Down the end of Melbourne’s St Kilda Rd squats the Shrine. When the CUB brewery was at the end of Swanston St, the joke used to be that the city was bounded by two shrines.
The difference of course was that a brewery is dedicated to life and pleasure, while the Shrine is simply part of a national death cult. Its entire aim is to persuade young men — and now, with our “progressive” government, young women — to throw away their one life on earth, their one existence, for whatever a bunch of politicians decide constitutes a national threat.
Australia has had one war, one single war, the Pacific campaign against the Japanese, which constituted a genuine defence of the community against an enemy whose occupation would have been murderous and vicious — if they were intending to invade Australia at all.
The European war against the Axis turned out to be a “good war” but it was not contracted for that purpose. Menzies had praised that “honourable gentleman” Adolf Hitler as late as 1938, and we joined the fight only because Britain did.
Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey
Choose what you pay, from $99.
Our other wars have all been pointless imperial conflicts. One series — the Boer — Gallipoli — Iraq – Afghanistan — is simply the same war stretched over a century, the maintenance of the “Middle East” Anglo-American empire. Korea and Vietnam were human sacrifice for the purpose of shoring up the US alliance. You can add in our other bits and pieces — the Malayan “emergency” (so-called so that plantation owners would not lose their Lloyds insurance, for reasons of war), anti-Red intervention in 1917 Russia, etc — all fit into this pattern.
Now we are in Afghanistan, for the same muddled reasons we found ourselves on the beach at Dardanelles — the belief that the Muslim East was somehow a dysfunctional and decadent domain that would crumple at the first kick, to be effortlessly reconstructed in Western form. Just as in Australia today, the drivers of the war were “progressive liberals” who fused imperial adventure to social reform.
Desperate for a rationale for Afghanistan, Labor and others have turned it into a feminist war, of all things, blowing up women in order to save them. Next year we will learn that the Taliban’s cooking stoves are carbon-profligate, and it will be a green war — just as earlier wars were crusades against ‘oriental despotism’.
What’s really weird about Gallipoli is that it was not a campaign that became a source of national identity — it was designed that way in the first place. Billy Hughes, more or less an Australian fascist, spoke endlessly through World War 1 of the need for a “blood sacrifice” to make the country. Gallipoli was a death cult, exactly of the same order of the Hezbollah elders who strap suicide vests to angry young men and point them in the direction of the checkpoint.
Even the Pacific war began as a European encirclement of Japan, as a way of maintaining European colonial dominance. The propaganda subsequently used to inspire people to fight turned it into a race war — the ultimate dehumanisation of the Japanese as subhuman, made it easy to use the atom bomb against them. The bravery and sacrifice of Kokoda are worth honouring (though the entire population of Papua New Guinea was virtually enslaved by white Australians for the duration of the war), but how we got to that point doesn’t stand much scrutiny.
In recent decades, Remembrance Day has been subtly changed, from an “appreciation” of sacrifice, to a more fuzzy humanist reflection on loss. But its purpose remains to sanctify unthinking sacrifice for national purpose. We now have the spectacle of an antiwar activist John Faulkner, running this futile pointless war in Afghanistan. Faulkner has become the Ruddock of Labor, a latter-day Rubashov — the party has asked that he annihilate his values by running Defence, and he is happy to oblige. You can already see the man stiffening and rigidifying in the role. He’s a decent man, and if the casualties start to flow, the war will cripple his psyche — and he’ll deserve it.
Fortunately, though Australians have turned Anzac Day into some sort of carnivale where you march about in your grandad’s medals; no-one really believes in it. Regular and reserve recruitment remains stubbornly around 25% below target, limiting operational effectiveness. But who’s going to sign up to the frikkin army, and actually get shot in training or something?
Far better to do the Gallipoli-Oktoberfest Kontiki tour, run a right wing thinktank or write tracts on “progressive patriotism”. Imagine what a crimp the damn army reserve would put in a cosmopolitan globetrotting academic career. The army? That’s for kids who want a skills upgrade, and are happy to trade the risk of death to do it. Next Anzac Day, we should take a bunch of recruitment forms to the eternal flame and see how many fit young men and women shedding a tear are willing to actually sign up and serve their country.
We don’t need silence on Remembrance Day. We need to start talking about the death cult being perpetrated and perpetuated — and think not of noble sacrifice but of the air thick with the lives never lived by the children sent to these wars, the marriages never made, the children never had.
They didn’t die believing in Britain, or running like the wind — they died as everyone dies in such circumstances, shitting their pants and crying for their mothers, wondering what the hell they’d done. That’s what needs to be remembered today. Have a beer instead, feel the sun on your face, and live the life these people never got to.