‘Paul Keating’s address at the Australian War Memorial 2013: we are too wise to be cannon fodder again‘, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 2013
Speech (official text here) marking 2oth anniversary of Keating’s speech as Prime Minister at the interring of the Unknown Australian Soldier in 1993. The 2013 speech is notable for its references to generals feeding into the war ‘their heroic, young obedient populations’ and to World War I being ‘a war devoid of any virtue’. Keating stressed also the confidence and development of Australia before the war and denied that Australia at that time needed Gallipoli as a birth or maturing experience.
[H]ere we had set about constructing an image of ourselves, free of the racial hatreds and contempts which characterised European society. Though White Australia institutionalised a policy of bias to Caucasians, within Australia we were moving through the processes of our federation to new ideas of ourselves. Notions of equality and fairness – suffrage for women, a universal living wage, support in old age, a sense of inclusive patriotism.
And our sense of nation brought new resonances; Australian stories, poetry and ideas of our Australian-ness. We even developed a celebratory decorative style in our architecture and named that Federation. We had crystallised a good idea of ourselves and had begun to break free of the dismal legacy of Europe’s ethnic stigmatisation and social stratification.
By 1915 we had no need to reaffirm our European heritage at the price of being dragged to a European holocaust. We had escaped that mire, both sociologically and geographically. But out of loyalty to imperial Britain, we returned to Europe’s killing fields to decide the status of Germany, a question which should earlier have been settled by foresight and statecraft.
He went on to say that the battles of the war enabled Australia to show what we were made of, to ‘reinforce our own cultural notions of independence, mateship and ingenuity. Of resilience and courage in adversity.’ He concluded that young Australians today are too wise in the ways of the world to again become ‘cannon fodder’ for European wars.