Lest we also forget the 1200 brave women from twelve nations, including combatant nations, who gathered at The Hague in April 1915 to consider how to stop the slaughter already well under way, though still to get much worse. Post-war they formed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Their resolutions fed into the League of Nations and thence into the United Nations. Would that we had heeded the wisdom they distilled, in the face of derision, hostility and dismissal.
[This post introduces my new book. Full text now available as pdf or epub.]
Australia accomplished an economic miracle in the nineteenth century, rising from subsistence to the richest country in the world. Along with New Zealand, Australia also led the world in political and social innovation, aspiring to provide a fair go for everyone. By 1913 Australia was a distinctive, dynamic and increasingly egalitarian society.
Despite some economic, political and psychological setbacks through the twentieth century, Australia by 1980 was a prosperous and open society still generally pursuing the fair go, notwithstanding some notable gaps.
Australians also had another great accomplishment to our credit: we had peaceably welcomed a great diversity of immigrants who spiced Oz with many new cultural flavours. We grumbled a bit and might not have openly admitted it, but we were a tolerant, talented, innovative, even interesting lot.
Today Australia is a very different place. We are in a lather of fear over moderate challenges that are substantially of our own making. We shrink from big challenges bearing down on us. We are insecure, and increasingly selfish, divided and directionless. We pursue scapegoats, vilifying innocent people and grossly abusing some. We act as though we are incapable, and have to bring in foreigners and their money to run things for us.
Yet we can still be generous and tolerant, and we can still sometimes be the fun-loving larrikins we like to think we are. We have abundant resources, talent, skill and energy, and we speak many of the world’s languages. Why do we make such heavy going of it?
[Sent this to several places, but no-one wants to publish it apparently. Might try an edited version closer to Anzac Day. For overseas readers, the disastrous, failed 1915 assault on Turkey in WWI is supposed to mark the time Australia’s colonies, federated in 1901, “became a nation”. Working on a book on Australian politics, hence rather quiet on this site. Perhaps I’ll put up an extract or two.]
My many misgivings around the Gallipoli Centenary were crystallised by the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Canberra performance of Reflections on Gallipoli, now playing around the country. Though many annually grieve with a full heart the loss of so many young men, and do so simply “lest we forget”, the Gallipoli legend has also been twisted and misused.
Gallipoli was not the start of our nation. Simply revisiting the horror does not heal the wound. We seem to have learnt nothing about futile wars. We neglect constructive attempts, then and now, to avoid war.