Anzac Day came and went some time ago, and yet my brain does not cease to turn.
Late article, I know. The furore has passed.
For those among my imaginary readership who did not grow up in Australia, Anzac Day sort of sits as a second Remembrance Day marking the catastrophic failure that was the Gallipoli campaign in the First World War, the first large scale engagement of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and despite attempts at appropriation by nationalist elements is usually a reflection on the futility of war and the suffering it causes.
And suffering is the right word. Lacking a glorious, mythic history to look back on, Australia’s military campaigns have in general been brutal, unforgiving attrition, all the more thankless for, with the exception of the jungle war in Papua against the Japanese in WW2, being unwanted deployments in the face of a local population that did not want them.
The film Gallipoli, starring a very young Mel Gibson, really jabs that home, and is a decent primer for those unfamiliar with this little bit of history.
So I begin to ponder the why of it. In the case of the Australian military the objective for the most part is appeasement; an ironic idea for those who remember the demagoguery of the Cold War. Once again excepting the Papua deployment, which is arguably symptomatic of the greater system, all of Australia’s military actions have ultimately been blood sacrifice in an attempt to secure the protection of the most powerful empire of the time; first Britain then, after the fall of Singapore, the United States. In a strategic sense, the far off battlefields of Europe, North Africa, Korea and Vietnam mean very little to Australia, and few of them at any point have been capable of generating any real threat with reach enough to reach the South Pacific. But the Empire of the day deemed them worth dying for, and so the Australian government jumped at the chance to feed its paltry forces into the meat grinder, despite the abandonment by one empire and statements from the latter suggesting that they would do the same if it was in their interests.
This train of thought followed to another. The idea of sacrifice is often brought up at national memorial days, but I don’t think that it is fully understood, especially within this particular context. The Anzacs sure as hell didn’t die for our freedom or prosperity; powerful though the Ottoman Empire may have once been they were never going to invade Australia, and had plenty on their plates to deal with at that point already. Instead, it was blood spilled to placate another dying empire, Australia’s erstwhile guardian. It was an offering of human lives, like the Aztecs used to give to the sun, hoping that it would ensure the British Empire’s protection.
That it did not only makes it all the more tragic.
Upon further consideration, I realised that this idea can be applied to warfare more generally, especially within the context of the Western Hemisphere. Feeding the earth blood to ensure future fortune is no new idea, and has an added layer of economic rationale; the idea of waging war over resources is familiar and common practice for everyone between the Vikings and the US Army and many more besides, but the newly controlled resources are not the only gain for those controlling the war. The ensuing bloodbath means there are fewer left to share those resources.
It took me a little while to get over just how messed up that was.
But on a purely rational level – the kind commonly deployed by psychopaths, for instance – it makes sense. Those who arrange for wars to occur, and usually benefit most from their occurrence, certainly aren’t those on the front line, and thus are probably going to make it to the end of the conflict to enjoy the spoils. They will face less local competition for those resources, allowing them to capitalise even more aggressively. This is a pattern very much in line with Western European conflict throughout history; seize lands to increase agricultural capacity, and there will be more resources available to those that survive. This can be contrasted with the South Asian Mandala system, which had comparatively rich resources with fewer people to work them, whose wars tended to focus on slaving to better extract those resources, and though I won’t go into too much detail I felt it bore inclusion. This is a psychology that appears to have persisted into modern warfare; a means for power groups to raid for resources while shedding surplus bodies.
It might appear that this does not hold for the example of Australia; after all, the country was crippled by the two World Wars, with the workforce significantly drained. I would argue that those undertaking the sacrifice do not always have any benefit from doing so, just like the Aztecs of old. The Australian sacrifice contributed to a reshaping of world politics, that led to their allies becoming the only viable imperial forces in the world. By assisting the United States, both militarily and perhaps more importantly on a political level, the mountain of Australian corpses has assisted the USA in maintaining its current primacy. The sacrifice has aided the country’s guardian, certainly.
And so we come back to Anzac Day, and can ask again what the men and women of the Australian Defence Forces throughout history really died for. What the sacrifice they made, that is extolled each year, really gained. What we have today is a world of American primacy, bull headed patriarchy and free-wheeling capitalism, in which the wealthy can control lobby groups that arrange for governments to send their young citizens to die for resources valuable to unregulated heavy industry, who in turn lobby for more. It leaves rich, old, white men, the traditional brokers of capital in our society, with an even greater stranglehold of its resources.
Where a side of horse meat may make the difference between a poor man and a rich one.
Remember your Trumbo children; you have no duty to die for the rich man. It is your duty to live; for yourself, for your family, and for the fact that you are a thinking, talking human being and for that reason alone your life has importance.
Don’t let the rich man make a sacrifice of you.
Photo “Occupy D.C.” courtesy of Devin Smith, aka Devinish on Flickr. Hope my ramblings didn’t hurt your ears, dear imaginary readers, but this little economist does get very excited on finding new supply and demand forces.
Everybody keep safe, and have a great weekend.