Contributed by Jim Hayes
ANZAC Day is here and events around the country will observe the occasion. It should be the time to reflect on a the truths of history, and this should contribute towards ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
Getting in the way of this will be a Gallipoli legend that has little resemblance to reality and used by politicians and generals to defend and promote their own agenda. A lot of words will be said about the legend and the defence of democracy and freedom. We should all think about this a bit more.
The reality of Gallipoli is much less grand. Anyone acquainted with the history, knows that this was an invasion of another sovereign country. It had nothing to do with democracy and freedom. The Turks were not invading anyone. Their crime was that they had decided to create their own country.
Britain did not want this. Those exercising the political power wished to preserve British colonialism and saw Turkey as a threat to their dominance of the region and maintaining it as an exclusively British possession. Britain conseguently, waged an ongoing campaign to undermine the new nation. Turkey was forced into an arrangement with Germany, and when the First world War broke out, the war of words and sanctions turned into a shooting war.
The Gallipoli invasion was a war to prevent the Turks from having their own country and therefore the right for them to determine their own future. It failed. But along the way, British and Commonwealth soldiers, including Australians, were sacrificed for the Empire. This does not match up with the claim that this was a glorious event to defend democracy and freedom.
Reconciliation with this truth is important, because it can contribute towards realising that the lessons history are important. Differences between nations should not be resolved through arms and war to subjugate another nation cannot be justified.
Politicians and generals like to talk up war, when they can use this to improve their own fortunes. It is a pity that they are not the first ones to be sent to the front. War is also good for those who profit out of it, and for them, there can never be enough of it.
For far too long, war and the imagined threat of war, have been used to maintain the privileged position of some over everyone else, and as a diversion form attention to real problems calling for solutions.
In contrast, most of those who experience war do not glorify it. They may get together to remember old times and lost mates, a terrible experience that left a life-long mark, which only those with the same experience can properly understand. Few believe that war is a good thing. The rest of us shave a duty to acknowledge what they went through, try to understand and honour them, while ensuring that their needs are met. It is right that ANZAC Day is an occasion to honour the old soldiers and remind ourselves that we must do the right thing by them.
ANZAC Day should be an occasion to raise the banner of peace, push for friendly and productive relations with all nations and reject division by race and ethnicity; to especially oppose war that denies right to self-determination to other peoples. Jingoism and xenophobia should be given no place. Australia should never go to war for a foreign empire.
At home, ANZAC Day should remind us that we need to be our own masters. Democracy is above all, something to be won and defended at home. We should remember this even more, when our rights are being eroded away, through a tendency towards increasingly autocratic government and escalation, of the use of punitive measures to impose its will.
How can our freedom be guaranteed, if we are denied meaningful say over those things that affect our lives? While a growing number are forced to asleep in the streets and the reward for the work we do is being constantly pushed down, while a handful take far more than their share and live in fabulous luxury, how can Australia be called a truly free country? When the right to speak and the right of journalists to report as being progressively restricted, something is not right and must be corrected.
Political power in the hands of the majority means much more than having the right to participate in a ballot every few years. It should be an everyday reality, made possible by institutions that facilitate ongoing participation in the decision-making process. Australia has a long way to go to make this a reality.
Democracy and freedom are not just words to be brought out for parades. ANZAC Day should be an occasion to remind us that we still have a job to do at home.