McQueen on Anzac

‘History wars’ are about how to control the future. They are not disputes over the past.

Rather, stories about the past are pressed into service to buttress the needs of each class and imperium.

Nowhere is this practice more blatant than in the reinvention of ANZAC since the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Turkey on 25 April 1915. The propaganda sought to weaken opposition to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Legend is being promoted to oil us into whichever conflict the US war-machine turns to next.

The ALP grabbed the opportunity of the 1990 anniversary to paper over the wounds that Indigenous Australians and their supporters had inflicted on Hawkie’s ‘consensus’ when we rained on the 1988 bi-centennial parade. From then on, all governments have thrown money at the War Memorial and into marketing ANZAC-ery. Every other cultural institution has suffered annual two-percent cuts, misnamed ‘efficiency dividends’.

Keating promoted Kokoda to get away from the Brits and to put us more firmly into the US orbit. The 30-second roll-over of film clips of Australian forces fighting from 1914 to 2014 leaves people wondering whether the ANZACs fought at Kokoda. Surveys have shown that even the backpackers who hoof it to Gallipoli know little more about ANZAC day than that it is when Essendon plays Collingwood.

Despite all the money that has been poured into celebrating slaughter, the level of information can never be under-estimated. In countering the propaganda, activists cannot afford to take anything for granted. However, people are likely to be turned off if we hit them over the head with a barrage of facts. Posing innocent questions casts doubt over larger false assumptions.

For instance, how many members of parliament know
– that the ‘I’ in AIF stands for Imperial, not Infantry?
– that an Imperial Japanese cruiser escorted the ANZACs to the Middle-East?
– that Russia was ‘our side’ in both world wars?

By raising what seem like trivial pursuits, we set people thinking about what else we need to ask. Such questioning opens the window to the suspicion that there is a lot that we are not being told.

Central to the ANZAC invasion of Canakkale was a scheme by Churchill to supply the Czarist regime through warm-water ports. The aim was to make sure that reverses on the Eastern front did not provoke another revolution against Czardom. That had happened in 1905 after its defeat by Japan. Thus, the Dardanelles campaign was aimed against the Russian people. Churchill’s fear was well grounded as 1917 proved. To reverse the Bolshevik revolution, the Allies demonstrated their commitment to ‘self-determination’ by sending armies of intervention into the Baltic and Siberia from 1919 to 1924. As at the Dardanelles, the imperialists were driven into the sea.

To win the history wars for the workers, we need to promote positive stories from the war years. Nothing will be gained from standing on the sidelines throwing rocks. Our aim is to change peoples’ minds, not to assert our moral superiority. There is no place for a local up-date of the Pharisee’s prayer: ‘thank you god for not making me like other Australians’.

The most potent line of advance is through the two conscription plebiscites. Majorities of our people twice voted NO against conscription for overseas service.

Those choices blocked a more overt dictatorship by the compradors. Our liberties were won at home, not on the Western Front.

Along with the defeat of the Ban-the-Reds bill in 1951, the anti-conscription victories are the most important achievements for us to absorb. Each of the three is many times more significant for Australia’s polity than was the 1688 counter-revolution in Britain that Pyne rabbits on about for the national curriculum.

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

Lacking the tens of millions of dollars to combat the government’s distortions, we have to take advantage of the yarns that the war-mongers are peddling. There are free kicks for us in regard to Jack Simpson-Kirkpatrick and his donkey. Jack wrote to his mum in England asking when the workers there were going to have a revolution and get rid of the millionaires and dukes. The Department of Veterans Affairs funds a school essay competition to perpetuate lies by omission and suppression about Simpson’s proletarian politics. The truth is in Peter Cochrane’s just reissued book.

Each region has its own left-wing diggers. VC winner Hugo Throssell who came home a socialist and anti-war activist. So did fellow West Australian Bert Facey, as he retold in A Fortunate Life. And so did the last Anzac, Tasmanian Alec Campbell, who acted as bodyguard for railways union militant Bill Morrow in the 1930s.

