Monday, 28 April 2008

Matt McCarten: Anzac Day - we're comfortable with this historic illusion

Sunday April 27, 2008

By Matt McCarten, NZHerald

On Friday, New Zealand saluted our Gallipoli war dead who were butchered in their tens of thousands because of the incompetent British upper-class twits who led them.

As we know, the cream of our country's youth went off to join the other colonials of the British Empire to the killing fields in feudal Europe. I know it's unpatriotic and bad manners these days to mention, but many of these young volunteer soldiers were the same ones who, two years earlier, had saddled up their horses and rode into our cities to smash a general strike of workers.

Our then-conservative Government gave thousands of these young horsemen carte blanche to ride into town using hand-made batons to club workers into submission and smash the strike. After they won, these young farmers proudly nicknamed themselves "Massey's Cossacks" after our Prime Minister at the time.

The Russian Tsar was also using his Cossacks to put down his people, and we obviously wanted to emulate that practice. No doubt some of our boys would have been disappointed they weren't allowed to use guns and swords on the people like their Russian counterparts.

A little over a decade earlier Britain used thousands of armed volunteer forces from our farming communities as prison camp guards in South Africa. The Boers were fighting for independence. Our role was essentially restricted to burning down settlements, rounding up the women and children and locking them in concentration camps. The cunning plan was that if we wiped out all the towns and incarcerated the civilian population, the independence movement would collapse through lack of support. After many thousands of women and children died in these camps of starvation and disease, the resistance did, indeed, capitulate.

Today, we call these tactics ethnic cleansing and genocide but at the time it was seen as an enormously successful strategy. In fact, our local bourgeoisie were so proud of our role in suppressing the Boers they erected monuments in every New Zealand town. They are still there.

We don't want to be remembered for that sordid criminal affair on behalf of the British King and empire. But it makes it easier to understand why we went rushing off when the Great War was announced. So off our boys went to join the butchery in Europe. We were merged with the Aussies into the same Army corps as, I suppose, we all sounded the same to the English "toffs" who led us.

In those days, all colonial armies were led by white Englishmen. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) was on the same level as "coloured" troops, such as those from India. Enviably, we got the non-performing officers the British regiments didn't want.

The real story of Gallipoli was the shock realisation by our soldiers that our masters treated us as cannon fodder. The bravery of our soldiers couldn't hide this fact. We were supposed to take a few weeks to put "Little Johnny Turk" to flight and take control of his country. Unfortunately, we underestimated the bravery and courage of their farm boys.

They had home advantage, of course. People fight harder when their country is being invaded. Most of our troops didn't even know where they were, let alone what they were fighting for. On top of that, the Turk officers were better than ours.

Even when one of the few senior New Zealand officers, Colonel Malone, did reach the Gallipoli summit, the British sent no reinforcements. Instead, they bombed our troops, killing Malone and most of his soldiers. To cover their incompetence, they blamed Malone. Even the most loyal Anglophile realised we were mugs but it took a few years to sink in. After all, once we were pulled off the mountain we went off to Europe to participate in the bloodbath there.

When we scratch our heads at today's fanatical suicide bombers, it isn't too far from what young men were doing fewer than 100 years ago. They knew they were going to die but went to their death in their millions, willingly.

It was either for the German Kaiser or the British King, depending on where you were born. God was apparently on both sides.

Anzac Day truly should be an occasion where we affirm there is no place for war and political violence in our world. But, deep down, we know it's all a sham.

We "honour" our war dead who voluntarily went to invade Gallipoli and kill Turkish peasants on behalf of our British masters. Do we honour the Turkish youth whom we slaughtered while they were defending their country? Do we honour the hundreds of Kiwis imprisoned who opposed the Great War? Of course not. We feel comfortable with historic illusion.

Of course, we want to honour the deaths of young, naive men sent to their doom by cynical world rulers a century ago. But if we really wanted to honour them we would oppose our soldiers occupying parts of the Middle East on behalf of a new empire.

The only thing that's changed is that instead of being pawns of a British Empire and a half-witted King, we are now playthings for an American Empire and a dim-witted Republican President.

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