Gallipoli – Blog No. 35.

The landing at Anzac, April 25, 1915


New Zealand is currently experiencing a wave of patriotic nostalgia and solidarity as it recalls the centenary of the national tragedy of the Gallipoli campaign.

In 1915, the population of New Zealand was around a million (the current size of Auckland.) The young colony had sent troops to fight for the Motherland in the Boer War in which it suffered two hundred and thirty dead (of whom the majority died of disease, only seventy-one dying as a result of enemy action.) Now it was called upon and to fight again: this time to suffer rather more heavily – 17,000 (1.5% of the population) dead and 41,000 wounded.

There is a popular myth in New Zealand that, relative to population, New Zealand suffered higher per capita casualties than any other nation. It is just that – a myth. To be seen in proportion, France, with 1.36 million dead, lost over 3.4% of its population: Britain lost approx. 1.7%: Germany lost 2.8%: amazingly, Serbia with 300,000 war-dead out of a population of 4.5 million, lost 6.7% of its population killed during the Great War. Deaths through disease and those, who were wounded and remained crippled, are excluded from the above percentages.

Nevertheless, in New Zealand, while other nations might have suffered more numerically, given such a low base population in a colony still struggling to establish itself, the casualties of war, dead and wounded (approximately 20% of military eligible males) expended in such a singularly irrelevant endeavour, seemed far higher than it might have done in more populous and well-established nations. Not a single New Zealand family would have remained untouched by these casualties incurred at the behest of a parent country on the other side of the world.

Lone Pine Cemetery 1919


Though the vast majority of New Zealand casualties were incurred on the Western front (only 2,779 – 16% – of the dead, died on the Gallipoli peninsula) it is the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign that is regarded as having been at the heart of the New Zealand war effort. In the Gallipoli campaign, the two young colonies of New Zealand and Australia fought together in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) as part of Britain’s Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. In that furnace was forged much of New Zealand’s feeling of its having a national identity, distinct from that of Great Britain.

So what was it all about: why was a joint Australian and New Zealand army corps invading Turkish territory at the entrance of the Black Sea and so many thousands of miles from either of their homelands? In the Crimean War, sixty or so, years earlier (which started just thirteen years after the signing of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, marking the foundation of the New Zealand colony) Britain and France fought to defend the Ottoman Empire from the threat of a Russian invasion. In 1915 Britain and France found themselves invading the Ottoman Empire, this time in sympathy with Russian imperial ambitions towards Turkish territory.

The Great War between the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia and the ‘Central Powers’ of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had broken out at the end of July 1914. The Austrians invaded Serbia and the Russians came to the Serbs’ rescue, which event led to a German mobilisation and invasion of Belgium. The Turks wished to stay out of the war, but a small clique led by Enver Pasha decided it would be helpful to the declining Ottoman Empire were it to join a victorious alliance against its traditional foe of Imperial Russia. In August, Turkey, unduly encouraged by initial Central Power victories, signed up to a Turco-German alliance. In October, it entered the war by shelling Russia’s Black Sea ports. In November 1914, the Triple Entente declared war on the Ottoman Empire.

wwioverviewmap.jpg With Russia already engaged on Turkey’s north eastern frontier, Britain and France first invasion of Turkish home territory came with the landings at Gallipoli in the Dardanelles in April 1915. I remember being taught at school that the reason for this invasion was that the British cabinet under Lord Asquith, frustrated by the stalemate on the Western Front, had decided to execute a flanking movement and ‘roll up’ the Central Powers by launching an assault from their ‘soft underbelly.’ From the map, even ignoring the appalling logistic difficulties that it would involve, this strategy would look simply daft. It is unlikely the decision makers responsible for the launch of a seaborne assault on Turkey, had achieved their positions of political power through their being entirely stupid.

A more reasonable explanation is the one given here – that it was to relieve Turkish pressure on the Russian Caucasian front.

