ANZAC Day must remain true to history: Philip Stone’s Warragul service speech
 Baw Baw Opinion  

By // 14:39, Thursday 25 April 2013

philip and jessica stone warragul rsl anzac day 2013 warragul citizen by william kulich

On this day 98 years ago, Australian soldiers made an amphibious assault on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey – a place most people had never heard of and the assault was a failure in every sense: militarily, politically and strategically.

Above: Philip Stone and daughter Jessica stand next to one of the uniforms Philip wore while in service at Cambodia. Image by William PJ Kulich.

Philip Stone is a Cambodia veteran who spent 13 years serving with the Australian Army. He now lives in Warragul and is a member of the Warragul RSL.

We were only fourteen years young as a nation, but April 25 1915 would come to be known as our coming of age and is now one of the most important days in Australia’s calendar.


ADVERTISEMENT

The plan for the Dardanelles Campaign in the Great War was simple – invade the beach and advance across the peninsula to capture the town of Maidos. A much larger force would form the main assault further south. But it all started to go wrong when the Aussie troops landed one mile from where they were supposed to be; a piece of beach now known as ANZAC Cove.

The invasion would become a siege that would last eight and a half months.

Nearly one million men were involved in the Gallipoli campaign and almost a half became casualties. Of the 44,070 Allied soldiers killed 8,700 were Australian and more than 2,000 were Kiwis.

The survivors would never again confuse war with adventure.

Gallipoli was not the first time that Australians had been in battle. And it wasn’t even an Australian battle – we fought alongside New Zealand, Britain and France. So why then is April 25th so special?

I want to quote the historian John Hirst about the circumstances in Australia at that time:

“Despite the creation of vibrant democracies in all the British colonies of Australia, despite the political achievement of federation, in 1915 the key to the Australian political psychology remained a sense of colonial inferiority”. It almost seems that at that time we had something to prove.

The Gallipoli landing was the first action of a military unit consisting only of Australian troops. A British war correspondent provided the first report that was published throughout Australia. “General Birdwood couldn’t sufficiently praise the courage, endurance and the soldierly qualities of the Colonials. (The Australians) had been tried for the first time and not found wanting.” The ANZAC legend was created.

The ANZAC legend shows Australians as fit and tough, uncomplaining and to the point, irreverent in the face of authority, egalitarian and scornful of British class differences. Above all, through thick and thin, they stood by their mates. The war historian Charles Bean said that life wouldn’t have been worth living for the soldiers at Gallipoli if they had betrayed the ideal of mateship.


ADVERTISEMENT

On April 25, 1916, Gen. Sir John Monash held a service in Egypt in honour of those who had died at Gallipoli. From that first anniversary until now, Anzac Day has been about remembering Australians who lost their lives in war. The simple words – “Lest we forget” – have echoed down the decades.

ANZAC is not a battle, and it’s not a place. ANZAC describes a group of people full of adventure and national pride, and the ANZAC spirit still survives today in our armed forces across the globe.

For more than 100 years Australian soldiers have been in harm’s way on foreign shores more often than they haven’t. Sudan and the Boer War, the two World Wars, the Malayan Emergency, the Korean War, Vietnam, the first and second Iraq Wars and even still, Afghanistan.

Australia has also been heavily involved in many peacekeeping missions. The Middle East, Namibia, Cambodia, Western Sahara, Somalia, Rwanda, and more recently Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and East Timor. In these deployments, our servicemen and women have also lived up to the spirit of the ANZAC.

It is estimated that under the United Nations banner more than 30,000 of our soldiers, sailors and airmen have participated in peacekeeping and peacemaking missions since World War II. That’s more than 60 years that Australia has continuously had soldiers on foreign shores. While the casualties from these UN missions might be smaller in number, too many Australians have paid the ultimate sacrifice during these operations, and many more have came home broken – some physically and many emotionally.

As a returned veteran of the peacekeeping mission in Cambodia and 13 years as a soldier I am not against war, but I do think that it should be avoided at all costs. Twenty years on I think about ordinary Australians who have served our nation when we as a democracy have decided that it was necessary to put our defence forces in harm’s way to preserve our way of life and our freedom.

Most people would say that the Australian way of life is worth defending to the very last. I know I do. But today I would like to address our policy makers. Over the last decade successive governments have sought to strip the horrors of war from the story of Gallipoli, leaving only the “nice bits”. They have tried to morph the ANZAC legend using phrases like “the great Australian military tradition”. This phrase suggests that we haven’t made mistakes in our history of military service. And it also suggests a dangerously uncritical self-regard.

There is a deep psychological appeal amongst Australians to the notion that our nationhood was “born” at Gallipoli in 1915. I think I can understand why governments would seek to use the ANZAC tradition when making difficult decisions, especially in times of international conflict, to rally society towards a common position. But I would caution those governments not to exploit the legend of the ANZAC selectively.

