The reality behind the Anzac bravado

Michael Kane writes: Re. “Dead men talking: can ‘zombie’ Anzacs enrich our understanding of war?” (yesterday). Jo Hawkins’  excellent article on the Anzacs illustrates  precisely why we need professional historians of her obvious calibre. Gently reminding us that there were other countries’ forces at Gallipoli (people are constantly surprised when I tell them that as many French died in the campaign as Australians and in fact seem amazed  the French were there at all), I think she captures the confusion that many Australians are in thinking about current and forthcoming extravaganza of the centenar. Few actually have grandfathers whose medals can be worn by their blonde-haired children.

The evidence is that the Australian troops behaved pretty appallingly towards the Egyptians in Cairo while awaiting the campaign, that thousands were transported back to Australia having being diagnosed with syphilis or allied STDs and that not a few were happy to dodge the battlefield.  In other words they were like most armies of young men, from time immemorial, that were far from home, culturally unaware and often frightened. The actual overkill of celebration may have the very positive effect of Australians really thinking about their history and what actually happened in the Great War, which the PM and Christopher Pyne claimed the wished would occur when they attempted to resurrect the history wars last year.  This would stop the nonsense that we became a ‘nation’ at Gallipoli – the toll was shocking without giving it a spurious post- facto justification.

The future of the UK

Joe Boswell writes: Re. “Rundle: UK election neck-and-neck, but UK itself on shaky ground” (yesterday). It’s interesting to see Rundle suggests the coming UK election could provide ‘steps towards a UK break-up’ as though this was unusual, rather than something familiar since the late 19th Century. The UK’s high point was abolishing the Irish Parliament in 1800 so Ireland came under Westminster rule. This gave Scotland, Ireland and England (including Wales) one electorate; one parliament; one monarch. The accelerating drive from the 1860s for Irish Home Rule showed the tide had turned. The UK was clearly broken up when, after considerable bloodshed, 26 counties of Ireland became an independent state in 1922.

Since then the six counties entity known as Northern Ireland has shifted between rule from Stormont and rule from Westminster at various times while bitter, sometimes deadly, arguments have raged over its status and whether it should be in or out of the UK. Scotland took a form of Home Rule with the revival of its own Parliament in 1999, and Wales, never historically a nation, for the first time ever has a national Assembly; both of these developments are obvious fractures in the unity of the United Kingdom. If Scotland and its parliament break completely from Westminster (what happens then with the monarchy is another question) it is only another step in a long process of disintegration.