Had it been merely a question of easing pressure on the Russians on Turkey’s north eastern frontier, a more sensible plan would have been a seaborne landing at Alexandretta on the Syrian coast. This would have been far closer to both the Russian Caucasian front and to the British forces already preparing to move out from Egypt and to roll up the Turks’ Arabian colonies from the South. Alexandretta lies on the fault-line between the Turkish homeland and its Arabian colonies, already in a state of rebelliousness against Turkish rule. It would have required far less force, found a relatively friendly local population, cut off huge numbers of Turkish troops and made Allenby’s task of the following year, that much easier.

Alexandretta – The Arab – Turkish fault-line


However, the obvious was ignored by the British High Command. Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, opted instead for the Dardanelles. There is no doubt that the Dardanelles campaign was conducted with the most extraordinary degree of incompetence. History is written by the winning side. However, after a safe time-lapse, when the powerful men responsible for fiasco and/or criminal acts have passed away, would-be revisionist historians can attempt a reassessment of the authorised version. The Gallipoli centenary has recently inspired one such re-write

The basic contention in this article is that the Dardanelles campaign was so incompetently conducted that its failure had to have been deliberately planned. It was a ruse to keep the Russians out of Turkey and committed to the fight against the Eastern front of the Central Powers. This it is claimed was done according to a plan drawn up by ‘the Secret Elite,’ the contemporary British equivalent of the modern day PNAC cabal in its pursuit of American empire. If this were true, it is easy to imagine that members of the elite would have regarded ANZAC troops as utterly expendable on such a mission – as too, the due to be scrapped, obsolete warships that the allies sacrificed.

But why, with things so desperate on the Western Front, did the allies go on to sacrifice so many other troops on a diversion planned as a failure? The ANZACS took 36,000 dead and wounded; France 27,000 and Britain 74,000. Were so many casualties really necessary to persuade the Russians that the allies were making a genuine effort? If anyone was to have been a member of the secret cabal, Churchill would have been one of those Machiavellian planners. If so, why would he have resigned in disgrace and gone off to command an infantry battalion on the Western Front, after the planned failure was so spectacularly successful?

Without access to its original sources it is hard to accept the above article as entirely plausible. Where it is undoubtedly true, is in its description of the incompetence, intentional or otherwise, with which the campaign was conducted by the ANZACs’ British masters.

Currently, Australia and New Zealand are mourning their ‘glorious’ dead. But death, no matter how courageous, lacks glory when the cause fought for is so polluted. While weeping over the tragedy that befell our entirely admirable forebears, we should also ask ourselves if we, their succeeding generations, have in any way justified their sacrifice by drawing lessons from it that might allow us to avoid a similar such pointless fate?

The ANZACs’ British masters have now been superseded by Americans. The Australian government is totally within the American camp in the present-day ideological conflict between the American empire and those who would prefer not to belong to it. The New Zealand population is less committed, but its current leadership seems determined to drag it in that direction.

Déjà vu! One hundred years after New Zealand participated at British behest in its disastrous invasion of Turkey, in February this year, New Zealand received a visit from the British Foreign Minister, the Right Honourable Philip Hammond.

The Rt-Honourable Philip Hammond Hammond appeared on New Zealand Television with an appeal to come help Britain and its American ally sort out the ISIS blowback from their illegal mongering and incompetent conduct of wars against Turkey’s neighbour, Iraq.

Unable to resist such blandishments, and apparently blind to the lessons of history, the leaders of Australia and New Zealand have committed themselves to a centenary commemoration of once again deploying troops to fight in the Middle East. At one stage Key and Abbott even proposed the Australasian intervention should, as a historic re-enactment, take the form of a unified ANZAC force. Second thoughts have at least caused this grotesque idea to be abandoned. As with the Dardanelles, though it is not New Zealand’s war in Iraq, our leaders seem determined to make it so and, in so doing, to add their own special signature of ignorance and incompetence to the march of folly.

