Gallipoli centenary inspires peace campaign

October 31, 2014
The Gallipoli centenary peace campaign is critical towards the Anzac legend.

The Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign (GCPC) was formed in mid-February at a meeting of the Marrickville Peace Group, Marrickville Residents for Reconciliation (now part of ANTaR Inner West), Pax Christi and the Marrickville Greens. Since then a number of local individuals have also participated in the coalition’s meetings and events.

The incentive for the coalition’s formation was the impending Anzac centenary. The official website of the centenary asserts that World War I, especially the Gallipoli campaign, helped to "‘define us as people and as a nation" and it encourages "all Australians to reflect upon and learn more about Australia’s military history, its costs and its impacts on our nation".

As a coalition, GCPC contains a variety of perspectives on the Anzac centenary program, Australia’s military history and the prevention of war in the future. While all parties within GCPC recognise the legitimacy of remembering those who died or were wounded while serving their country in war, they also share a critical stance towards the Anzac legend and the shadow it casts over commemoration, our history and our ability to truly reflect upon Australia’s military engagements, their costs and their impacts.

Indeed all parties within GCPC share the view that the Anzac legend, especially in more recent times, has served to distort genuine commemoration, historical inquiry and public discourse on the causes of war and its devastating impacts and consequences. In our opinion, official government claims that WWI helped "define us as people and as a nation" is evidence of this, as is the incongruity between promoting such a historical myth and the goal of learning more about our military history and its impacts during the centenary commemorations.

Sources of Inspiration

The formation of GCPC was in part inspired by the release of two publications: Joan Beaumont’s Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War and James Brown’s Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of our National Obsession.

Broken Nation emphasises the destructive impact of WWI on Australian society, and reveals the true extent of the obscene slaughter produced by industrialised warfare, as well as the bitter social divisions the war created at home.
Anzac’s Long Shadow condemns the national obsession with Anzac, along with the excessive amount of money being lavished on the centenary program. Brown estimates that the “celebrations” are likely to cost $325 million with a further $300 million to be raised from corporate donations. For Brown, Australians are "embarking on a discordant, lengthy and exorbitant four-year festival of the dead".

Other sources of inspiration underpinning GCPC’s formation included organisations such as Honest History, Medical Association for the Prevention of War, Melbourne’s Anzac Centenary Peace Coalition and the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network. All of these groups have articulated alternative narratives to the official version of Australia’s war experiences and history.

Program of Activities

GCPC’s Mission Statement and program of activities was the product of these critical voices, combined with the perspectives that the four groups brought to the coalition.

The following program has been devised to counter the official commemoration:

— Anzac Legend: Exposing the falsehoods of the Anzac legend and resisting the militarisation of Australian history.

— Public forum: In conjunction with the official launch of GCPC, a successful public forum was held on August 5 featuring Prof Joan Beaumont who spoke on the topic "Anzac – Why does it last?".

— Peace and Reconciliation Park: GCPC has gained the support of Marrickville Council to explore community support for establishing a local Peace and Reconciliation Park at Richardson’s Lookout. Apart from highlighting the Indigenous, settler and military heritage of the precinct, GCPC is also calling for the frontier wars to be recognised in any signage installed in the proposed park.

— Education Project: Distributing a set of lesson plans and other resources to local high schools designed to encourage students to think critically about Gallipoli, WWI and the devastating and enduring effects of war.

— Historical Research: Encouraging historical research and a greater appreciation of dissenting voices during WWI and the war’s divisive and debilitating impacts on local communities.

— Veterans’ Welfare Project: Supporting veterans by advocating improved welfare services from government agencies and more adequate and accountable support services and financial contributions from the RSL.

— Public Debate: Marrickville Council has agreed to co-host a public debate on April 21 next year, in the Petersham Town Hall on the topic "The Anzac legend, political agendas and legitimising war".

Currently GCPC is promoting the educational resource ‘The Enduring Effects of War’, a set of lesson plans prepared by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War in partnership with Act for Peace and the History Teachers Association (Victoria). This resource is compatible with the National History Curriculum and is designed primarily for Years 9 and 10. GCPC is also conducting a survey of 101 high schools in Sydney about the potential use of this resource by history teachers.

[For more information, visit the website and Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign on Facebook. Read the text of Joan Beaumont’s speech on the Anzac legend.]

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