Friday, April 25, 2008

Gallipoli Heroes

I do not like war. I hate the terrible death and suffering. I also dislike the political propaganda that tries to turn something dreadful and awful into something to be celebrated. I particularly dislike the way that the media try to make war appear to be noble and good.

25 April was the first day of the Gallipoli campaign at the beginning of the First World War.

Most wars are stupid, but the first World War was particularly stupid. It started when an Austrian archduke was shot by a Serbian in Sarajevo. Most Europeans could not tell an archduke from an archdeacon and no one cared about the Serbs or Sarajevo, but their political leaders decided they would have a jolly good old war anyway.

The politicians and kings started a stupid war and millions of ordinary young men paid full price for it. When the war finally ground to a halt five years later, nothing had been achieved, but 20 million people had died and another 20 million carried serious injuries.

The politicians and leaders never apologized for their mistake. Instead they turned the dead and injured into heroes. This distracted attention from their stupid decisions and made people feel better about an event that was really a terrible disaster. Calling the soldiers heroes makes it seem that what they had done was worth while.

I suppose that some were heroes, but the line between heroism and stupidity is a fine one. I presume that others were cowards, and others just kept their head down and avoided trouble. The hero story was not totally true, but it fulfils a political purpose.

The Gallipoli campaign was one of those stupid battles thought up by a politician in London that was never going to work in practice. The Australian and New Zealand troops ended up on stuck on a narrow beach in Turkey. The Turkish solders at the top of the cliffs were armed with machine guns and fighting to defend their homes and families. They were never going to lose.

Several months later, the Australian and New Zealand troops withdrew having achieved nothing for a terrible price. One hundred thousand people were dead and another two hundred thousand were injured. The most embarrassing aspect of the fiasco was that white Christian people were supposed to be superior to the Turkish Moslems.

We say now that they died for their country, but that is not true. either The people of New Zealand had not interest in what happened in Sarajevo. Most did not know it even existed. The New Zealand soldiers went to defend the British Empire. I am not very keen on empires and I don’t think that God is either. However, when the British Empire called, the young men of New Zealand left their families and marched off to war without hesitation. The thought of fighting for an empire is not very nice, so dying for your country sounds much better.

We can honour the bravery of the soldiers.
We can honour loyalty to their mates.
We should not honour their blind obedience to the arrogant and foolish poltical leaders told them to go and fight a stupid war

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