Ukraine’s Tank Problem

It seems to be a case of little provision for so much…

When culture war games trend lethal

The right-wing ecosphere throws an idiot ball into the civic discourse with…

The year ahead

Most people turn away from politics over the holiday period when the…

Cutting Your Power Bills In Half And Other…

A few years ago there was a scam where people were promised…

Values Based Capitalism: The Imperative of Defining Commitment…

By Denis Bright Editorial insiders at The Weekend Australian (28-29 January 2023)…

A walk in the forest

Bayerischer Wald can be just as hard to get to than it…

An Emergent Premier Chris Minns - Uniting Sydney…

By Denis Bright After more than a decade in Opposition, NSW Labor is…

Forget Australia Day And Celebrate: Rum Rebellion Day…

After pointing out for a number of years that January 26th isn't…


Remembering the Peace Makers: What the Armistice Commemorations Forgot

Those in the war industry and the business of commemorating the dead have little time for peace, even as they supposedly celebrate it. For them, peace is the enemy as much as armed opposing combatants, if not more so. Dr Brendan Nelson of the Australian War Memorial is every bit the propagandist in this regard, encased in armour of permanent reminder: Do not forget the sacrifice; do not forget the slaughter. The issue is how war, not peace, is commemorated.

That theme was repeated, for the most part, in Paris on November 11. US President Donald Trump spoke of “our sacred obligation to memorialise our fallen heroes.” French President Emmanuel Macron marked the 100th anniversary of the Great War by having a dig at nationalism, calling it a “betrayal of patriotism” (is there a difference?). The nationalists, he warned, were getting busy, these “old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death”. The intellectuals (and here, he alluded to Julien Benda’s 1927 classic, La trahison des clercs) were at risk of capitulating.

But Macron, rather slyly, was hoping that the French obsession with universal values would somehow render his message less parochial: to be French was to be an internationalist, not a tunnel-visioned, rabid nationalist. The soldiers who perished in the Great War did so in the defence of France’s “universal values” in order to repudiate the “selfishness of nationals only looking after their own interests.” Much room for disagreement on that score, and Marine Le Pen would have been a suitable corrective.

The peace activities of the Great War, asphyxiated, smothered and derided in texts and official narratives, are rarely discussed in the mass marketed solemnity of commemorations. The writings of those prophets who warned that any adventurism such as what transpired in 1914 would be met with immeasurable suffering are also conspicuously absent. Jean de Bloc, whose magisterial multi-volume The Future of War appeared in 1898 in Russian, found it “impossible” that Europe’s leaders would embark on a conflict against each other; to do so would “cause humanity a great moral evil… civil order will be threatened by new theories of social revolution”. The end would be catastrophic. “How many flourishing countries will be turned into wilderness and rich cities into ruins! How many tears will be shed, how many will be left in beggary!”

These sceptics were the enlightened ones, scorned for not having the sense of fun that comes with joining battle and being butchered in the name of some vague patriotic sentiment. If human beings are animals at play, then play to the death, if need be – the rational ones were sidelined, persecuted and hounded. They are the party poopers.

Prior to the first shots of the guns of August in 1914, Europe had witnessed a slew of meetings and activities associated with the theme of peace. From 1889, pacifists were busy with Universal Peace Congresses, while the Inter-parliamentary Union made a stab at efforts and ideas to reduce national tensions. The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, with one scheduled to take place in 1915, suggested a certain sensibility, even as the military machinery of Europe was getting ominously more lethal. At the very least, the political classes were playing at peace.

The 1,200 women who gathered at The Hague in 1915 as part of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom feature as sane if forgotten voices before the murderous machine truly got going. Their work involved attendees from 12 countries and the passing of 20 resolutions on war. They worked to convince those engaged in the murderous machine about the folly and were dismissed accordingly as cranks and nuisances.

The peace movement was sundered by the patriotic diseases that engulfed the continent, and such organisations as the International Peace Bureau failed to reach a consensus on how best to quell warring aggressions. In January 1915, its Berne meeting was characterised by division, best exemplified by a resolution denouncing Germany and Australia for egregious breaches of international law. The vote was divided evenly, and unity was destroyed.

