In the case of World War One, Germany is rightly blamed for initiating the military confrontation, but we should not forget that all the major powers in Europe were jostling for prestige and power and were far too willing to resort to force in 1914. Thinking that a quick and strong show of force would bring about an easy victory. It seems incredible to us now, but those trusted with military planning could not foresee that the widespread use of the machine gun and the rise of trench warfare would drag this conflict out to four years, with the loss of tens of millions of lives, often in the most bitter and desolate circumstances. Like WWI itself, Gallipoli was preventable. It was embarked upon in the mistaken view that the Turks could be defeated relatively easily and that the allies could make a clear run to take Constantinople and thus hasten the demise of the Ottoman support for Germany. Gallipoli ended ignominiously with no strategic gains being made by the allies whatsoever and with the loss of around 120,000 troops (roughly, 10,000 New Zealand and Australian ANZACS, 10,000 French, 20,000 British and 80,000 Turks).
How has this misguided and terrible episode come to represent the ‘Australian spirit’? Why was a blind devotion to British military planning and the resultant unnecessary carnage chosen as the emblem of ‘what it means to be Australian’? This is something that can puzzle the social imaginary. To our recollection in the late-1960s and the 1970s, ANZAC Day was not necessarily been relentlessly pushed into our collective consciousness as the quintessential symbol of ‘Australianness’. Perhaps this process was in place even then but a part of the population was unaware of it. We can only assume that this is something of a more recent development, or at least that this specific point in Australian history has been resurrected and utilised to reinforce our fighting spirit mainly from the 1990s onwards, and especially with the Howard government’s participation in the ‘war on terror’. Every ANZAC Day (and perhaps every Australia Day also) since the late-1990s seem to be occasions for more flag-waving and for reinforcing the image of Australians as battling under adversity. This mindset transposes easily to a current determination to ‘fight’ terrorism, to bomb it out of existence, and to stand staunchly with our ally, the United States, regardless of the wisdom or legality of that ally’s actions.