War whizzbangs in the month of Anzac

Whizzbangs are Honest History’s miscellany of briefs from past and present, to stir up the entrenched and focus the mind. During April 2015 most of them had a war angle.

Centenary. ‘Peace is not merely an absence of war. Peace is the nurture of human life.’ (Jane Addams, president of the International Congress of Women, 1915)

Sacred blood. ‘[Australia treats war] as an essentially apolitical test of character, an arena for the display of mateship, courage and endurance. And for that reason war can be considered as purer and more virtuous and beyond the reach of political calculation. The consequent sacrifice of life has continually obstructed any clear-eyed assessment of whether the constant engagement in war has been worthwhile. Once life has been lost, death itself sanctions the cause and places it beyond question. Few have dared suggest the deaths were pointless and unnecessary.’ (Henry Reynolds, Forgotten War)

Progress. ‘You can’t say that civilization don’t advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way.’ (Will Rogers, 1929)

Anzac Day 1930s. ‘Anzac Day … was one of the emotional set-pieces that could always move me and embarrass me and upset me, and even wound me in some queer way, and to this day whenever I think of it I can smell eucalyptus and tea-urns and salmon-sandwiches and the smell of beer and tobacco smoke at battalion reunions, and I can hear thousands and thousands of voices singing Kipling’s “Recessional” and “Land of Hope and Glory”, and a metallic amplified voice intoning to acres of hushed figures the last verse of Binyon’s “For the Fallen”, and the school children with their little square flags chanting: “On the twenty-fifth of April, far across the sea, Our brave Australian soldiers stormed Gallipoli …”’ (George Johnston, My Brother Jack [1964])

Swordsman. ‘Mutual slaughter was not the motive. Far from it. They were asked to risk their lives to cut short the War, as when one duellist by a quick turn of the wrist sends his adversary’s rapier flying clean out of his hand.’ (General Sir Ian Hamilton, 1934, foreword to Stanton Hope,Gallipoli Revisited [1934])

Hard land and war game. George Johnston, war correspondent and novelist, speaking through his character, Davy Meredith, suggests an important link. ‘The continent is cruel and pitiless, four-fifths of it uninhabitable. The vast dry heart of the land is dead, and it is on this intractable central grimness that the teeth of adventure have long since been blunted … [The adventurous Australian] is, because the merciless quality of his own land dictates it to him, the soldier of far fortune. This is why his armies which are sent to these faraway places are always of volunteers, for there is never any lack of young men of eager spirit willing to respond to the far call. I have been with the armies of many races, but I have known no other soldier with such pure and passionate regard for the adventure in itself.’ (George Johnston, My Brother Jack [1964])

19 May 2015

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