The School of Athens

The School of Athens
The School of Athens by Raphael (click on picture to view short documentary from Columbia University)

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Read it and weep

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

In this week of remembrance, not much to say except read it and weep.

Quite possibly the finest cartoon of all time, created by the Australian illustrator Will Dyson in 1919.


First some background on this desperately sad four act tragedy.

Act One: The June-July Crisis of 1914, commencing with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28 1914 followed by a series of miscalculations and inept brinkmanship leading to the outbreak of war in August 1914. So baffled were the participants at this terrible outcome it is reported that Prince Bulow, the former German Chancellor, asked the then Chancellor Bethman-Hollweg, "How did it all happen?" to which Bethman-Hollweg replied, "Ah, if only one knew." The British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, all too aware of its implications, lamented "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."

Act Two: World War One 1914-1918 costing 16.5 million lives.

Act Three: The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 where the victorious and deeply vengeful Allies were intent on "squeezing Germany until the pips squeaked" comm­itted Ger­many to vast war repa­ra­tion payments which eventually led to the eco­nomy of Germany col­lapsing in the 1920s and ulti­mately to the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Intermission: The Great Depression 1929-1939

Act Four: World War Two 1939-1945 costing 65 million lives.

Will Dyson, Australian illustrator and political cartoonist, drew what was to become one of the most celebrated and widely-reproduced of all cartoons, entitled "Peace and Future Cannon Fodder" and astonishing in its uncanny foresight. Published in the British Daily Herald on 13 May 1919, it showed David Lloyd GeorgeVittorio Orlando and Georges Clemenceau (the Prime Ministers of Britain, Italy and France respectively), together with Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States, emerging after a meeting at Versailles to discuss the Peace Treaty. Clemenceau, who was identified by his nickname "The Tiger", is saying to the others: "Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping!". And there, behind a pillar, is a child in tears; it is labelled "1940 Class". [Wikipedia]


Epilogue, written by Confucius (551 - 479 BCE):

"Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves" and "When anger rises, think of the consequences." 



 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

There's nothing glorious about war

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, 100th anniversary of Gallipoli landings, April 2015.

It is heartening to see the comprehensive effort that our nation is making to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in the First World War and will no doubt also make to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.



However, there's a vast difference between commemorating and celebrating; a vast difference between recognising and glorifying; a vast difference between remembering and trumpeting; and a vast difference between acknowledging heroism and promoting jingoism.

Far too much of what we are seeing about the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings is ignorant and crass. 

There's nothing glorious about war. Nothing.


To quote the late Major-General Alan Stretton, a veteran of four wars (World War 2, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam), who told me in 2003 when Australia was embarking on yet another military expedition, this time in Iraq, "War achieves nothing, except mass misery for all involved."


In the Dardanelles Campaign of the First World War, which Australians now call the Gallipoli Campaign, the Allies suffered losses of 44,092 dead and 96,937 wounded, total casualties of 141,029. Australia's component of that carnage was 8,709 killed and 19,441 wounded, total casualties of 28,150.

The Turks suffered losses of 86,692 killed and 164,617 wounded, total casualties of 251,309 (although according to some scholars, total Turkish casualties might have been as high 300,000).

392,338 Allied and Turkish casualties, and for what? To what end? 

Is it any wonder that Australian light-horseman Ion Idriess wrote about Gallipoli, "Of all the bastard of places, this is the greatest bastard of them all!"

Yet this slaughter at the Dardanelles, of course, was dwarfed by the madness that was going on in Europe and was to come for the Australians later on: at Fromelles in 1916 with 5,513 casualties in just one night and at Bullecourt in 1917 with another 10,000 casualties over a three week period.

In the First World War, Australia officially suffered casualties of 61,919 killed and 155,000 wounded.

Horrific as these figures are, it only tells part of the story of Australian suffering.

David Noonan PhD, argues in "Why the numbers of our WW1 dead are wrong" published in the Sydney Morning Herald, April 30, 2014: 
"Australia does not follow the international practice of our allies and Germany in this conflict [World War 1]  determining war casualties by counting deaths and total hospitalisations due to illness and injury in addition to hospitalisations for wounding. Australia only records 155,000 wounding admissions and omits illness and injury. Once the international practice is applied, Australia’s total hospitalisations were five times greater than officially acknowledged: 750,000 admissions for approximately the 308,000 men of the AIF who served in a theatre of war. Hospitalisations due to wounding were higher than that officially acknowledged too, climbing to 208,000 admissions (+/- 500), 30 per cent of which were admissions due to shell shock. The men of the AIF were decimated.

As a proportion of its fighting force of men who were actually exposed to a theatre of war, Australia’s army suffered more deaths, more hospitalisations for wounding and more hospitalisations for illness and injury than the armies of Britain, Germany, France, Canada or the United States. Winning this war came at too high a cost for this young nation; for Australia, the First World War was indeed a pyrrhic victory.

