John Menadue. The ANZAC Myth.

The four-year and well-funded carnival celebrating Anzac and WWI is now rolling. The carnival will depict WWI as the starting point of our nation, as our coming of age!

It was nothing of the sort. It was a sign of our international immaturity and dependence on others. What was glorious about involving ourselves in the hatreds and rivalry of European powers that had wrought such carnage in Europe over centuries? Many of our forebears came to Australia to get away from this. But conservatives, our war historians and colonel blimps chose deliberately to draw us back to the stupidities and hatreds of Europe.

It seems that the greater the political and military stupidity of wars that we have been involved in, the more we are encouraged to  hide behind the valour of our service people at Gallipoli, the Western Front and elsewhere.. The ‘leadership’ of Winston Churchill and General Ian Hamilton were catastrophic both for the British and for us. Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli were commanded by a British General. No hiding behind the sacrifice of troops can avoid the facts. We should not have been there and it was a disaster.

Unfortunately the more we ignore the political and military mistakes of the past, the more likely we are to make similar mistakes in the future. And we keep doing it. If we had a sense of our calamitous involvement in wars in the past like WW1 we would be less likely to make foolish decisions to involve ourselves in wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our history is littered with tragic military adventures, being led by the nose by either the UK or the US.  And it goes on through the Boer War, the Sudan War and more recently, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. In all these cases, and just like WWI, we have desperately tried to hide behind the valour of our service people.

The most important and justified war in which we have fought as a nation was WWII, in defence of our own people and land. But WWII is rated by the Australian War Memorial and so many others as of much less significance.  WW1 Is the Holy Grail.

On April 25 each year we are told by tongue-tied people that the great sacrifice of WWI was in defence of freedom and the right. But I don’t think that they even believe it themselves. It just does not ring true. Tony Abbott says it was a ‘just war’. But he is yet to explain what was ‘just’ about it. It is claimed that it united this country, but it divided us in a way that we had never been divided before or since with Billy Hughes exploiting the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment in the country. Only 30% of eligible men chose to enlist. WWI was a great divider. It was not a unifier despite the platitudes of Anzac Day.

Some claim that WWI was to bring peace to Europe. But the war and its aftermath laid the ground for even greater death and destruction in WWII.

In relation to our population, our greatest loss of lives was in the Frontier Wars where over 30,000 indigenous people died in defence of their own land. But we ignore it in favour of the myths of Anzac. Best we forget the Frontier Wars.

The first time Australians and New Zealanders fought together was against the Maoris in New Zealand in the 1850s and 1860s. The ANZAC connection was not forged at Gallipoli but half a century before in the Maori Wars.  It’s best that we forget that too. It doesn’t do our self-respect much good to recall that we fought together with New Zealanders in a race war to quell the Maori people.

The early and remarkable achievements of this young country at the turn of the century and early in the 19th Century are blotted out by the blood and blather of WWI, ANZAC and Gallipoli.

Federation in 1900 was a remarkable achievement, pulling together our six colonies into a nation. We led the world in universal suffrage, the rights of women, industrial democracy and the minimum wage. The ‘Australian ballot’ or secret ballot was progressively adopted in the Australian states in the latter half of the nineteenth century. We were a world leader. Our ballot was adopted in New Zealand, Canada, UK and US

In 1904 we had not only Australia’s first Labor Government. It was the first in the world. The rights of working people as expressed in the Harvester Judgement of 1907 put Australia as a leader on the world stage. We were an advanced social laboratory. Before WWI there were two decades of remarkable nationhood and advancement for ordinary people.

But conservatives were frightened of the future. They wanted to drag us back to the heart break of the past. And they succeeded with the help of Billy Hughes and other Labor renegades

In the process we broke our own heart – or as Marilyn Lake has expressed in a blog on April 23 this year ‘WWI fractured the nation’s soul’.

It is time we were honest with ourselves and discounted the myths of WWI, ANZAC and Gallipoli.

Instead we should celebrate the two remarkable decades of progress before the catastrophe of WW1.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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6 Responses to John Menadue. The ANZAC Myth.

  1. Avatar Tony Smith says:

    Excellent overview of Australia’s largely disastrous participation in other people’s wars, John. It was excellent that you reminded readers of the frontier wars and mentioned that the defence of Australia during WW2 sets a better standard for emulation than the adventure of WW1.

  2. Avatar Bruce Cameron says:

    You state that “the greater the political and military stupidity of wars that we have been involved in, the more we are encouraged to hide behind the valour of our service people at Gallipoli, the Western Front and elsewhere”. Looking at this in the inverse … you’re saying that the greater the political and military wisdom of a war, the more likely it is that Australians will support it. This seems understandable except that while we might be ‘encouraged’ to adopt a particular political course, most of us have the ‘nouse’ to know the right thing to do. It is belittling to suggest that we can’t distinguish between the wisdom/stupidity of our politicans and the valour of the service personnel fighting on our behalf.
    There are many Australians today who have offered their lives for their country at the behest of the Government at the time. Let them say why it was that they were prepared to sacrifice their lives … here in lies the fabric which which will make our country strong (as will be needed in spades for the coming decades).
    Bruce Cameron MC

  3. Avatar Phil says:

    The information and reasoning in this article is valid and consistent with the facts. I have never been comfortable with the overt and covert manipulation of the ANZAC story by politicians and assorted nationalists obsessed with the glory and religiosity of war. Much of this is aimed at desensitising and recruiting youth to the spineless goals of the hawks for whom profit is the holy grail.

  4. Avatar John Thompson says:

    The real nation-building outcome of the sad Gallipoli campaign took place in Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, commander of the Turkish troops. He went on to transform the old sclerotic Ottoman Empire into a modern secular nation. Ataturk (a title meaning ‘Father of Turkey’ was conferred on him by the Turkish parliament) went on to build a new nation through education, economic and social reforms.

  5. Avatar Kieran Tapsell says:

    Thanks John. I have always cringed at the ritual of Anzac day when politicians of all political persuasions feel the need to spout forth the sacramental hocus pocus that Australia only became a nation on the killing fields of Gallipoli, as if the first 18 years of federation was a waste of time. The only consolation is that we are not the only ones who carry on with this war glorification. In Buenos Aires, the Argentineans have erected a huge monument guarded 24 hours by sentries in 18th century uniforms to the young Argentineans sent to their deaths in the Faulklands War. There is not a mention of that drunk Galtieri who started it to gain support for an unpopular dictatorship, nor even of Margaret Thatcher, at the bottom of the polls, who needed to become the Iron Lady,and did it by deliberately killing all those young sailors on the Belgrano. The monument has all the same adjectives of the gods of war: valour, bravery, sacrifice, love of country, and nothing about the murderous politicians who started and continued it.

  6. Yes. The iconisation of Anzac is undertaken in defiance of any consideration of history. This assists its use today. We use Anzac as ballast in today’s voyages. Will link this post to related material at particularly

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