Type
Article

Correspondence

Guy Rundle should do some research before he pontificates about the ‘concrete content’ of the Gallipoli campaign.

Like many people who give lip service to internationalism, he pays little attention to the world outside Western Europe and North America. He doesn’t even pay much attention to Australia. His ridicule of the notion of ‘defending a Pacific nation like Australia against Turkey’ ignores the fact that both Australia and the Turkish Empire had Indian Ocean coasts. His description of the Gallipoli landing as a ‘vast expansion of a conflict hitherto confined largely to the European heartland’ ignores the fact that it actually took place in Europe. Both Gallipoli (Kalliopolis) and Istanbul (Constantinople) were originally Greek, and it was the winding back of Turkish control in the Balkans that paved the way to war. The campaign was principally aimed not at carving up the Turkish Empire, though that is what eventually happened, but at aiding the Russian Empire by opening up a supply route via the Black Sea. Given the stalemate on the Western Front, this was eminently sensible. Rundle also ignores the fact that Australia’s first battle of the war was not in some faraway land but in German New Guinea. Similar actions occurred in Africa. It really was a world war.

Rundle’s claim that ‘no-one can any longer seriously defend the aims of the original campaign at any level’ is superficial. Yes, the campaign was imperialist, but imperialism was an undeniable global reality at that time. The failure of the attempt to aid Russia contributed to Russia’s defeat, which in turn led to the Russian Revolution. The subsequent defeat of the Turkish Empire led, in a zigzag fashion, to the independence of the Arab countries and the establishment of Zionist Israel. The merits of these consequences are highly debatable. What is clear is that with the Indian-Pacific heating up as a zone for imperialist conflict, and with Australia an enthusiastic member of the British Empire, the ANZACs landing at Gallipoli was less a policy blunder and more a political inevitability.

Finally, Rundle switches his focus to the Battle of the Kokoda Trail, stating that the case here ‘was arguably one of national survival against a brutal enemy’. But this again ignores the international perspective of the time. The Japanese empire was supplanting the Western empires down the coast of Asia. Australia was only at threat because it had attempted to defend British Malaya and to hold onto its possessions in New Guinea. There were never sufficient troops available in the South Pacific for Japan to even consider an invasion of Australia.

Military history is too important to be left to the militarists. Let’s not simply substitute one set of myths for another.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.