What we need is not a set of counter-assertions. Students are turned off by being shouted at. Instead, we can the enfilade the official stance by posing questions. Hence, instead of telling students to write essays about Simpson as an industrial militant, we can kill two lies with one question: had Simpson survived Canakkale, how would he have voted on conscription in October 1916? That question becomes a reminder that the closer the troops were to the front, the more they voted NO.

Grizzling about the lavish funding of pro-war propaganda won’t cut through to the attitudes of the ninety-nine percent. One practical step from the ACT Branch of the Society for the Study of Labour History is an essay competition to bring attention to the war on the home front. Other groups and activists should approach their local schools to see what is possible. (Teachers will find lots of useful material on the honesthistory website.)

Since 2012, a band of Aborigines from the Tent Embassy has led settler supporters behind the official 11am march up Canberra’s ANZAC Parade. The marchers carry placards documenting the ‘Frontier Wars’. The crowd applauds the contingent.

The War Memorial is now anxious to bring the indigenous inside the official marquee. So, it stage-manages a ceremony to honour the indigenous who served – after decades of neglect. RSL clubs had long refused to admit them. One matter on which consensus is unlikely to be reached before the war celebrations wind-down in 2020 is how to deal with the ‘Frontier Wars’.

We must support the erection of a memorial to the warriors. But that installation can have no place among memorials celebrating the invaders’ side of the frontier. How many indigenes want to be tied to the settler troops sent against the Maori in the 1860s?

War and peace are class questions. Every war memorial is a monument to how working people from every country were used to advance the needs of monopolising capitals. We have to reclaim those statues and lists of names for our class as sites of conflict.

We also need to appreciate why some workers could embrace ANZAC Day as ‘the one day of the year’.

Alan Seymour’s 1962 play of that name ends with the father cornered into admitting that ANZAC Day is the only time when anything he has done is given any public acknowledgment. His work receives no recognition. This explanation for his chest-beating is an indictment against the destructiveness of capitalism, second to the slaughter itself. See as well my experience

We can extend Alan Seymour’s insight.

ANZAC-ery is reducing the notion of serving the people to war service. The hour-by-hour service to the well-being of communities from nurses and teachers is marginalised.

The choice of yet another general as governor-general reinforces the lie that men with guns embody what it means to be Australian – never forgetting the mining magnates and stock-exchange jobbers whose interests those guns protect.”

Humphrey McQueen is a Canberra based historian. Search on this blog for other articles.

The ANZAC question is to be discussed at the IPAN Convergence. Details

Peace Convergence banner

IPAN National Peace Conference 2014 Canberra
Tuesday 22nd April 9:00am – 5:00pm Unions ACT, 189 Flemington Rd., Mitchell.

The Independent Peaceful Australia Network IPAN is a network of organisations from all regions of Australia who are united by our support for an independent Australian foreign policy based on peaceful resolution of conflicts.
IPAN logo light outline
Conference themes:

· The US military has massively increased its presence with American Bases, Marines, Navy and Aircraft in Australia for build-up against China. Criticise Australian foreign policy on the “US pivot” to the Asia Pacific and Australian involvement in US intelligence operations and the “deep state”.

· Examine the environmental issues for peace movements. What impact does our military spending and activities have on Global Warming? Is terrorism really our biggest security risk?
· Question the costs of the US-Australian military alliance. Abbott’s purchase of 86 F35s at $90 million each, and new Drones and more defence spending means less for working people. Could less Defence money, spent elsewhere increase our security?

· Australia and US data gathering Edward Snowden’s leaks reveal Australia is embedded deep into the US Surveillance System. Do the costs of this outweigh the benefits? What does it mean for Australian civil rights? How can we repair relations with our neighbours?

· Responses of the peace movement to the Abbott Government promotion of a 4-year celebration of the World War I centenary? Was the conscription debate and ultimate defeat in Australia during world war one more telling of our national character than the invasion of Turkey in 1915?

Speakers include: Dr Michael McKinley, ANU; Vince Emmanuele, US Iraq War Veteran; Justin Tutty, Basewatch, Darwin; Dr Alison Broinowski, Campaign for Iraq War Inquiry; Dr Marty Branagan, Lecturer in Peace Studies; Kim Sattler, Secretary, Unions ACT; Dr David Stephens, Secretary, Honest History, ACT; Dr Sue Wareham, Medical Association for the Prevention of War Vice President
Workshops. Poster session – a chance for you to present your ideas in written and graphic form to others. Chair people : Dr Jenny Grounds, MAPW Medical Association Prevention of War; Humphrey McQueen, Australian historian.

