[Marxism] thoughts on various things about celebrating wars
gary.maclennan1 at gmail.com
Sat Apr 25 16:54:13 MDT 2015
Winter is setting in here in Brisbane. There is a cold wind blowing and
the temperature is down to around 12C. Almost as warm as an Irish summer,
but my old bones make me feel it is cold here.
We have just gone through the centenary of the Anzacs tragedy at
Gallipoli. Thankfully, I managed to avoid most of the TV coverage. There
is something terribly obscene about politicians taking advantage of a
disaster caused by politicians.
I am old enough to recall clearly the 50th anniversary of WW1 and how that
time was marked by very strong pacifist sentiment and hostility towards the
generals. All that has faded now and thousands and thousands turned out at
the ceremonies and marches -to do what I wonder?
By and large, the creation of Gallipoli as a sacred event has been very
successful. I think though that Badiou would regard that maneuver as an
evil in the sense that it forces the viewpoint that what merely appears to
be an event is a true event.
The Achilles Heel critique of the Gallipoli as an event, would point out
that it has no universal quality. It is addressed solely to Australians
(with New Zealanders tossed in as an afterthought). Nor does Gallipoli as
an event bring in the new. Rather it reinforces the status quo, the
willingness of Australian governments to send troops to support Imperial
adventures. The fact that Australian soldiers were taking part in the
invasion of another country is conveniently swept under the carpet.
Likewise the contemporary narrative which is carved in stone on the War
Memorial here in Brisbane receives now no attention. Yet, to the ages it
says that the soldiers died "For King, God and Empire". There is a truth,
then, in that narrative which defies the celebration of Gallipoli as an
Finally, I am old enough to recall sometime in 1947 or 48 (I would have
been five or six years old) a party in my home, a gathering of the veterans
of WW1. My father had fought at the Somme and was wounded there all at the
age of 15. I recall now the men, all ex-soldiers, sitting around and
drinking. It must have been Remembrance Day. One of the men, a Mr Johnson,
a Protestant who lived in a Catholic Street but who was totally welcomed by
the Catholic veterans, began to cry. He had been at Gallipoli, someone
must have explained to me. For I knew somehow that for the men there his
experience was a special exercise in horror. I still recall now and it
still brings tears to my eyes all these long years later, the other men
including my father attempting to comfort him. But he was beyond comfort
and could only keep repeating "Fuck Churchill", Fuck Churchill".
I did not know then who Churchill was. I know now and he was one of the
political class for whom men like Mr Johnson were mere pawns to be moved
around the Imperial board in search of what Churchill called "glittering
So I do my own little act of remembrance every time the politicians strut
out to celebrate the Event which gave rise to the "birth" of Australia. I
recall Mr Johnson. And I also call to mind the one story my mother told me
of my father's war time experiences, for he never spoke about the war. She
said that he once told her that the officers would fill the soldiers up
with rum before an attack, and then stand behind them and beat them with
canes to make them go over the top.
Finally, finally, a note of sadness creeps in. On the 50th anniversary in
1964 it was fashionable to quote Sassoon and Owen's and others' poetry
about the war, and my teaching practice lessons were full of their work.
Again I recall a lesson where I taught the following Robert Graves' poem to
some 15 year olds (What was I thinking about?)
To you who’d read my songs of War
And only hear of blood and fame,
I’ll say (you’ve heard it said before)
”War’s Hell!” and if you doubt the same,
Today I found in Mametz Wood
A certain cure for lust of blood:
Where, propped against a shattered trunk,
In a great mess of things unclean,
Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk
With clothes and face a sodden green,
Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,
Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.
A good friend who was on teaching practice with me, pointed out that my
lessons were full of the kind of horror that would bring nightmares to
adolescents. I can only say in my defense, I meant well and the
glorification of war is much worse. In any case, all that pacifism has,
alas, been all drowned in the tide of jingoism.
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