In April, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key attended the annual commemorative service held on the Gallipoli battlefield. Being a trader by instinct, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to do a bit of business on the side. Instead of using the opportunity to visit Iraq and gain at first hand, an insight into the government with which he has allied New Zealand, he decided to visit the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia.

King Salman

With its absolute and dissolute monarchy and its more than one hundred public square beheadings per year, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most backward countries in terms of its governance system and its abuse of human rights. It is the world’s major exporter of Islamic terrorist ideology of the kind our soldiers in Iraq are being required to combat. Having chosen to visit at the most inconvenient time, Mr Key’s bleating about kill-it-yourself sheep meat and buying billionaire bolt-holes in Otago is unlikely to have received much attention.

Not only did his visit coincide with a major Royal Family reshuffle*Editors%20Picks&utm_campaign=2015_EditorsPicks_Promo_ACAlliance2RS4%2F29 but, more importantly, his hosts’ limited capacities would have been totally preoccupied with their first serious war of aggression.

Excitement still reigns as the Royals endeavour to use the latest weaponry they have acquired from the Americans, to bomb their defenceless Yemeni neighbours into the Stone Age. This is on the grounds that they are loosely allied to our Iraqi ally’s ally, Iran. (The real reason for the assault is that the Yemeni al-Houthi movement is republican in outlook and thereby perceived as posing an ideological threat to the absolute monarchism of the House of Saud.)

Not only will the Saudi onslaught be costing the exchequer billions in replenishment of munitions from the USA, but it has already cost the Royal Family more than one hundred Bentleys. These have been donated by one of its members to each of the heroic pilots that have braved the non-existent air defences of the unfortunate Yeminis.

While in Riyadh, Mr Key will feel obliged to make remarks sympathising with, and thereby legitimising, the Saudi aerial massacre of Yemeni tribesmen. Though both Countries have populations of around twenty-five million, the Yemeni per capita GDP is $3000 and that of the Saudis around $53,000. It is not hard for a would-be trading partner to decide which potential trading partner is most worth the wooing. Given the discernment exercised by Mr Key in the choice of company he keeps as New Zealand’s representative on the global stage, one cannot help wondering who is responsible for giving him advice.

The very best decision Mr Key could have made would have been to come straight home after the services at Gallipoli. The very worst decision he could have made was to make a visit to Saudi Arabia, thereby being forced to endorse both its overt state terrorism against its neighbour and add respectability to a regime that is the covert purveyor of global religious terrorism. New Zealand should have, but obviously hasn’t learnt its lesson from Gallipoli: not to get involved in other nations’ wars in the Middle East.

On reflection, that comment is hardly fair. Immediately prior to his recent re-election, Mr Key assured the New Zealand electorate that were he re-elected, his government would not be contributing soldiers to the Iraqi fight-back against ISIS. It is therefore not New Zealanders’ fault that as soon as Mr Key was back in power, he reneged on this assurance. He has been in secret squirrel mode about the deployment ever since. It will only become New Zealanders’ fault should they ever put Key back in office for a further term.

If he simply had to make a trade visit, Mr Key probably missed one of the greatest opportunities of the coming decade. Had he visited Iran, a temporarily impoverished, but potentially rich country with three times the population of Saudi Arabia, he could have scored immense benefits for New Zealand. Iran is about to escape from the shackles of economic sanctions and its pariah status imposed with no justification by Israel and its western allies. These sanctions have not only held back the economy, but have also caused immense resentment among the population. Were New Zealand to be seen as among the first to welcome Iran back as a respected member of the global community, the trade benefits that would accrue from an economy slated for rapid growth, would have been far more than could ever be earned from the consumption saturated populations on the other side of the Gulf. Instead, by visiting Iran’s avowed enemy at this time, he will have placed New Zealand on the list of Iran’s potential enemies. What were his advisers thinking of?

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