GREG HAMILTON. Dying for nothing, a-la-Australienne.

According to the oldest surviving veteran of The Great War, Sgt Ted Smout, dead at 106, our war dead died in vain. In his words, ‘they died for nothing’. He must have known something most of us don’t know for him to make such a terrible claim. What could he possibly have known?

That’s the first question I ask and respond to here. The second is: How many Australians believe that our war dead and survivors would want the perfunctory “memorial” ritual we trot out every year? They’d rather see Anzac Day as a Day-To-Remember what they died for, instead of the vacuous ritual we repeat so slavishly, apparently indifferent to whether their sacrifice was in vain or not. Was it in vain? A memorial service relies on us being sure of what we’re doing and why.

Those sacrificed were seen as British cannon fodder employed in the least-winnable battles. Hence our army suffered more deaths, and more hospitalization for wounds, illness and injury than any of the armies of Britain, Germany, France, Canada or the United States. More than half of the Australian soldiers who returned were discharged medically unfit. Of those not discharged that way, sixty percent applied for pension help. Four out of five returned men were disabled in some way. Despite that, Britain didn’t want us at the table during the Versailles Peace Conference. In their eyes, we’d served our purpose. We were only a colony, not a nation in our own right.  Most Australians don’t know that today.

The onus is on every true Australian who cares about the Anzacs to know the truth. When their government sends off such a massive contingent of its finest sons like Ted Smout to a bloodbath in which they’ll find they died for nothing, they have grounds for a revolt at home; a revolution no less violent and bloody than the war these men were ordered to engage in without knowing how and why it happened. Are we to believe the soldier who bore the dreadful cost of the butchery, or the heartless and mindless idiots who directed it; those who watched from a safe distance at home and finally denied them the independence and national sovereignty they’d won for themselves and all Australians?

Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery called the Australian John Monash the ablest general of the Great War. Monash respected his men, saying of them that they had the greatest spirit of all; a spirt that’s part of our Australian nature. It flowered at Tobruk, Kokoda, Long Tan and elsewhere where small Anzac forces defeated large out of sheer guts and resolve. Monash urged us not to stow that spirit away only to be used in foreign wars. We need it every day of our lives, fighting our own battles here at home—socio-political battles the public generally loses. Gallant men like Ted Smout gave birth to what we thanklessly and wrongly call a nation. The part they played is on the public record; the nation they fought for still isn’t. Their government—the men who sent them to their deaths—made secret their decision to reduce their sacrifice to nothing. Where our troops showed physical and moral courage, their government and Crown Ministers and parliamentarians at home showed nothing but moral cowardice.

At that infamous Versailles Peace Conference that spawned Nazism, Prime Minister Billy Hughes fought the British king and prime minister for, and won—on the behalf of our war dead, on 28 June 1919—independence and sovereignty as a nation. He won an end to the Constitution of Australia (1900) as a colony of Great Britain—the one we still use today! That, Ted Smout and your brave comrades, is fighting and dying for something! On his return to Australia, Hughes’ efforts to make the necessary new Constitution for a free Australia were blocked in the Parliament by the arch Anglophile and Australian-born Viscount Stanley Bruce. He replaced the brave Hughes as Prime Minister to lead the most treasonous federal government in our shameful history—a fact supported by war historian Charles Bean.

Hughes was forced to withdraw the Independence Bill from Parliament to let sleeping dogs lie. Legal status as a British colony remained in place. Hughes insisted: ‘our soldiers earned that national status for us,’ and had to watch Parliament throw away what other countries historically have to wage war to acquire. On Anzac Day, we can either continue celebrating that failure as a nation, or we can match the valour our war dead showed on the field of battle by reclaiming what they’d won for us. Looking down on us today, their hearts would be filled with disgust for us all. They’d want to know why we abandoned the egalitarian Australian values they lived and died to preserve.

Our shame is that we maintain the tradition set by those who betrayed this nation in the post-Great War decades; people who revered masters who saw our soldiers as social inferiors and wartime cannon fodder. Their counterparts in charge today in Canberra are no less committed to colonial servitude than they were. We’re still not a legal or independent nation. We can go on in that shameful way, or we can choose to show moral courage to match the physical courage of the sacrificed Anzacs. Our leaders have repeatedly shown they’re not up to it. Are we, the people who are really in charge, up to it? That question, and our answer to it, is all this sacred day was ever about—all it can ever be about. The concept of cowards celebrating courage in others adds one more layer of shame to Australia and Australians.

Greg Hamilton is a former architect and academic, now a novelist, social critic and advocate for a new Australian Constitution. 


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10 Responses to GREG HAMILTON. Dying for nothing, a-la-Australienne.

  1. Gerry O'Reilly says:

    Sadly, Sgt. Ted Smout is correct. Histories of WWI give very few sentences to the December 1916, offer of peace talks sent via neutral embassies by the Austrians and Germans. The offer was not accepted and we can wonder if Billy Hughes was even consulted. That rejection of the peace feelers gets scant treatment by historians but may be one of the more momentous decisions of the last century.

