ANZACs: New film reveals what should not be forgotten -- or forgiven

Film by John Rainford and Peter Ewer

April 24, 2015 -- Green Left TV/Green Left Weekly//Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- As the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC's ill-fated Gallipoli campaign approaches, this timely short film cuts through the myth making, and shows with damning facts how lives were used as fodder as strategic and tactical blunders led to the slaughter of so many.

It reveals the context behind the Gallipoli campaign - a war fought because the world had been cut up into colonies by the major powers who were now battling for the spoils.

The film shows exactly why the terrible ANZAC Cove campaign should never be forgotten — and the crimes of the warmongers responsible never forgiven.

New doco dissects Gallipoli tragedy

Review by Barry Healy

March 28, 2015 -- Green Left Weekly, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- In their short documentary released just ahead of the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC's ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, John Rainford and Peter Ewer have captured the strategic and tactical blunders that led to the deaths of so many in the 1915 Dardanelles Campaign, and the social and economic context in which it was fought.

All this is presented in plain language that carries punch because the facts they present are so damning.

World War I was fought because the world had been cut up into colonies by the major powers. Rising capitalist economies wanting colonies, like Germany, had to fight the existing imperial nations.

Secret arrangements were made in the years before WWI to divide the spoils of the war that was clearly coming.

Britain wanted control of Middle Eastern oil reserves. In 1908, it cut a deal with the Russian government in which Russia could have control of the Turkish capital Constantinople if Britain could control the Ottoman province of Iraq. In 1913, the British confirmed the deal.

Turkey, a German ally, entered WWI on November 5, 1914. The next day, British forces invaded Basra to seize its oil fields.

A notable feature of the British ruling class at this time was its dissipation. The Edwardian toffs who ruled to their own satisfaction were addled by alcohol and morphine consumption, Rainford and Ewer say. The 62-year-old Prime Minister HH Asquith was consumed by his pursuit of a 27-year-old woman, Venetia Stanley.

Of Winston Churchill, who organised the campaign, Rainford and Ewer tell us that his “boyish enthusiasm for the war was matched only by his thirst for alcohol”. "These were the Edwardian dilettantes who sent so many men to their deaths,” they say.

Churchill’s first disastrous attempt to capture Constantinople used the Royal Navy on March 18, 1915. A flotilla was sent up the Dardanelle Straits. The Turks simply laid naval mines and sank three British battleships.

Such was the background to the military planning that led to the ANZAC tragedy beginning on April 25, 1915.

The Australian and New Zealand governments were only told about the Gallipoli plan six weeks beforehand — and then only “for information”. The Australian government only asked for detailed maps showing where the troops were fighting and dying three months after the landing.

The film relates the bravery of the Turkish soldiers whose self-sacrifice saved their nation. Also told is the story of the catastrophic British campaign south of the ANZAC forces. Unfortunately, only passing reference is made to the Irish forces who landed at Suvla Bay in August, 1915, which was every bit as hideous as ANZAC Cove.

This 13-minute film is a must see. Rainford and Ewer have summarised precisely why the terrible ANZAC Cove campaign should never be forgotten — and the crimes of the warmongers responsible never forgiven.

World War I – separating fact from fiction

By John Rainford

April 17, 2015 -- Green Left Weekly, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

Lines of grey muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grasping fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

— Siegfried Sassoon.

Implausible as it might seem, it was the violent protest of a group of Bosnian high school students that sparked World War I.

Bosnia was annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908, and many of its younger inhabitants were resentful at being brought under the Habsburgs rather than being allowed to join their national state Serbia.

When one of these young men, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the Austrians suspected the Serbian government of being involved in the murders. They weren’t, but lack of evidence didn’t prevent Austria-Hungary from declaring war on Serbia on July 28, 1914.

Two days later, Russia began its general mobilisation to assert its self-proclaimed status as “patron and protector” of Serbia and the Slav states. On August 1, Germany declared war on Russia after Russia’s rejection of its ultimatum that it demobilise.

Austria-Hungary had taken a hard-line approach to Serbia only after receiving the approval of Germany, as well as its promise of support. Germany, in turn, had a ready-made plan for dealing with armed conflict in Europe that rested on the quick defeat of France before turning its attention eastward.

Two days after declaring war on Russia, Germany declared war on France, having already demanded free passage through Belgium to encircle the French armies. Germany ignored Belgium’s refusal of unimpeded passage and marched through their territory into northern France. The British government found it impossible to ignore the plight of “little Belgium” and by late August had more than 100,000 troops on French soil.

