Thursday 19th of May 2022



The first Anzacs challenged the reasons for war, so the federal education minister’s insistence that Anzac Day cannot be ‘contested’ at school is political pantomime.

On Remembrance Day we will pause and offer some act of respect. And then we may think critically about war. We may ask how and why we get into war, and what exactly we fight for?

But not Alan Tudge, federal Minister for Education. He has been fuming at curriculum planners who have listed Anzac Day among historical subjects that can be “contested” in the classroom. Tudge has insisted that Anzac Day is “not contested”.

No surprises here. Over recent decades, conservative politicians have repeatedly claimed a special affinity with Anzac. It is political pantomime, a chance to smear opponents — and a fabulous incongruity. After all, the first Anzacs were overwhelmingly from the working class. For example, Lieutenant Arthur Lean, of the 35th Battalion, wrote to his parents in April 1917 describing those AIF soldiers training with him in England as “jacks of all trades and 90 per cent of them are supporters of Labor”. (Quoted by J. Mahony, The Digger’s View)

Speaking on Between the Lines on ABC Radio National on October 28, Tudge argued that children exposed to “negative” history about Australia would be “less willing to defend our democracy”. He praised the previous generations who “really did defend our democracy, particularly those great generations that went through World War I and World War II, and 100,000 people died for this cause”.

He whirled the nationalist bullroarer. “But you know, in the scheme of things, Australia today is perhaps the most wealthy, free, egalitarian, and tolerant society that has ever existed anywhere in the history of the world… Why shouldn’t students understand that?”

He conceded that in history “things can be challenged and debated”. But certain things are incontestable. “In relation to Anzac Day itself though, that is the most sacred day in the Australian calendar, and 99 per cent of Australians understand it. It’s why hundreds of thousands go to the dawn services on Anzac Day, and quite rightly stop and recognise those people who have served and died for our nation. It’s not contested that those people fought for our nation, died for our nation, died for the very values which we have been discussing, in terms of freedom and democracy, and showed tremendous courage and commitment and sacrifice. That’s what’s not contested… I think mainstream Australians understand exactly what it is.”

Therefore, according to the minister, historical inquiry should stop short of interrogating Anzac Day, because it is “sacred” and “not contested” by “mainstream Australians”. He would not tolerate “left activists” who sought to “pick it apart”.

Let us contrast the supposedly incontestable with the factually incontrovertible — in the sense that certain facts are there in the documents.

For example, on Monday, August 3, 1914, a rump of prime minister Joseph Cook’s Cabinet authorised a cable to London. It promised an expeditionary force of 20,000 men, “to any destination desired by the Home Government. Force to be at complete disposal of Home Government”. This was some 40 hours in real time before Britain declared war on Germany. Should students consider whether this was a reckless act that set our forces on the path to disaster at Gallipoli?

Similarly, when the Gallipoli campaign was being prepared, the key war aim was identified in a secret diplomatic deal between Britain, France, and Russia, known as the Straits and Persia Agreement of March 1915: Constantinople and the Straits were to be conquered — and then given to Russia in order to keep the Tsar in the war. At the same time, British diplomats sought to bribe Italy into joining the war by dangling before Rome a great carve-up of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian territory under the secret Treaty of London. It was signed on April 26, 1915. Should students consider whether it was right that neither the Australian government nor Australian troops learned of these diplomatic deals underpinning the campaign?

What of the first Anzacs themselves? Gallipoli was the product of first lord of the admiralty Winston Churchill’s planning and foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey’s diplomacy. It was Charles Bean, not a “left activist”, who jotted down in his Gallipoli diary on September 25, 1915: “Ye Gods, did ever the nation have a bigger pair of blunderers at its head than Winston Churchill and Edward Grey.” Next day, he wrote of his desire to tell “the true side of war”. But if he was to do so, he lamented, “the tender Australian public, which only tolerates flattery, and that in its cheapest form, would howl me out of existence”.