Please contact Annette Brownlie, 0431 597 256 for Registration. Please email to: or: IPAN, c/o PO Box 573, Coorparoo, Qld 4151. IPAN Victoria, Chris White, 0418830297

IPAN website:


Canberra Peace Convergence. Activities: contact Graeme Dunstan, 0407951688. Wednesday 23rd. Meet for general open space Peace discussions at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, 1, King Edward Terrace, Barton. Thursday 24th April planning for peace direct actions. Special US guest Vince Emanuele from Iraq Veterans Against the War.
8pm Remembering war. Seeking peace. Contact Janet Salisbury 0416 167 280. Friday 25th April 11am. Lest We Forget the “Frontier Wars” during ANZAC day. 2pm Treaty Signing Ceremony.

Debunking the Anzac myth starts with the stories we tell our children.
An illustrated book about the battlefield’s real legacy encourages young Australians to contemplate the futility of war by Paul Daley, Guardian.
John Schumann has turned his classic anti-war song I Was Only Nineteen, into an illustrated children’s book. Another generation of young Australians will read the book, hopefully seek out the 1983 song that Schumann performed with Redgum, and contemplate the deeper resonances of war.

‘A century ago we got it wrong. We sent thousands of young Australians on a military operation that was barely more than a disaster. It’s right that a hundred years later we should feel strongly about that. But have we got our remembrance right? What lessons haven’t we learned about war, and what might be the cost of our Anzac obsession?’

Defence analyst and former army officer James Brown believes that Australia is expending too much time, money and emotion on the Anzac legend, and that today’s soldiers are suffering for it.

“Anzac’s Long Shadow The Cost of Our National Obsession” 2014 by: James Brown

Vividly evoking the war in Afghanistan, Brown reveals the experience of the modern soldier. He looks closely at the companies and clubs that trade on the Anzac story. He shows that Australians spend a lot more time looking after dead warriors than those who are alive. We focus on a cult of remembrance, instead of understanding a new world of soldiering and strategy. And we make it impossible to criticise the Australian Defence Force, even when it makes the same mistakes over and over. None of this is good for our soldiers or our ability to deal with a changing world. With respect and passion, Brown shines a new light on Anzac’s long shadow and calls for change.
“Forgotten war”
The looming centenary of the landing at Gallipoli is a reminder of unfinished business between settler and Indigenous Australia after a decade of incomplete reconciliation, writes Henry Reynolds in this extract from his new book. See more at:

Pyne wants more ANZAC in schools


IPAN logo light outline


Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.


4 Responses to McQueen on Anzac

  1. Colin Hesse April 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    Thoughtful article Chris. Thanks for examining the myth creators.

  2. Dean Mighell April 8, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    I don’t agree that Australians view remembrance in the terms that Humfray portrays in this article, well not all Australians anyway.

    The article goes to the disaster and folly of war which is correct especially WW1. What it doesn’t say is how he thinks remembrance should be conducted.

    To me, I recognise ANZAC Day as a day when we remember the Australian men and women who were killed and wounded fighting for many reasons known best to them. I don’t celebrate military victories or the victory of WW1.

    Many working class men volunteered for WW1 and no matter why they enlisted, the start realities and the horror of war would soon see they fighting with and for their mates and just trying to stay alive. I remember the soldier, the person, his horrible experience and loss of life on too many occasions.

    There is a danger in this type of commentary that says because wars are political we shouldn’t engage in remembrance the way we do. The potential tragedy in this is that we fail to remember the waste if life and the futility if all war.

    Governments start and create wars. Soldiers go where they are sent. Let’s we forget the soldiers and their suffering.

  3. David Stephens April 9, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

    Looking forward to a close read. Mewanwhile, agree with Dean; saw it summed up recently as ‘love the soldier; hate the war’. Spot on. Like the blog! Will link it to which also has more thoughtful stuff on Anzac plus Humphrey on Eureka.