you have been hard on Charles Bean. He was a man of his times and his prejudices influenced what he wrote and how much detail. Just as your prejudices influence your writing.

And lastly, it was the peace that was extracted at the end of WWI that led to the rise of Nazi Germany, not the factors that started the war. If the outcome of the war had been different, perhaps it would have been the rise of Nazi Britain that started WWII.
Posted by Agronomist, Wednesday, 5 November 2014 12:42:18 PM
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Bruce, once again you have raised some important issues, although inevitably the comments reflect the prejudices of the readers such as Curmudgeon who sees everything as a "hard left" plot or Plantagenet who fancies his views regardless of the evidence.

You will read a lot of propaganda about WW1, the "making" of Australian nationhood and other popular myths ad nauseum over the next few years. Few if any writers will actually acquaint themselves with modern scholarship. Myths after all, are much more comfortable. It is of course a phenomenon not confined to WW1. Where are the statues to Marshall Zhukov for example who did more to win WW2 than Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery and others that fill volumes of western history than all of them combined.

As long ago as 1998 Niall Ferguson in The Pity of War said that "the war was not inevitable, but rather the mistaken decisions of individuals who would later claim to have been in the grip of impersonal forces."

Posted by James O'Neill, Wednesday, 5 November 2014 12:42:24 PM
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