Launching a book by former ALP speech writer Graham Freudenberg, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating forcefully lashed out at key elements of the Gallipoli myth. He was quoted in the Australian as saying:

“The truth is that Gallipoli was shocking for us. Dragged into service by the imperial government in an ill-conceived and poorly executed campaign, we were cut to ribbons and dispatched — and none of it in the defence of Australia.

“Without seeking to simplify the then bonds of empire and the implicit sense of obligation, or to diminish the bravery of our own men, we still go on as though the nation was born again or even was redeemed there. (It is) an utter and complete nonsense. For these reasons, I have never been to Gallipoli and I never will.”

In response, the Prime Minister Mr. Kevin Rudd was reported as saying:

“That’s part of our national consciousness, it’s part of our national psyche, it’s part of our national identity, and I, for one, as Prime Minister of the country, am absolutely proud of it … I think Paul is completely wrong on that.”

(reported in The Australian Nov. 1 2008)

How many of us feel disloyal if we attack the institution that ANZAC has become? Our grandfathers, and great-grandfathers and ancestors were involved, some were killed, some were maimed and some were deeply affected by the involvement. Our British heritage that inspired our involvement to some extent explains who and what we are … for better and for worse. And who could doubt the obvious courage and bonds of blood and heroic action that were exemplified on the killing fields of France and on the beaches of Gallipoli in Turkey! So Mr. Rudd’s comments are completely understandable. They assure the constituents that Mr. Rudd fuels and needs to harmonize with in order to maintain power … and … ONE apology is enough.

It is much easier to celebrate the courage and mateship of the 60,000 Australians killed in World War 1 than to apologize for the deliberate manipulation of belief and sentiment that led to their whole scale murder. The over-looking of the agendas of petty men from Europe, Asia and Australia who utilized national institutions and public will to partake in the slaughterhouse of war suits the Government of the day so as to feed the desires and beliefs of the populations.

We hear that “in hindsight” we might have acted differently. Or that it was a different world then and people saw things differently. But the truth is, our involvement in WW1 was no war of independence; nor was it a war to liberate anyone; nor was it a struggle for some higher ideal; nor was it to repel an invasion; nor was it even to protect the mother country from invasion.

Rather our involvement was based more on the need to impress greater powers; to overcome an inferiority complex of small men with highly inflated egos and sense of their place in history; to build the political fortunes by tapping a public’s sense of isolation and sentimental attachment to its past. And does this sound familiar? I’m sure historians can probably locate the “weapons of mass destruction” theme equivalent in the manipulation of public belief in 1915.

It is very significant that a high profile person from the mainstream of Australian public life has come out with such a strong statement that attacks the myths of Gallipoli. Most public figures tend to fall into line almost completely unaware of their own underlying assumptions they have as part of their belief system. Few people, even in public life, can articulate the story of our involvement. It gets lost in myth and sentiment. It’s easier to simply form a belief about something than to seriously challenge and think about it.

Another news report in the same week focused on the Bali bombers. It is unfortunate that they died rather than having to face the reality of their actions and falsehood of their beliefs that led to them. How sad that relatives and friends and others who share similar beliefs will affirm their actions with a belief that they have done the right thing.

The sadness of their families and their need to find solace have led to the following reported statements:

“The family don’t feel burdened by the execution, in fact we’re happy because it means God and the prophet have given good news,” Mr Chozin (an older brother) said.

It is significant that Mr Chozin runs an Islamic school. The significance of such a statement must likely be found in the students under his care.

“If they die because they are standing up for the religion they will be placed in paradise,” he said.

Likewise, the mother of the brothers involved in the bombing said:

“I feel that killing infidels isn’t a mistake because they don’t pray.”