In oral history interviews with the first Anzacs, many at the Australian War Memorial and the Australians at War Film Archive at UNSW, veterans can be heard explaining their support for Anzac Day, such as Jesse Palmer who believed it “a special occasion” to show that “those who have gone before had to fight”.

But others were indifferent. For example, Eric Abraham did not march on any Anzac Day until 1995 because “I don’t like being gawked at”. Fred Kelly explained that “I never joined the RSL and never attended any marches… I can’t be bothered with those kinds of things”. Allen McKay told his interviewer that “I’d go to the races on Anzac Day” because “it didn’t appeal to me”.

Some were critical. Jack Lockett told his interviewer: “I think it’s overdone, you see, now. Well, you see these young girls, see they’ve got children all in it, and all that now, which I suppose it’s nice for them to walk in it. I wouldn’t want to deprive them. But I’ve got the opinion it’s for the fallen, isn’t it?”

Frank McDonald explained that he didn’t join the RSL or go on marches for decades because “I didn’t want any more to do with it”. He added: “Personally I think it’s a mistake to hold any celebration of Anzac; for a start-off it was a bad defeat.” Ern Morton explained that, at first, he never missed Anzac Day, joining the march “to meet my old cobbers”. But later he came to feel ‘it’s a lot of war propaganda. I’d have nothing at all to do with it”.

Some of the first Anzacs certainly challenged their war dramatically. The 23,000 courts-martial in the AIF, mostly of soldiers accused of absence without leave or desertion, attest to this. At his third-court martial in September 1917, Private Edward James Ryan (about whom I have just written a book) outlined his principled political objections to the long war. He raged against the callous politicians who “gambled with human lives” and turned the war into “one of aggression”. It had become a “war of glory and patriotic land-grabbing by conquerors”.

Captain Hugo Throssell, VC, one of Tudge’s despised “left activists”, denounced the war at a public event in July 1919: “While it is possible for unscrupulous men, profiteers, and manufacturers of war materials to profit by war, we will always have wars.” (Quoted by J. Hamilton, The Price of Valour, p. 290).

Back to Lieutenant Arthur Lean. He told his parents in April 1917 that the Anzac soldiers in his unit quarrelled incessantly about the war. “They argue most heatedly on every subject, and Billy Hughes gets a fair share of it.”

If the first Anzacs themselves debated and challenged war, and even Anzac Day, why on earth should young Australians not be permitted to do so?


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The sacrifice of the soldiers may not be contestable, but the reasons for war definitely are...


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when a date cannot be changed ...


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stop the drums...


As the commonwealth stops for a minute’s silence on Thursday to remember its military personnel killed in the line of duty, beware any politician who gauchely evokes the memory of war dead with allusions to the beating drums of another supposedly imminent conflict.

You don’t need astounding powers of political insight to pick up on the none-too-subtle hawkishness that has imbued federal government rhetoric this year as tensions heighten between China and Taiwan.


Indeed, one of the most notable of the many times that the new-ish tough-guy defence minister Peter Dutton has raised a possible war with China involving Australia came last Anzac Day, when he said a war between China and Taiwan “should not be discounted”. Never one to overlook an upward-management opportunity, Mike Pezzullo, the secretary of Dutton’s prior department, home affairs, weighed in with a quaint Anzac observance of his own – The Longing for Peace, the Curse of War – in which, without referring to China, he lamented melancholically how “we” (royal we?) may yet have “to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight the nation’s wars”.

Listening, peaceniks? The drums of war were beating, he said, so let us “continue to search unceasingly for the chance for peace while bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war”.


Feeling braced? Since then the possibility of war with China has been ever more feverishly talked up by hawkish Australian conservatives and their would-be armchair generals.

Scarcely a day or week passes without reference to the possibility/likelihood of conflict in the Taiwan Strait, even though the strategic circumstances do not necessarily point to its imminence.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, having visited Taiwan as a private though prominent Australian citizen, talked up the possibility of war there while insisting Australia (and the US) could not stand by in this eventuality.

