Monday, April 26, 2010

Anzac Day

We tried to do something we wouldn't normally do, go to a movie on Anzac Day. But we couldn't get in.

So we had to wait for today to see Beneath Hill 60, a remarkable movie about the tunnellers in France. When we got there it transpired the difficulty in seeing the film was that Greater Union had it in their smallest cinema (normally for Silver Screen). At least it was shown at a major cinema chain!

The story is compelling but it really does leave you with the simple question, why did the troops keep fighting? Niall Fergusson in his Pity of War poses this question, and the answer that I can remember was the misinformation created about the treatment of prisoners by both sides. Unfortunately there were a few incidents on both sides that gave just enough credence to this.

It was refreshing to hear the minister at MacChap (whose grandfather was one of the tunnellers who survived) preach an Anzac Day sermon (sermon not loaded at time of writing) that was a sermon that preached that the only possible response to War is either to be a pacifist or that the war met a standard of a "just war". Good message, though of course the same message could be preached in a "humanist" or "secular" ethics. It is just that I don't see that many of those people bothering.

The service wasn't all brilliant. One person incorrectly described Villes-Bretineaux as a battle fought to turn back the German "fighting machine" and stopped it swarming Europe. Well, it can be figured as one of the "turning points" ... but the troops had been facing each other in essentially static trenches for two years.

Anzav Day is a great day to remember one thing. War is not the solution.

Having said that, I disagree with the Minister's view. When started the war in Afghanistan was a just war, but they blew it once they went to war in Iraq. By the same token threatening war in Iraq was the right strategy, but it should never have been waged without 100% European support (at which point it wouldn't have needed to occur - Sadam never believed the Americans would invade).

But exitting Afghanistan now would equally be unjust - the rules go you broke it you fix it.

Strangely, fixing it would be the mosy Christian of acts, but can only occur through the application of secular ethicial and political values.


Vic N said...

I have been to Hill 60 in Belgium perhaps 6 or 7 times, and its worth the pilgrimage, especially if you do what so few people do, go and look at the resulting crater. The whole Hill is only about 7 meters higher than the surrounding 10 square kilometers, but that height made it strategically crucial. It's one of the most haunting places on the Western Front, and the museum across the road one of the most bizarrely fascinating.

The Villers Bretonneux faux pas was a pity. It was a heroic action, certainly, by the Victorian Brigades,an amazing night time action, but happened at a time when the German Blitzkrieg in May 1918 had run to the end of its supply lines, and petered out. My grandfather was severely wounded in the woods (Hangard) just opposite the town. It was a significant action, but hardly changed the fate of the war.

I only comment that Germans had "Gott mit uns" on their belt buckles. And am reminded the commandment is NOT "thou shalt not kill", but rather "thou shalt not murder other jews".

I have just finished an essay for my "Study of War" course in my MBA.....based on that wonderfully contentious Pity of War....many of his conclusions are "over the top", but very interesting. The contention that the waves of german surrender were nothing to do with the home front, but rather because the Allies stopped slaughtering prisoners, don't hold water. Ferguson is the AJP Taylor of the modern day...whatever you do, don't be counter-factually boring!

David Havyatt said...

Thanks Vic - thought the Pity of ar reference would elicit a response. I meant to write that the movie is amazing and a must see and I hope the distributors have to put it into bigger theatres next week. I must do a Western Front pilgrimage - Margaret's grandfather fought there, my grandfather was a Kiwi at Gallipolli who made it to the top of Chunuk Bair(repatriated in 1915 with a heart murmur - lived to 89).

I'm not as much a student as you of the detail. I think however that the idea that mass surrender followed the end of slaughtering prisoners is wrong does not invalidate the hypothesis that the soldiers didn't stop fighting earlier because of the fear of the consequence of surrender.

Ultimately individual actions are a response to all the "forces" in action - the treatment of prisoners is one such, the concept of mateship (which applied in all armies) or loyalty or response to authority is another as was the question of what you are loyal to (the developments on the home front).

PS Is it correct to refer to that action as a "Blitzkrieg"? Isn't that exclusively a WWII term relating to combined air and tank warfare?

Vic N said...

about blitzkrieg you are of course correct.....but "stormtroopers were WWI....was just trying to convey the amazing sense of movement created by the Germans in their astonishing 1918 attacks...restoring movement with brilliant, but operationally meaningless tactics.

the fear of consequences that Ferguson mentioned was very provocative, and caused a hail of protest....I note, Australians were terrific slaughterers of prisoners.....but there were no mass surrenders earlier, basically because the Germans kept "winning"....i.e. not being dislodged.