Despite coming perilously close to Paris in early September, it soon became clear that there would be no quick victory over France. The war on the Western Front, which stretched from the border of Switzerland to the North Sea, would be a long and bloody affair, fought, for the most part, across trenches.

Almost 70 years after Karl Marx and Frederick Engels had declared in the Communist Manifesto that workers of the world had no country and that the German proletariat represented the future, belligerent nationalism triumphed over international solidarity. With some notable exceptions, socialist leaders all over Europe followed the German example and sent workers to wage war on their fellow workers.

Rosa Luxemburg wasn’t one of them. For her part in organising resistance to the war she spent a total of three years and four months of it in prison.

In her magnificent work, The Junius Pamphlet, she counted the cost of the war: “The masses are being decimated by the world war. The flower of our mature and youthful strength, hundreds of thousands of whom were socialistically schooled in England, France, Belgium, Germany and Russia, the product of decades of educational and agitational training, and other hundreds of thousands who could be won for socialism tomorrow, fall and moulder on the miserable battlefields. The fruits of decades of sacrifice and the efforts of generations are destroyed in a few weeks … this blood-letting threatens to bleed the European workers’ movement to death.’’

On the Eastern Front, the limitations of backward, tsarist Russia were soon evident. Two of its armies were defeated by German troops in late August, with 90,000 Russians taken prisoner. By December 1914, Grand Duke Nicholas thought it prudent to advise his allies that Russia’s inability to equip its troops meant that it was incapable of carrying out further offensive actions.

Under pressure from Turkey in the Caucasus (Turkey had entered the war on Germany’s side in October), the Grand Duke appealed to Britain for assistance and made the suggestion that they could distract Turkey with an engagement in the eastern Mediterranean. Lord Kitchener, secretary of state for war, and Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, approved of the idea and it was put into effect in the months that followed at Gallipoli.

In the multi-million dollar celebration of jingoism sponsored by the Australian government to celebrate the ANZAC legend this is unlikely to rate much of a mention. Nor are the two referenda in 1916 and 1917 that voted No to conscription, giving the lie to the claim by then primem inister Billy Hughes that 80% of Australians were in favour of the war.

The most prominent of the anti-war activists in Australia were the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), more commonly known as the Wobblies, who were unremitting in their campaign against the war.

Their anti-war poster published by Tom Barker in the IWW’s paper, Direct Action, reflected the sentiments of many in Australia. It called to arms “Capitalists, Parsons, Politicians, Landlords, Newspaper Editors and other Stay-at-home Patriots”. They were needed in the trenches, and as soon as they volunteered, workers were exhorted to “follow their masters”.

At the end of the war, with the defeat and collapse of the Hapsburg, Ottoman and Russian empires and the victory of the Bolsheviks, the map of Europe was redivided and redrawn.

The formal end of the “war to end all wars” came with the peace settlement imposed by the victors at Versailles, which managed to sow the seeds of World War II.

Despite the warning of John Maynard Keynes, in his Economic Consequences of the Peace, the punitive provisions of the Treaty of Versailles directed against Germany were central to the rise of Hitler’s fascist party that led to an even greater conflagration barely 20 years after the first finished.

Japan was an ally of the British Empire in WWI as a consequence of a 1902 treaty, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. During the course of the war, the Australian and Japanese navies cooperated in hunting German warships in Asia in 1915. It was Japanese sailors who helped to put down a mutiny among Indian troops serving in the British army in 1915 in Singapore.

At Versailles, Japan argued that racial equality should constitute one of the principles that would guide the new international body being constructed — the League of Nations. Their chief opponent was Hughes, anxious to protect “White Australia” from the “yellow hordes” of Asia. Hughes got his way.

In 1918, Japan had giant new battleships under construction that promised to make much of the British fleet obsolete. The Japanese were kept in check by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 which restricted Japan to possession of a fleet smaller than Britain and the United States.

On top of the snub over racial equality orchestrated by Hughes, this could only lead to Japanese patriots turning their thoughts to restoring the glory of the Rising Sun.

The description of the German General Ludendorff of British troops being “lions led by donkeys” could equally apply to the combatant troops of many other countries, and the “donkeys” included incompetent generals and warmongering politicians alike.

Luxemburg’s prescient analysis of the results are a salutary reminder to us all: “In this war imperialism has won … its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the scale towards the abyss of misery … this world war is a regression into barbarism … bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism … but we are not lost, and will be victorious if we have not unlearned how to learn.”

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From GLW issue 1049