“So if the ‘drums of war’ can be heard in our region, as an official of ours has noted, it’s not Australia that’s beating them,” Abbott said last month.

There they are again. The drums. Listen. It’s all a bit circular really.

A little over a week ago, Liberal senator Eric Abetz, the chairman of the Senate’s foreign affairs committee, got in on the war talk, saying Australia would be duty-bound to help defend Taiwan in any war with China.

Last week, as Scott Morrison returned from perhaps the most shambolic Australian prime ministerial trip in living memory (during which in response to the French president’s labelling him a liarprivate communications were leaked that only seemed to rather bolster the French claim they were taken by surprise), wingman Dutton invoked “the great uncertainty with China in our region” as to why France should “put aside [any] hurt” over the way Australia deceived Paris on a submarine contract.

Look out for more drums of war talk on Thursday, of politicians – you know, those who send young (mostly) men to die in their wars – invoking the “sacrifice” of the battle-maimed and dead to justify contemporary strategic decisions and even new defence acquisitions. They’ve always done it.

The memory of the war dead – many of whom might consider their own deaths to have been in vain – deserves more. War commemoration should involve quiet contemplation of the human impact of war, although politicians will always attempt to use it to their advantage, spouting various permeations of drivel, whether by linking national birth or some sort of sacredness to mass battlefield death.


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and don't forget...

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Shakespeare – Henry V, Act IV, scene iii

Today marks the hundred and third anniversary of the ending of World War One. That wasn’t its name at the time though. Since it had been billed as “the war to end all wars”, those dictating the terms of the Armistice – signed at 05:15 on 11/11/1918 in the Rethondes Clearing of France’s Compiègne Forest to take effect at 11 am – were already calling it the Great War. But as we know, a Greater War Yet would break out not twenty-one years later.



By Philip Roddis



Forty million people, only half of them in uniform, “gave” their lives in WW1. Its horrors – those of Flanders the most vividly conveyed, though there were other theatres – have been related in countless tomes. On the fiction front, may I recommend Sebastian Falks’s Birdsong?

But “the war to end all wars” was not the only lie. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had promised those who made it back “a land fit for heroes”. (Only the most ferocious had been redirected to Russia, to join the elite killers of thirteen other nations fighting alongside White Cossacks to crush the Red Threat to God and King.) 

Instead they returned to lock-out and lay-off. Some, criminal elements from the slums of the north east, signed up with the Black & Tans, sent to terrorise an Ireland yearning for freedom after centuries of British occupation.

My point being that Henry’s imagined words to an English force outnumbered by five to one at Agincourt – and Lloyd George’s to men returning traumatised if not broken beyond repair from carnage now industrialised – form part of a wider pattern.

The wars of those who rule powerful states are always justified in the name of high ideals, and always prosecuted for baser reasons. From this deeper truth, lies – that the veterans of Henry’s land and glory grab would forever be honoured … that the survivors of the first global imperialist war for profits would know lifelong prosperity – follow as night on day.

I won’t be wearing a red poppy this year. I haven’t for decades. You might catch me with a white one, if I get lucky. They aren’t easy to find. I’ve twice visited Beeston Methodist Church, having been told this is the only place for miles around selling them – and twice failed to gain entry.

(Let no man call me, approaching Year Ten of my own epic war with Sheffield Hallam – in which another significant ruling in my favour was handed down just yesterday* – a quitter. No, and no woman either. You see if I’m not at that church door tomorrow and tomorrow for my little white emblem of defiance!)

Meanwhile, in three days’ time, my country’s Establishment – from fourth estate to Westminster Abbey – will lead the annual orgy of sentimentalised hypocrisy we call Remembrance Sunday.

As they do so the bombs will continue to rain on impoverished, brown-skinned men, women and children in Yemen. Each bomb will chalk up a profit for those with shares in Britain’s high-tech and highly lucrative death sectors.

