ANZAC Day seems a good time to observe, again, how trends in international relations in 2023 appear to resemble those of a hundred years ago.
Just as in 1914, some people with an eye to history were looking back a century to Napoleon and Waterloo, we too can cast a backwards glance and be dismayed at what we see. Today we find ourselves once again apparently being pushed by the tides of politics and economics into what could be another incredibly destructive war.
If you read a little about the lead-up to World War 1 you will find the industrialised world – as it then was – split along an axis of alliances with one side, Germany, badly wanting to attain an economic empire beyond its borders and another side, England, equally anxious to prevent Germany’s rise. Of course there were other players and factors but essentially we saw the rising power of Germany allied with the fading power of Austria-Hungary pitted against the great global empire of England and all the allies it could bring to bear.
Study the times and you will see how populations in all the relevant countries were goaded by propaganda into a frenzy by warmongers who believed they had something to gain from conflict. People who had no real familiarity with what war actually means were waving their flags and singing their anthems, falling obediently into line with the wishes of their leaders.
And here we are today.
I see much of the Australian media practically urging a war with China. Even today all the media outlets are spruiking the line that Australia is “unprepared for war with China”, as if a war with China is something we could be prepared for and that we must expect. It is all so very, very 1913.
Anzac Day is a good time to stop and think.
While the media and some politicians and businesspeople have done their best to turn a once-sombre day of reflection into a celebration of militarism and blind unthinking “support the troops” slogans, they can’t fully erase history.
The so-called Great War was a horrific disaster that could and should have been averted by sensible diplomacy. But Germany’s rather unhinged Kaiser believed he was running out of time to make his big play for empire, and England – with its empire behind it – was perhaps content to watch him roll the dice.
Who gained? Not Germany, which ended up impoverished and prey to the next mad demagogue to come along with wild rhetoric and promises. Not England, which ended up almost equally impoverished and forced to transfer much of its wealth and status to the imperial heir-apparent, the United States. What about Australia? I hardly think so. An immense per capita death toll, economic depression and a legacy of loss and pain that continues today.
Across the world millions died to achieve nothing of benefit, material or otherwise, except perhaps to arms dealers and bankers. Worse, that conflict sowed the seeds of the next one, with millions more dead and new, frightful weapons in the hands of people who were willing to use them.
So many Australians came out of World War 1 and the global pandemic it brought in its wake utterly disenchanted with the institutions that had taken them to war. Disgusted with their church leaders who had told them God wanted them to fight. Disgusted with political leaders who put the interests of distant imperialists ahead of their own people. Disgusted with businesses and corporations that grew fat on the profits of the blood-feast.
The official line, of course, was that it was all worthwhile. War is always worthwhile, according to the official line. When the masters of the hunt blow their horns then we must obey.
So utterly stupid and terrible.
And here we are again. Diplomacy is again spurned by those who want war. The propaganda machines are cranking up to make us believe, like all their other victims in previous generations, that we must fight to help save an economic status quo that has never even been our friend.
Xenophobia is back with a vengeance. Not the Kaiser and German Kultur, drawn as a slobbering beast ravishing innocent Europa, not Hitler and German Nazis, drawn as goose-stepping automata bent on destroying freedom, not quite the Yellow Peril, drawn as myopic little yellow monkeys trying to steal from their betters. But not much different either.
Here we go again.
Who is asking what benefit there is in this proposed war? What will you gain, for example, if it comes to pass?
History tells us the answer: nothing but misery and pain.
Lest we forget?
Apparently many of us already have.