But it does not finish there.

Of those Australian soldiers who survived, more than half of them were discharged medically unfit. Of those who were not discharged medically unfit, 60 per cent of them applied for pension help in the post war period; so four out of five servicemen survivors were damaged or disabled in some way. Of those who did not survive, it is now estimated that 62,300 died (+/- 400), approximately 550 by their own hand, mainly in 1919 and 1920, and a further 8000 men would die a premature death due to war-related causes in the post war years."
The Great War (later to be called the First World War as an even greater madness called the Second World War followed only 20 years later) took the lives of 16.5 million people. The Second World War took the lives of 65 million people.

There's nothing glorious about war. Nothing.


To paraphrase Ion Idriess: Of all the stupidities of the human species, war is the greatest stupidity of them all.

Those in the media, business and politics who see the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings as simply another opportunity to promote themselves will stand condemned for their actions. 

There's nothing glorious about war. Nothing.







"Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen 1917, recited here by Kenneth Branagh: 



"War! What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin'!" performed here by Edwin Starr 1969:


"War does not determine who is right, only who is left." Bertrand Russell.


"Really, ultimately, there was a chance that war became so horrible, beginning with 1914-18 and then 1939-45 with the dropping of the atomic bomb, that that's a great chance for humanity. It may cure us all, finally, of fighting." Manning Clark.







There's nothing glorious about war. Nothing.


Friday, 17 April 2015

A triumph for immigration

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Politics, April 2015.

When the Socceroos played Iran in November 1997 at the MCG to qualify for the 1998 World Cup, it was the biggest occasion on home ground (at that time) for Australian Soccer. The crowd was 85,000.

A reporter asked Neville Wran, who was then the President of Soccer Australia, if this event was a great triumph for Australian immigration and multi-culturalism (referring to the fact that many of the players had come from immigrant families).

Wran, a man not accustomed to being caught off guard by a reporter's question, was taken aback. He stopped, paused, and then said that he'd never considered it in that way before, but, yes, he agreed with the reporter whom he acknowledged had made an insightful observation.

Unfortunately, the Socceroos only managed to draw the match causing them to miss out on qualifying, but the point still stood.

Today we are witnessing yet another triumph for immigration and multi-culturalism, but this time in the field of politics.

The two most senior Treasurers in Australia - Joe Hockey (originally Hokeidonian) and Gladys Berejiklian - are both from immigrant families of Armenian descent.

The Armenian community in Australia is estimated to be about 50,000, or 0.2% of the Australian population (fewer than the crowd at the MCG to watch that soccer match).

To have two of its number hold these vital ministries is a great tribute to them, their parents, the Armenian community and to immigration and multi-culturalism.


Thursday, 16 April 2015

The buck stops here

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics, Prime Ministerial Responsibility, April 2015.

My word there's been some shirking coming from the Prime Minister.

Expecting the states to get together in a room and work out the GST conflict like 'adults' is the most recent in many examples of an abrogation of his responsibility. 

Coupled with the endless whingeing about how hard the job is, does him no credit, and serves the nation poorly.

Yes, I suspect he can continue down this path - whingeing and moaning and bitching and groaning - blaming the opposition, the Senate, the state premiers, the ABC, lack of support from business, union bosses, the local pet-shop galah and anyone else he believes is responsible for his troubles; or he can choose a different path, one espoused by the 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman:



The choice is his (unless, of course, he wants to shift responsibility for that decision, too).

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Honouring Abraham Lincoln

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Today, April 15 2015, is the 150th anniversary of the death by assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

A few solemn images to mark the date.





You can listen to the Gettysburg Address recited by Jeff Daniels on YouTube here: 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Seriously, no comparison

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics, Economic Reform, April 2015.

We often hear commentators lauding how the Hawke-Keating Government reformed the Australian economy and lamenting how our current federal government is incapable of doing the same.

This is no surprise.

Have a look at the four economic ministers that were central to those Labor governments of the 1980's.

Bob Hawke - Prime Minister, Paul Keating -Treasurer, John Button - Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, and Peter Walsh - Minister for Finance. 

These were serious people, pursuing serious agendas and achieving serious reform.

Compare them to the crèche of economic infants fumbling about in the day-care centre that passes for our current federal government.

Seriously.




Monday, 13 April 2015

252 years lost in 21 days

Fellow citizens,

In 21 days we lost three great contributors to Australia: Malcolm Fraser, Betty Churcher and Richie Benaud. All were 84 years of age. 

An elderly Groucho Marx once said the most moving compliment he ever received was from a woman who, recognising who he was, quietly came up to him, touched him gently on the arm, and said, "Please don't die. Just keep on living."

I'm certain there are many of us who would've liked to have said the same to these fine Australians.




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