‘What were we fighting for at Gallipoli, in Palestine and on the Western Front?’ (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5), Pearls and Irritations, 24-28 July 2017 updated
Update 15 August 2017: Lockhart’s further thoughts, provoked by Rawdon Dalrymple’s remarks about Joan Beaumont’s book, Broken Nation. Lockhart believes ‘it is a common mistake to impose personal interests and perspectives on the past’.
The idea that Australians went to the Great War to fight for ‘Freedom’ against the ‘Prussian menace’ is pivotal to the Anzac tradition, says Lockhart. But that cultural pivot is a matter of faith, not historical reality. Beginning with the Great War, most of our wars have had unacknowledged motives. They have been about fighting for ‘white’ empires that will hold the line against ‘Asia’ for us. Our history has privileged ‘empire’ over ‘nation.’
It should be possible, Lockhart concludes, to look at both how we fought and why we fought. He looks at why the ‘how’ narrative has prevailed.
Is it any wonder that the enduring fixation of ANZAC writing and remembrance on how Australians fought in the Great War tends to close down discussion of what we were and still are fighting for? …
If we first asked what we were fighting for we would find that the answer is, with few qualifications, much the same all the way along the line from the Somme through the falls of Singapore and Saigon and now, through Iraq and Afghanistan, to Syria: some form of “imperial” dependence to assuage our culture’s discomfort with its place in Austral-Asia.
In all of this history, an event in 1911 was of crucial importance; Lockhart believes its effects can be seen even today. This was the ‘secret Australian Government undertaking made at the London Imperial Conference in 1911 to institutionalise expeditionary policies that assumed the protection of “White Australia”‘. On this issue, see also John Mordike, An Army for a Nation, 1880-1914 (1992), Mordike again, We Should Do This Thing Quietly (2002), Lockhart in Griffith Review in 2011, Lockhart in Sydney Review of Books in 2016, Brian Toohey in Inside Story 2011, and Maxwell Waugh, Soldier Boys (2014).