Beliefs are not isolated individual phenomena. They are constructed around interconnecting social, cultural, personality and historical elements. And they can be manipulated. The articulated beliefs of these family members are very similar to those articulated by the Christian Church in medieval times. The following observations are relevant:

“To most medieval theologians, no illegitimate violence was being done to Jews, infidels, and heretics put to the sword at the behest of the Church: these people had no rights to be violated. Although theology recognized that all men were made in the image of God and even that Christ had died for all men, the infidels by virtue of their deliberate choice of error had cut themselves off from humanity. St. Augustine believed that the individual had no right to dissent. He and those who followed him insisted that error had no rights and that ignorance of the law of God was no excuse.” (Jeffrey Burton Russell: Witchcraft In The Middle Ages, p.148)

“The Church’s most common justification for it’s use of force, one congenial to the medieval spirit, was the argument that it was legitimate to force to salvation those who would otherwise reject it. The passage of Luke 14.17-24, ‘Compel them to come in,’ was frequently cited as authority for the idea that torture or threat of death might bring about a salutary repentance. If all else failed and the accused had to be executed, the hope remained that in his last moments he might repent and reconcile himself to God.” (Russell: 149)

This Christian theological thought from times past places the current actions of Islamic militants into an age old context.

“A 13-year-old girl who said she had been raped was stoned to death in Somalia after being accused of adultery by Islamic militants, a human rights group says. Dozens of men stoned Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow to death on October 27 (2008) in a stadium packed with 1,000 spectators in the southern port city of Kismayo, Amnesty International and Somali media reported, citing witnesses. The Islamic militia in charge of Kismayo had accused her of adultery after she reported that three men had raped her, the rights group said.” (AAP report)

What could possibly inspire 1,000 spectators to watch the slow and torturous murder of a little girl by supposedly pious men acting out the instructions of the “direct law of god”? Some overarching will compelling like a psychic magnet? Some kind of automatic response to impulses and urges they cannot understand yet enact?

Think about it … dwell on the thought. The possibilities are horrible. And what of the crowds watching the executions, the burnings, the slow torturing of witches and heretics condemned by the Inquisition. How often do we focus on the perpetrators? But what of the spectators?

Then think about young men on the beaches of Gallipoli charging as lambs to the slaughter. Those who survived have had to think about what they saw and experienced all their lives while the men who put them there were onlookers over the history they felt obliged to shape.

to believe is to kill 

If a madman scrawls “to believe is to kill” across a wall we can be comforted by the fact of his madness that such a thought is so plainly and obviously absurd. A more sane thought would surely be ‘to lie is to kill“. Or better still, “thou shalt not tell a lie.” However, the provocation of the statement can lead to observations about the contradictory nature of belief. Not only the particular quality of belief or the nature of particular beliefs but the very notion; the very concept of belief itself.

A given set of beliefs might lead to incredible acts of kindness and personal sacrifice. The Islamic and Christian traditions of justice and looking out for one and other is drawn from the same set of beliefs that gave rise to suicide bombings and the inquisitions. The belief in the ideals of mateship and sacrifice identified in the ANZAC experience has become imbedded in myths that inspire a nation. However, the same belief has been used to mask the reality of state sponsored commitment to a murderous participation in humanly constructed orgies of destruction and death.

BELIEF is bigger than perpetration. Belief is the following of unprovable notions that inspire action. How often over the centuries have we heard the phrase:

  • willing to die for one’s beliefs?

But would it not be a more truthful phrase and one more in tune with the whims of history to say:

  • willing to kill for one’s beliefs?

Is this not the true nature of the crusade or the jihad or the just war or the right to defend oneself or enacting the judgement of god … Is not the very notion of belief itself the energizer that sets in motion the blades of the reaper? The hangman’s rope? The flames of the inquisitor? The bullets of soldier? The diseases of the conqueror? The destination of the bombs? The words of fear? The gods of Babel?

And isn’t it a paradox that the words of faith and the belief in the rightness of causes can, perhaps unwittingly, bring down the angel of death on unsuspecting recipients of the good news? Cultural decimation at the hands of the righteous beliefs of the inspired carriers of god’s word and god’s work has been the pattern of experience hand in glove with imperialism and imperialistic action from the religious and the secular adherents of rock solid and certain beliefs.

No wonder the madman cringes and tries to hide whenever he hears someone say: “I believe …”

Joe W  (Nov 2008)