I can’t run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
Leonard Cohen

Elsewhere, in the South China Sea, those stationed on the warships of Australia, Britain, Canada and the USA – probably not France, recently stiffed on that nuclear subs deal – will stand on deck in sombre silence as the mandatory pieties are intoned. Then they’ll go back to patrolling the Taiwan Strait in the name of Standing Up To Beijing Bullying.

(If you don’t deem that provocative, and recklessly so, you might for a second imagine Chinese and Russian warships, some of them nuclear armed, doing similar in the Gulf of Mexico.)

So for me it’s a white poppy or none. But let me leave you with one who, though no soldier, has seen more war than many an enlisted man. Or woman. Here’s John Pilger, eleven months ago – that number keeps coming up – on the subject.




Britain’s Armed Services Memorial is a silent, haunting place. Set in the rural beauty of Staffordshire, in an arboretum of some 30,000 trees and sweeping lawns, its Homeric figures celebrate determination and sacrifice.

The names of more than 16,000 British servicemen and women are listed. The literature says they “died in operational theatre or were targeted by terrorists”.

On the day I was there, a stonemason was adding new names to those who have died in some 50 operations across the world during what is known as “peacetime”. Malaya, Ireland, Kenya, Hong Kong, Libya, Iraq, Palestine and many more, including secret operations, such as Indochina.

Not a year has passed since peace was declared in 1945 that Britain has not sent military forces to fight the wars of empire.

Not a year has passed when countries, mostly poor and riven by conflict, have not bought or have been “soft loaned” British arms to further the wars, or “interests”, of empire.

What empire? Investigative journalist Phil Miller recently revealed in Declassified that Boris Johnson’s Britain maintained 145 military sites – call them bases — in 42 countries. Johnson has boasted that Britain is to be “the foremost naval power in Europe”.

In the midst of the greatest health emergency in modern times …

You can read the full piece here.


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aussie daze...

COVID has forced what has been the largest anti-Australia Day protest off the streets as a new poll reveals public sentiment to change the date is gaining widespread support, especially among the young.

Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, described as “a collective … committed to the cause of decolonisation”, has announced it won’t protesting, the first time since 2015 the group hasn’t taken to the streets of Melbourne.

“We want to be on the street fighting for our people but the time isn’t now,” the organisation said, directing people to an online event instead.


Australia Day, celebrated on January 26, marks the date the First Fleet raised a Union Jack at Sydney Cove, called Warrane by the Aboriginal people who fished and lived there.

Close to 234 years later, the date and holiday remain an ongoing source of contention that increasingly divides generations.

CoreData surveyed 1292 people and found “a generational and gender divide among Australians over the significance of the day and its position in the calendar”.

The research consultancy asked whether people planned to celebrate, whether they supported moving the holiday to another date and how their opinions had changed in recent years.

Overall, 54 per cent of respondents said they planned to mark the occasion, with 30 per cent saying they would be celebrating the history and achievements of Australia and 15 per cent “just because it was a public holiday”.

The young disagree

More than two-thirds of respondents aged 26 and under say they won’t be celebrating on January 26, with just over 30 per cent saying they will.

But more than 80 per cent of them support moving the date for the sake of improving relations with the Indigenous population, as do more than 70 per cent of those aged 27 to 41.

Support for change dropped among older respondents, with just over 30 per cent of those 56 to 75 and 25 per cent of those older supporting a change in date.


Opinions were more evenly split among 42- to 55-year-olds but the majority still supported keeping the holiday on its current date.

There were also less significant discrepancies in gender.

Men were less likely to support changing the date or having a holiday to reflect on Australian and Aboriginal history than women and were more likely to celebrate Australia Day.

CoreData says “the political overtones” attached to the day and its meaning have “given younger Australians pause to think”.

About 40 per cent of the youngest surveyed group and 30 per cent of the next oldest category said their opinions had changed in recent years “due to their perceptions of the political meaning of the day”.

In contrast, fewer than 10 per cent of the two oldest categories have adjusted their view.



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