Monday, 20 April 2015

Links Update

I was really pleased to receive an email from Jared Davidson recently, he is the author of 

Fighting War: Anarchists, Wobblies and the New Zealand State 1905 - 1925 

....which I referred to in an earlier post. There's a fascinating history here which tells the stories of socialists, anarchists, anti - miltarists and labour activists who were opposed to the war. They might have been a minority group, but the more I read about them the more significant I think they are. He has written two other valuable articles which cast more light on this history:

Socialist cross of honour: Makings of a working class counter culture 


Remains to be seen: Tracing Joe Hill's Ashes in New Zealand 

I'm also going to highlight a specific page on the 'Honest History' website which has a list of links to articles and information about the Armenian Genocide. There is a lot more of interest contained in the Honest History site, it is a really valuable resource.

Honest History list - Armenian Genocide 

Finally (for now) a piece by Dougal McNeill - impressions and reflections on Anzac day inspired by his experience of the opening of the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington. I think his comments on Anzac as a kind of hyper-real spectacle are spot on, and I suspect there is more to be said on this topic. 

Anzac: they'll remember it for us wholesale

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Ormond E Burton and Anzac Nationalism

There's a famous quote by Ormond E Burton which gets mentioned many times by Anzac commentators: ‘somewhere between the landing at Anzac and the end of the battle of the Somme New Zealand very definitely became a nation.’ . Just what this means exactly, and just how much of our so called 'national identity' derives from our inheritance of WW1 battle experience is a subject I will leave to the various newspaper and magazine editors. I'm much more interested in the man Ormond E Burton, and how this conservative trope squares – or fails to square – with his subsequent statements about nationhood and his militant pacifism.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Absurdity and Obscenity of Gallipoli

As we appoach the Gallipoli centenary, I have set myself the task of re – reading some of the best examples of New Zealand writing about the disastrous invasion. There are three books, Ormond E Burton's 'The Silent Division', Robin Hyde's 'Passport to Hell' and Alexander Aitken's 'Gallipoli to the Somme', all based upon first hand experiences of New Zealanders who fought in the bloody trenches of Gallipoli. I'll start with the horror and some images of the 'fallen'. Here is Private J. D. Stark (8/2142, Fifth Reinforcements, Otago Infantry Battalion) describing the bodies of the dead:

But the dead who waited in No Man's Land didn't look like dead, as the men who came to them now had thought of death. From a distance of a few yards, the bodies, lying in queer huddled attitudes, appeared to have something monstrously amiss with them. Then the burying-party, white faced, realised that twenty four hours of the Gallipoli sun had caused each boy to swell enormously – until the great threatening carcases were three times the size of a man, and their skins had the bursting blackness of grapes. It was impossible to recognise features or expression in that hideously puffed and contorted blacknessi.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A link to my Daily Blog Anzac post

Here's a link to my 'Guest Blog' at the Daily Blog. 

An Anzac Thought Experiment 

 I've submitted an edited version of this to a few mainstream press papers too. I have never done this before, but obviously this is the only time of year I am going to have a chance of getting mainstream exposure. My goal for the next ten days is to write a series of short, punchy pieces which will hopefully travel beyond the already converted readership of this blog. Any words of advice about how I might improve my chances would be appreciated. The Daily Blog is a good start, but I reckon if this blog was doing its job properly I would get heaps of abusive comments on it. So Please help me out and share the word on facebook at least.

Haunted Gold: the dubious profits of Gallipoli

Based on interviews with war veteran Douglas Stark, Robin Hyde's book Passport to Hell is one of the most readable and insightful books about the New Zealand experience of the trenches of World War One I have read. Starkie is a rebellious, tough and frequently violent character who gives a raw and completely unsentimental picture of the reality of trench warfare. As we approach the Gallipoli centenary it is his descriptions of the blackened and bloated corpses lying in No Mans Land which stick in my mind most of all. What also comes to my mind is the focus of Hyde's Gallipoli narrative: money. After the horror and sense of disgust has worn off, Starkie and his mates focus on gambling. Trench warfare involved a huge amount of boring waiting, and Anzac soldiers filled up the hours with coin games of 'Two Up' and card games to distract themselves from both the tediousness and the horror of the war:

Monday, 13 April 2015

What do the Pope, Kim Kardashian and the Anzacs have in common?

The answer is that they all have some major form of influence over the upcoming centenary of the Armenian genocide, which began on April 24th 1915 – just one day prior to the famous Gallipoli landings.