More than once our politicians have said that the things that unite Australians are greater than the things that divide us. While I think this is a reasonable position, it can also justify dismissing policy criticism and dissent as a minority view.

The tactics and uses of the Australian military have differed from the engagements of 1915. Instead of open war, we now seem to have an unending conflict with a faceless radical enemy called “international terrorism”.

I am disappointed that governments claim everything changed on “9/11”. Since 2001 Australian Governments have recruited and maintained support for the “war on terror” in a show of solidarity with our US and British Allies. As a consequence, the Australian military has now been deployed in ways that we haven’t seen since our soldiers were stretched across the world in the 1940s at the height of World War II. This paradigm, the way our politicians make incremental policy announcements, the 24-hour news cycle and parallel developments in domestic policy make focussed criticism and active dissent difficult.

It seems that since World War II we have always had an enemy, a threat to our freedom – the cold war, terrorism in the Middle East and now the war on terror. Yet have our freedoms increased as a result of these interventions? How much more liberty do we as Australians have now compared with 50 years ago?


ADVERTISEMENT

Even now Iran’s nuclear ambitions are considered a threat by our western allies and North Korea is once again increasing its belligerent rhetoric. For that feeling of increased security within society, more and more we see the gradual diminishing of our freedoms.

US President John F Kennedy said in a speech to the press in 1961 that “there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions and there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.” He also expressed the very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.

He said that “no government should fear public scrutiny. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition and both are necessary.

Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive.

American founding father Benjamin Franklin once said: “any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security deserves neither liberty nor security.”

In early 2003 polls suggested that most Australians opposed the invasion of Iraq, but once troops were in combat this opposition lessened; seemingly out of respect for the Aussie digger and, I think, the ANZAC legend. If Australian troops are permanently on overseas duty, we could expect that the pervasiveness of the ANZAC myth could make Australians reluctant to discuss defence issues.

Reluctance to criticise the government about military policy comes from the notion that troops are risking their lives for us. While we are mindful that when we send Australian troops on overseas postings they could die for us, we seem to ignore the reality that in order to do their jobs they must threaten to kill on our behalf, and sometimes do so.

So I say to our politicians do not take for granted the grave responsibility you have when deciding to send our young men and women into conflict. While the exemplary selection and training of the defence force hones the ANZAC spirit we should not throw this valuable legacy away on activities that are not defending a direct threat to our nation. Are we truly sending these young men and women to kill and die for the peace and stability of Australia? If the weight of a decision like this does not weigh heavily on a politician’s heart, then he or she should question their vocation.

The ANZAC legend must be handled with sensitivity, and not employed as a blunt instrument. Our politicians need to exercise fine judgment to make sure that we don’t create a paradigm that divides the country in ways similar to the Vietnam era.

Our soldiers are doing their job; it is our politicians who decide when we go to war. True heirs of the ANZAC tradition will cherish the democracy that our ANZAC forebears fought to defend.

To the men, women and children from all walks of life who have come here today, ANZAC Day is a day for the people and it should be preserved in this way.

ANZAC Day is a great Australian and New Zealand tradition and it is celebrated all over the two nations and wherever Australians and New Zealanders are overseas. It is our day – a day to remember with affection the courage of people and the value of friendship – to honour those who died and to acknowledge those who still suffer from the effects of war.

ANZAC is not about great military traditions or the supposed glory of even just wars. It is about national identity, inter-generational gratitude and deep pity and horror concerning war.

It is not a day of military parades and power. It is a day of gatherings of veterans, of reunions, of services, of community involvement, of reflection and honouring our forebears.

If we do celebrate anything on ANZAC Day it is the legacy that those who fought at ANZAC gave us, and those who followed them strengthened and enriched. In the face of adversity, the ANZACs demonstrated beyond any doubt the virtues of duty, courage, teamwork and self sacrifice.

The ANZAC legend shows us how important it was, and still is, to do our very best for our country and to fight for what we believe is right.

We think of those who served and those who are still serving. We salute their fellowship and courage.

We think of the families, those who stayed behind. They battled their own problems in tough war times and supported those who fought. We salute their endurance and strength. We think of the prisoners and wounded – those who still suffer today.

Above all, on ANZAC Day, we honour those who died for us, for Australia and for peace.

You should clap our veterans, and if you see them in the street, shake their hands and thank them for what they have done for us.

I would also encourage you to take every chance to question politicians on military policy. Ask them what they are doing to make sure that our soldiers don’t put themselves in harm’s way for a problem not of our making. Make sure that as an heir of the Anzac tradition that they will cherish the democracy that our ANZAC forebears fought to defend.

Philip Stone made this speech at the Warragul ANZAC Day memorial service on Thursday 25 April 2013. He kindly made this transcript available to The Warragul Citizen for publication.

 Click for the latest Baw Baw Opinion