  2. John Tulloh says:

    The statistics of those who survived WW1 and returned home are as shocking as the battlefield casualties. The fact that more than half the survivors who went off to war as fit young men should be deemed medically unfit on their return should be imprinted on every war memorial along with the names of the fallen. Lest we forget them as well.

  3. Jean Curthoys says:

    Because I detest the atmosphere of Anzac Day, and because I fully support an Australian republic, I’m cautious about much of what is written here.

    First, I’d be wary of making ‘brave’ Billy Hughes a hero of the Republican movement. This is the Billy Hughes who twice tried to conscript young Australian males to fight for Britain to ‘the last man and the last shilling’ (his phrase, though spoken by Fisher); the Billy Hughes whose idea of sovereign independence within the British Empire was limited to Australia and Canada and whose (in)famous achievement at Versailles was to effectively bring down Japan’s proposed Racial Equality Clause.

    More seriously, I would be outright opposed to a Republican movement which appropriated the Anzac Legend for its own purposes. We don’t know what the brave and not-so-brave Anzacs really wanted. We do know that a lot of them just didn’t want to talk about it. Dead soldiers shouldn’t be anyone’s political fodder.

  4. David Verrall says:

    Anzac remembers the Australians dead in the Iraq 2003-today war, doesn’t it? Why do we remember war dead? The mythology has it their deaths are for a righteous noble cause, not unlike the Jesus story, “Died symbolically for us”. How is war is any longer a valiant assertion against injustices? The Weapons of Mass Destruction (2003)was a lie, still using Australian personnel killing Iraqi’s today. What is that war about? The Anzac cry “War is bad for all” means for modern democracies, we don’t leave marks by ignoring “Unworthy victims”. For example Iraq has 1.5 million plus civilians dead since 2003, and Australia has their blood in our Anzac prayers. That’s what the lie tells us on Anzac Day, that we regret those deaths, but no, only ‘Worthy aggressors’, distinguishing them from victims labeled Enemy.. The enemy does not qualify because …hold on there where no weapons of mass destruction… none the less they are the enemy. Stop talking about Anzac Day and it will disappear. Remembrance of all dead is not allowed in our memories. Don’t mention the war.

  5. Goudron Mec says:

    The record needs to be set straight as it is not correct the way Hamilton presents it. There are a range of statistics for war dead presented and taking all sources here are the facts.

    Leaving aside the comparative stats for Germany, France et al that Hamilton cites (unsourced) and looking at that of Australia and the UK we find this. Australian dead (KIA/MIA) was 59, 330 to 62, 149 out of a mobilisation of 412, 953 [this includes the Aust War Memorial stats] giving 14.4% – 15.o% KIA/MIA as % of mobilisation.

    Comparatively the UK dead numbered 744, 00 to 887, 858 out of a mobilisation of 5,704, 416 giving 13.0% to 15.6%.

    As a percentage of population as of 1915 the percentage for Australia of KIA/MIA was 1.19% to 1.24% and 1.91% to 2.23% for the UK. There were more Australian wounded by an order of 7%.

    I found it disgraceful that Hamilton casts a slur on the war dead of the UK especially in a bid to promulgate his Anglophobe bias that he has also shown in previous articles.


    • Laurie Mayne says:

      My guess, Goudron, is that you’re a Pom. It comes through loud and clear, and a biased Pom at that. My other guess is that you’re quite happy with a British Act of Parliament that keeps us a colony of Great Britain.
      Forget about the body count of each warring nation in WW1 and respond to Hamilton’s claim that we can’t be a proper legal nation–independent and sovereign–until we get rid of the present Constitution that Britain refuses to repeal. It gives all power to the British Monarch–a power she doesn’t have in her own country, for God’s sake. Talk about that to Hamilton and give us all a break with your pro-Pom bias. This isn’t about Britain. This is about our country and the way WE manage our affaires–if permitted.

  6. Richard Ure says:

    We are a deluded, sycophantic, brain washed mob incapable in independent thought.

    Canberra says “salute” and year after year that is what we mindlessly do pending marching off to the next invitation to engage in some foreign adventure.

  7. John O'Callaghan says:

    Thanks for a bloody good article,and you echo my own sentiments almost to a tee!

  8. mark elliott says:

    if you combine this with richard flanagan’s speech, and article, you have a fair account of what really happened to australia. the fact that australians voted in their masses for menzies howard et al speaks volumes for that great bronzed more thing that needs looking into that speaks volumes about us is the white feathers that were sent anonymously to young men in aus,and the collaboration of young women with yank service men during the wars.the price-a pair of nylons.the sending of the white feathers especially ranks in my mind as crime against humanity

  9. You are on the right track Greg. Well spoken.

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