Anzac debate marches down wrong track

9 March 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

It has almost become a tradition within a tradition.

Every year, as April 25 approaches, someone somewhere will initiate the debate of the significance and relevance of Anzac Day.

Perhaps one of the most influential debates was that initiated by former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who claimed that the celebrations around Anzac Day were ill-conceived.

‘The truth is that Gallipoli was shocking for us,’ he said. ‘Dragged into service by the imperial government in an ill-conceived and poorly executed campaign, we were cut to ribbons and dispatched and none if it in the defence of Australia.’

If only that quote appeared in history books!

This year, the debate on the legacy of the Anzacs has again centred around the contributions they had to made to contemporary Australia. The typical rhetoric has been that had it not been for the Anzacs, we wouldn’t have been as free and as lucky as we are today. One writer even claimed that Anzac Day signified ‘remembering those who gave us the freedom we enjoy today’.

Sorry, the freedom that we enjoy today?

Let’s rewind to the events of 1915 for a second. Still under huge influence and control of the British empire, Australia teamed up with New Zealand to form the army corps which set out on an expedition to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula. The objective was to capture Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which was the then ally of Germany.

Why?  The plan was devised by the mastermind of the war in the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, who wanted to open up the Black Sea for the Allied navies.

Why?  While the Ottoman Turks weren’t the enemy, its advancement was a threat to Russia, who subsequently appealed to its allies for help. The attack on Gallipoli was a way to end a stalemate on the Western front.

Plus it would be a decisive blow to the Germans and give the upper hand to the Allies.

Or perhaps, put more simply, the whole campaign could be underlined by a common theme: the spread of Western imperialism.

It had nothing to do with defending the freedoms we enjoy today, nor did it lay the foundations for building such freedoms.

To quote again from Keating, ‘we still go on though the nation was born again or even, redeemed there. An utter and complete nonsense.’

It’s nonsense indeed.

Our servicemen were sent to invade another country for entirely self-serving purposes of an empire which still had control over young Australia’s foreign policy.

While there’s no denying the 10,000-strong Anzacs sacrificed their lives in the name of service to their country, they didn’t necessarily contribute to our ‘freedoms’.

Surely we cannot claim that it had not been for the Anzacs, we would have been a less free Australia?

The renewed debate of the relevance of Anzac Day in today’s Australia is always welcome. After all, freedom of speech and opinion are core values in our society.

But let’s not forget that they probably would have been embedded in our culture anyway – with or without the Anzacs.

Erdem Koç is a news journalist with SBS Radio and the founding editor of upstart.