Only 22 countries officially recognise the Armenian genocide, which took the lives of at least 1.5 million people. From what I have read this is actually a conservative estimate, and does not take into account the deaths of other Christian minorities. Recognition – or rather the lack of it – is a major political issue for some of the countries which have important relationships with Turkey. New Zealand, along with the US, Australia and Israel all fail to officially recognise the Armenian genocide. Diplomatically making this sort of recognition is a very big deal, and Turkey takes a very hard line against any country which dares to make this sort of statement. With the centenary approaching, and high profile people like the Pope and Kim Kardashian helping to raise the issue, it isn't too surprising that Turkish PM Recep Erdogan is looking for cover. Where exactly will he hide? Well, the Anzac centenary is pretty damn close, so who will notice if he moves it a day behind to coincide with the Armenian genocide centenary?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Anzac 'remembrance' and Anzac virtues: different narratives

John A Lee in 1936. He lost his arm in the war.

How exactly are we supposed to honour the solemn Anzac imperative 'Lest We Forget'? After a century, actual living memories of the so called 'Great War' no longer exist. The thousands of dead New Zealanders and Australians who died on the slopes of Gallipoli are represented by lists of names etched onto memorials, black and white photos of young men wearing lemon squeezer hats. Newspapers run hundreds of stories about individual soldiers and how and where they died. Families are shown holding pictures of their relatives from 100 years ago, medals are proudly displayed. Thousands of people will wear red poppies and attend dawn services on April 25th in order to attempt to honour the memory of the dead.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

John Key's Gallipoli Wisdom

I've been working on a sort of 'side project' recently which involves learning more about the Middle East. I'm particularly interested in the historical connections between what we see happening now in places such as Syria and Iraq, and the dissolution and carving up of the Ottoman Empire after WW1. I'm also interested in Turkey, one of the most powerful and relatively stable states to form out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. As I wrote a couple of years ago, it was the experience of travelling in Turkey and seeing all of the massive monuments dedicated to Kemal Ataturk which got me thinking about the strange and disturbing reality of the New Zealand Anzac tradition.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Should we commemorate a 'colour blind' Anzac day?

Which wars are more significant for New Zealand's history, the wars of dispossession waged against Maori during the 19th century or the imperialist wars of the 20th century? Anzac day effectively captures the century between 1915 and 2015, but reduces the previous era of settler colonialism to an insignificant status. Australia has a similar pattern, and struggles with the issue of recognising its 'indigenous diggers'.

Rachel Buchanan's article 'The dementia wing of history' is a really insightful critique of the “Tomb of the Unknown Warrior”. Here is a sample:

The absence of any reference to New Zealand's first wars at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior or at the National War Memorial that looms up behind it, suggests that these wars are moving even further from the centre of national collective memory. The wars of foundation are certainly not forgotten but they remain peripheral, problematic and contested, unable, somehow, to be integrated into popular, bicultural rituals of commemoration.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Some thoughts on the 'Camp Gallipoli' saga

I knew nothing about the 'Camp Gallipoli' concept until today when I heard about it on the radio. For the price of a mere $100, New Zealanders would be entitled to the privilege of camping out under the stars in Ellerslie Racecourse, honouring the memory of the brave Anzacs by sleeping outside and being woken at dawn for a special memorial service. Local band Evermore would provide the theme tune to the event, and high profile New Zealanders such as Sir Richard Hadlee, Sir Graham Henry, Annabel Langbein and Nigel Latta were backing the event alongside the RSA.

Unfortunately for the organisers only 102 people bought tickets, and they have had to cancel the event because it is not viable. It was planned to attract between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A reminder about my other blog

I try to keep this blog solidly focused on Anzac / WW1 related topics, everything else I write goes on my other blog 'Pseudo Reality Prevails'. Sometimes there is ambiguous overlap though, and I recently wrote a piece on Ormond E Burton which falls into two categories. Its more about his socialist politics though, and how this relates to more obscure issues like Esperanto. Check it out here:

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Deceptions of Remembrance: how does the Anzac myth frame WW1 history?

(This is an edited version of an earlier post, which was much longer and politer. As April 25th approaches I am inclined to increase the anger and outrage on this blog. Lest We Remember.)

There are two massive photographic images which border the entrance to the 'Dunedin's Great War' exhibit currently on display at the Otago Early Settler's Museum. One one side a small boy is saluting a large Union Jack flag. On the other side is the picture of a young Otago Anzac soldier dressed in a kilt. As you walk in to the exhibit you are surrounded by brightly lit photos of the faces of the young men from Otago who died during the first world war, large panels of bright red poppies and gravestones. These images are deceptively innocent, powerfully framing the way in which we are supposed to 'remember' our history of involvement with the imperialist bloodbath which took place during the years between 1914 and 1918.