ANZAC Day mostly celebrates the betrayal of Australian soldiers in the name of empire and colonialism, argues Wei Ling Chua.
There is nothing wrong with promoting patriotism and the bravery of the Australian soldiers. However, ANZAC Day is not the appropriate day.
To many Turkish Australians, they would wonder why Australian soldiers invaded their homeland without provocation. And to those who crawl through the history and learn about Keith Murdoch and his famous Gallipoli letter, the story of ANZAC is not about the bravery of our troops — it is about the stupidity of our politicians and the betrayal of Australia’s national interests by our government.
In the years from 1914 to 1918, 60,000 young Australian men were killed on the battlefields of Gallipoli and in northern France to protect the interests of Britain. Since then, subsequent Australian governments have continued to participate in wars against countries that pose no threat to Australia, costing the lives of another more than 40,000.
It is easy for the conservatives in this country like Susan Ley (Federal Shadow Minister) to avoid asking the question: “Why?”; and simply promote ANZAC Day as a day for patriotism and nationalism. However, for those Australians who care for the lives of the more than 100,000 Australians needlessly dying on foreign soil, and the pain and suffering of their spouses, parents, children, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends as a result of losing a loved one, the history of ANZAC should be the day for self-reflection and soul searching.
We should ask ourselves loudly: Why?
Why do our politicians have to sacrifice the lives of so many of our young men, and the happiness of their families, to engage in wars across the globe simply because the British and the Americans want us to join them? Have we followed the American and the British blindly? To what and where do our national interests lie?
Australia, a country without a soul
The Anzac Day commemoration was not as big an event in Australia until the Howard government promoted it in a nationalistic way a decade ago.
Gallipoli was a battle destined to be lost on the very first day, with more than 8,000 lives in peril in that battle alone. The battle was protracted for eight more months due to a lack of common sense — and has been commemorated since then as patriotism and bravery performed without questioning whether it’s worth the sacrifice.
Such uncritical attitude by the political elites and the media in this country led to a near defenceless Australia (between 1942 and 1943) when Japan began its bombing campaign in Darwin with almost 100 air raids. During this period, Australian troops were been dispatched overseas defending the interests of Britain, with the then UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill repeatedly refusing to let Australian troops home to defend their own turf. (Graham Freudenberg, Churchill and Australia 2008, pg. 411, 448 – 449).
We were then involved in the notorious Vietnam War, which resulted in three million deaths, including 521 Australians , before the US-led forces were defeated. Three decades later, Australia’s military commanders and the men who fought there agree, “the war was a mistake”.
The illegal invasion of Iraq, without United Nations endorsement, in 1993 has cost the lives of another million that include dozens of Australians, which again destined to be another failure. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper already unambiguously admitted in 2008 that the war was a mistake.
The unwinnable war in Afghanistan has again cost dozens of Australian lives, with many more suffering permanent injuries including mental illnesses and being forced to keep their injuries secret; war widows and a war hero have also been reportedly treated badly by the defence authorities.
The irony is, Australia’s unquestionable loyalty to the US and UK doesn’t seem to pay off.
Despite the Howard Government willingly accepting the role of the deputy sheriff of USA, with the participation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was reported by the Australian in 2009 that:
“Former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld deliberately blocked Australian access to top-secret Pentagon intelligence on Iraq and Afghanistan…”
The same kind of incident happened in 1995, while Australia helped to plant spy devices in the Chinese embassy in Canberra, the American intelligence agency who possessed the listening device refused to share the information with Australia.
There is the same mentality with the British. In the 1950s, the Australian government allowed the British government to conduct 12 nuclear tests in Australia which resulted in thousands of Australian diggers, officers and indigenous Australians to suffer from radiation poisoning. The side-effects included cancer, birth defects and immediate loss of eyesight during the nuclear tests. It was not until 1993 that the British government agreed to compensate Australia for the nuclear tests. This amounted to a miserable £20 million as final payment for both cleaning up the contamination and compensation to the victims. Again, our elites and media seem to be uncritical that such a meagre amount was offered for full and final settlement.
What and where do our national interests lie?
Today, Australia is fortunate to be located in the world’s fastest growing region: Asia. Our top trading partner is China. Through the trading with China, China provides an average Australian household A$8,300, while Australia’s cost of living has been reduced thanks to our A$5,100 per household expenditure on China made products. A 2011 IMF report noted that since 2007 China has contributed more — much more in fact — to world growth than any other country.
If common sense exists, it is not hard to visualise that the wellbeing of Australia is directly connected to China.
However, In 2009 our politicians went against the advice of our top two intelligence agencies that China posed no threat to Australia; and continue to use the term ‘China threat’ as a justification for an additional A$72 billion in military expansion over the next 20 years to acquire a full spectrum of air, sea and land arsenal of offensive, long range advanced weaponry from the US, all aiming at China.
A few months ago, the Gillard government has escalated the situation by allowing the Americans to set-up a military base in Darwin and possibly Cocos Island as well.
Such a lack of common sense approach towards a country that helps put food on our tables prompted former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer publicly urging Australia to “engage with China” instead of joining the “Americans to ‘contain’ China.”
Australia must know where its national interests lie. Technology has changed the face of war in the 20th and 21st century. The day when a few hundred men armed with rifles was able to rule, exploit and enslave an entire nation and control half the world’s resources has long gone.
If the learning of history is of any benefit to humanity, I hope that the elites in Australia will realise that the rise and fall of a civilisation is an inevitable process; the Roman Empire did not last forever, the Crusaders were unable to hold on to Jerusalem, Spain was unable to prevent the rise of Britain, and Britain was unable to prevent the independence and rise of America.
The 21st century is a century for co-operation, not confrontation. The war in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan has already proven that, the combination of the world’s richest countries and advanced military forces failed to crash the will of the weaker people they oppressed. With the help of technology, all weaponry is lethal including those that are belted around the human body.
The world has to learn to work towards similarity and accept each other’s differences. The behaviour of the crusaders and the colonial masters is no longer workable and acceptable in the 21st century. All nations should learn to trade with each other for raw materials, finished products and services in a fair and mutually beneficial way — not with bombs, missiles and economic sanctions. No single nation can solve the problem of global warming without the corporation of the others. Military aggression did not make the West any safer.
Therefore, it is time for Australia to let go of its tribal links with the US and UK. The history of ANZAC and the preventable death of more than 100,000 Australians on foreign soil are the reasons for Australia to build its own national identity. Australian politicians should learn to put Australia’s interests above all other national interests. Making ANZAC Day a Republic Day may be the entry point.
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