While monuments to the war makers and fallen soldiers dot the town squares of the combatant nations, lingering like morbid call cards for failed militarism, there are virtually none in the service of peace. The tenaciously wise and farsighted Austrian noblewoman Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 and suspect the motives of governments behind the Hague Peace conferences, hardly figures in commemorative statuary. Nor does Rosa Luxemburg, who began a twelve-month sentence in Berlin’s Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison on February 18, 1915 for “inciting public disobedience”.

Her crime, committed during the words of her famous Fechenheim address, was to call upon German workers to refuse shooting their French counterparts should war break out. “Victory or defeat?” she would sadly reflect in her anti-war tract, The Junius Pamphlet (1915) written whilst in confinement. “Thus sounds the slogan of the ruling militarism in all the warring countries, and, like an echo, the Social Democratic leaders have taken it up.”

As Adam Hochschild sourly noted in 2014, those who refuse to fight or barrack for war are ignored by the commemorative classes. “America’s politicians still praise Iraq War veterans to the skies, but what senator has a kind word to say about the hundreds of thousands who marched and demonstrated before the invasion was even launched to try to stop our soldiers from risking their lives in the first place?”

Events conspicuously against the spirit of killing and maiming opponents, such as that which took place during the short-lived Christmas Truce of 1914, have only been remembered – and tolerated – because of their public relations quality. These events sell chocolates and cakes; they draw people to sites and commodities. The truce signalled no revolution; it did not challenge the war planners. “It’s safe to celebrate,” commented Hochschild, “because it threatened nothing.” The sovereignty of war, the institution of state-sanctioned killing, remained, as it still does, though selling peace can be lucrative when the shells have stopped falling.

The obscenity here is that conflict, most notably that of the First World War, was meant to be cathartic, a brief bit of masculine cleansing that would end by the arbitrarily designated time of Christmas. It was advertised as a picnic, a brief testosterone outing which would see men return intact. Foolishly, such figures as HG Wells saw it as “the war to end war”, so get it over and done with, minimal fuss and all. (To be fair to Wells, he found disgust and despair subsequently, reflecting upon this in The Bulpington of Blup in 1932.)

This was, truly, as the title of Margaret MacMillan’s work goes, the war that ended peace, and we should not forget the political and military classes, instrumental in dashing off soldiers to their death, who engineered it with coldness and ignorance. Foolishness and demagoguery tend to hold hands all too often, distant from that most moving sentiment expressed by the jailed US socialist activist and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs. “I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; and I am a citizen of the world.”

 346 total views,  2 views today


Login here Register here
  1. New England Cocky

    In 2001 we protested loud and long against the US Imperialist War in Iraq against the USA (United States of Apartheid) taking control of Iraqi oil reserves.

    From 1961 to 1975 we protested loud and long against Australia entering, then remaining in the US Imperialist War in Vietnam.

    But as before, like “Pig Iron” Bob Menzies who resigned his Australian Army commission on the first day of WWI, the Liarbral politicians did not listen. Before he retired probably to assuage his guilty conscience, Menzies sent my generation into the hell of Vietnam from 1961 to be slaughtered by US artillery.

    Little Johnnie “Flak-jacket” Howard, who never saw a shot fired in anger, invited Australia into the Iraq disaster in 2001. Toxic RAbbott remained in Afghanistan even though”Sh*t happens” … and too many young Australians died in those undeclared foreign wars.

    But the ALP also have blood on their hands in these matters. Sure, Gough Whitlam honoured an election promise to get out of Vietnam as one of his first acts in December 1972.. (Nixon was not pleased at this and later organised his removal in the Dismissal of 1975).

    Rudd and Gillard and Shorten have done nothing to change Australian subservience to US imperialism and domination of the purchase of military hardware only from US manufacturers.

    There is faint hope. University of New England has a Peace Studies course.

