Some things should never be forgotten, and some things should never be forgiven. Both apply to the mass slaughter of ordinary people in World War I, including Gallipoli.
April 25 is ANZAC Day -- the day, we are told, when we remember the sacrifices of those who fought and died for the freedoms Australians enjoy today. They did this by getting sent by a foreign Great Power to go help invade a nation on the other side of the world, most of whose inhabitants never even knew what an “Australian” was until the bungled Gallipoli landing. As far as “great battles in the eternal fight for freedom” go, that was a pretty unique one.
In the name of the glorious freedom of the dying British Empire against the heinous tyranny of the even-sooner-to-die Ottoman Empire, which posed about as much threat to Australia as the Melbourne Football Club does to the 2013 AFL Premiership, thousands of young men were sacrificed on the beach front at Gallipoli.
It has never really been made clear the exact threat to Australia's freedom that required the mass slaughter of 8709 Australians (and 32,000 British soldiers, 9798 Frenchmen, 2721 New Zealanders, 1358 from India and 49 combatants from Newfoundland – a place about which I know very little except whoever founded it was pretty short on creative inspiration that day.)
And, if we are counting, 56,643 dead from the forces of the Ottoman Empire.
It's a bit hard to seriously claim that if we hadn't gone and lost at Gallipoli, we'd all be speaking Turkish, so for what, exactly, did more than 100,000 people die?
Any answer that involves the phrase “freedom” that is not immediately preceded with “certainly not for” has less connection with reality than a North Korean statement on the reach of their missiles.
It was over territory, resources and markets for the competing powers.
If we are going to remember sacrifices for our freedom, we could, I suppose, recall the sacrifice of those who actually stood against the bloodshed. Those like the “Sydney 12”; a dozen members of the anti-war Industrial Workers of the World who were sentenced to between five and 15 years for “treason” and “sedition” over trumped-up allegations — really for the IWW's role in opposing the introduction of conscription so that working class men could be sent against their wishes to be butchered in Europe.
We could also recall Tom Barker, the editor of IWW paper Direct Action, who was fined multiple times and finally sentenced to 12 months in jail for publishing cartoons against the war, like the one that declared: “TO ARMS — Capitalists, Parsons, Politicians, Landlords, Newspaper Editors and other Stay-At-Home Patriots — YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU IN THE TRENCHES! WORKERS! FOLLOW YOUR MASTERS!”
Because, as we all know, allowing freedom of the press is an absolute no no when you are fighting for freedom. If there is one thing totally incompatible with freedom it is freedom.
We could remember those who led the successful mass campaign to defeat the Labor government's 1916 referendum to introduce conscription. Those campaigners saved the lives of countless thousands of young men who may otherwise have been shipped off against their will to be killed so British financiers and industrialists could strengthen their hand versus their European competitors.
And, yet, if we don't pretend the brutal slaughter of young men at Gallipoli was for “our freedoms”, we are told we are disrespecting the fallen, while those truly honouring the dead are the ones who support sending the modern “diggers” to the other side of the world to kill and die in another futile war for another fading Great Power.
That is how you honour the dead. By creating more dead. You could not possibly honour the sacrifice of all those lives at Gallipoli with anything less than another horrific campaign of mass murder. It is about respect.
We should never forget those who die in wars. And we should never, ever forgive those that lead them to their slaughter — in 1915 or 2013.
'How well I remember that terrible day when our blood stained the sand and the water. And how in that Hell that they called Sulva Bay, we were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.'
'Death hung in the smoke and clung to four hundred acres of useless beachfront.'
'If I was asked I'd tell the color of the earth that day. It was dull and browny red. The color of blood, I'd say.'
'Political scum, political scum, you lead the way and you beat the drum.'