Newton, Douglas: The centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres

Douglas Newton

The centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres‘, Pearls and Interpretations, 3 August 2017

The carnage at Ypres and Passchendaele is ‘an object lesson in what happens when an Australian government allows our Allies to dominate in the high diplomacy of war, exposing our own troops to horrific suffering – for dubious goals’. Notes the cold-blooded Imperial calculations, the abdication of Australian political responsibility (for petty reasons), the desire to protect secret deals for post-war advantage, the aversion to seeking peace.

Why were the men of the AIF still being sacrificed? As Greg Lockhart’s excellent recent series in this blog has argued so persuasively, racial nightmares lay behind it. The thinking was clear: Australia must give blood unstintingly for the Empire, on the frail hope that the Empire might one day save Australia – from Japan. Hughes and those around him never took their eye off Japan as the main enemy. They imputed the same race-based hatred to the men of the AIF. As Keith Murdoch told General Birdwood on 27 December 1917, many AIF troops had voted against conscription because they were “striving against an enemy who is not to them nearly as great an object of enmity and dread as the Japanese”. (Murdoch Papers, MS 2823/2/5) …

As the centenary of Passchendaele approaches, the speechwriters of the Turnbull government should speak big truths to the Australian people. Let’s hope they do not simply try to breathe life into the mummified remains of the old alibis for all this mechanised killing – “Prussian militarism”, “war for civilisation”, “no alternative”, “making the world safe for democracy” – alibis which the soldiers themselves repudiated.

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