  2. John

    Somewhere between 20-40 years ago one of the founders of the various Peace research institutes wanted to do some research on the theme of Peace – I forget who it was.
    He quickly found out that very little, if anything had been done or published on this important theme. There was of course much published on the theme of the seeming inevitability of war.
    So he decided to set up an outfit dedicated to Peace Research. There are of course now many such outfits including one based in Sydney.
    One of the very best is this outfit:
    It is interesting to note that the work of Transcend and similar organizations is seldom (if ever) featured in the main-stream media.

    Except when the Sydney Peace Prize is awarded to someone who is anathema to any of the right-wing bloviators that infest the Murdoch “news”-papers.

    Even when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the small Australian based outfit promoting the urgent task of nuclear disarmament it was more or less ignored by the main-stream media. And of course they received zero acknowledgment or congratulations from the Federal Government.

  3. Diannaart

    I thought about my dad on Armistice Day. He signed up for adventure(?) or, more likely, escape from his tyrannical mother. He served in North Africa and New Guinea. He was promoted to sargeant and, as with so many of his generation, he did not talk about the war.

    I remembered his anti-gun beliefs. Something, I fully respected.

    I did not respect his alcoholism. My mother, younger sister and I would try to avoid him after his first beer of the day. Just a single beer turned a witty and charming man into a snake. I know his war experience contributed to his alcoholism. Maybe, without the damage of fighting a war, our family may have been different. He died at age 52. Brain haemorrhage.

    On Armistice Day, I thought about dad and forgave him, he was far from perfect, however, my own life experience helps me to understand him better now.

    I realise dad was an honourable man, a man of integrity, qualities which place him far ahead of many of our politicians and leaders.

    Miss you, dad.

  4. DrakeN

    Diannaart, much the same can be said of my own Father, except that he went in the other direction with respect to alcohol – he was a tee-totaller – he had experienced the costs to his own father in taking to alcohol to ease the burden of the horrors experienced in WW1.
    Nevertheless, his war service made him a bitter man; anti-religious, anti-establishment and increasingly anti-social as he observed the ongoing hypocrisy of the “paraders of glorious war” as he described the British Legion ( similar to RSL ) and the Political knee-bending to the “Fallen”.
    That so many people fell for the patently false emotions presented simply added to his cynicism.

  5. Kaye Lee

    My father’s story is very similar. I think the pressure on any able-bodied young man to join up was irresistable. He too was a sergeant who fought in New Guinea. He also went to North Africa but the fighting was over then and some serious rabble-rousing went on by all accounts. He never went to the ANZAC marches but would go and drink and gamble at the club, something he did pretty much every day after work anyway. He was a good man but the war had interrupted his young life and changed it irrevocably. I will say the same for my mother and those who waited at home as the lists of slain loved ones grew. Such a terrible waste.

    We pay homage to those who did not return but ignore the ongoing struggle for so many who did come home traumatised by the brutality.

  6. Michael Taylor

    Mine too fought in New Guinea, he too would not talk about the war, and he too returned home to become an alcoholic.

    He was also a heartless man.

    He worked hard on the farm – I’ll give him that – but our lives were horrible. He made it that way.

    But having said that, it wasn’t until I read ‘Kokoda’ that I realised what he had been through. I simply didn’t know … he wouldn’t tell us.

    I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried.

  7. Diannaart

    Our “patriotic” government can find $5 billion to spruce up a memorial to war.

    Our government want us to pay homage to veterans on planes???

    Lives and families damaged for generations. No recompense.

    First Nation people’s contribution ignored, which is reprehensible.

    While veterans from the WW’s were at least welcomed home, veterans from subsequent wars are ignored. How long before the RSL acknowledged Vietnam vets?

    If we really valued our defence forces …

  8. Josephus

    There were so many anti war movements at around this time. Pacifists, Quakers, globalists, Europeanists, imperialists of various types who thought that to internationalise empire would end war. Often these groups overlapped. Such movements should be taught at school but are not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 2 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here

Return to home page
%d bloggers like this: