Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Australian's Gibbering Fantasist In Residence

Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian and the "most influential foreign affairs commentator in Australia" (, is as mad as a meat-axe and I for one don't know if I can take it any more. Judge for yourself:

"Once again, Anzac Day and all that it represents are under attack. The dark servants of Sauron are gathering in Mordor, orcs and goblins, elves gone over to the dark side, the wraith-like nazgul and the dark riders of historical mayhem, once more to shatter the traditions and peace of the good hobbits of Middle-earth. I refer, of course, to the ideological Left girding its loins for a fresh assault on the alleged militarisation of Australian history. A slew of dismal academic books, unspeakable in their mediocrity and tendentiousness, presage a full-blooded campaign to destroy the most popular, the most unifying and the most historically sound celebration in our national life." (Gibbering fantasists set sights on Anzac Day, The Australian, 29/4/10)

Not that he's actually read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, mind you, but the movie, now that's a different matter! After all, didn't he once confess, "As a naturally lazy fellow I was always watching TV of an evening"? (Two bob's worth of life lessons, The Australian, 18/4/09)

But back to Sheridan's 'defence' of all things Anzac from the 'onslaught' of his imagined academic Forces of Darkness (funny how he doesn't name names), the mob he describes so colourfully as "gorged on grants, tenure, fellowships, faux academic prizes, subsidised centres and all the paraphernalia of the academic gravy train, beyond the wildest imaginings of any David Williamson satire... ":

"[T]here is... something wondrously ahistorical and ignorant about the standard line against the Australian efforts in World War I, whether at Gallipoli or on the Western Front or elsewhere. The proposition that Australia mindlessly, needlessly and foolishly followed Britain into World War I is completely wrong... Australia joined Britain in WW I for 4 reasons: just cause, empire solidarity, regional security interests and long-term maintenance of Australian security... But most importantly there was the question of Australia's long-term strategic self-interests. Australian leaders, and the population, understood correctly, that the British empire (and I write this as an Irish Australian who could not possibly have less sentimental attachment to the British crown) provided for Australian security, provided for Australian prosperity and to a large extent embodied Australian values."

Now I know that I'm a little off topic here, but Sheridan's retro-projection of his fantasies about the US-Australia alliance onto the circumstances of our involvement in WW I got me thinking. Should a man gorged on Israeli press junkets and pumped by a 'prize' for services to "the state of Israel and its ideologies" (Jerusalem Prize, 2007) be trusted with Australian (or any other) history? Were our Anzac volunteers really, as he asserts, primarily motivated by a clear belief that Australia's security was at stake (leaving aside, of course, whether that was in fact the case)? Or were their motivations more mundane?

Why not, I thought, consult one of those "tens of thousands of ordinary young men" who, according to Sheridan, "lived and died for something greater than themselves" at Gallipoli? Surely, the 'defender' of their day against the Gibbering Fantasists of the Academic Left wouldn't presume to take issue with their testimony?

OK then, why, for example, did Major Oliver Hogue (pen-name Trooper Bluegum) volunteer?

Here's how he explained it in his 1916 book Love Letters of an Anzac. The following letter, his first, is dated September 17, 1914:

"My Dearest Jean, I've got news for you, Honeybunch... It's the biggest item of news which any young man can, in these stirring days, tell to his sweetheart. Aye, your own heart will have told you. I'm a soldier of the King! I write it proudly: I could do nothing other than enlist.

"This is going to be a big war, a long war, the greatest war this old world has ever seen. Within a year the streets of Sydney will be placarded with big posters, 'Your Country needs you.' I don't want to go to war as the result of the importunity of Kitchener. I don't want my friends to point their fingers at me and say, 'Why don't you go?' Most of all, darling, I don't want you to lift your lovely blue eyes to mine, wondering if I will play the man. I want you to feel and know that when the Empire called, your MAN answered...

"Then, with a rush, came thoughts of the rigours and horrors of war: cold, sleepless nights; long weary marches; hot, thirsty days; fierce, bloody battle; maybe wounds and death. Death! Fancy dying with so little done and so much to do! I had given so little to the world in return for all the good things showered on me. I had done so little for Old England in return for my priceless British Citizenship. And sunny Australia - land of my birth: year after year I had roamed her fertile fields, sailed her tropic seas and climbed her rugged mountains. How little I had given in return! How trivial my services towards the making of the nation...

"I thought the whole thing out, dearest one. I fought the whole thing out, and I felt I could go out to battle for Empire, leaving behind home and friends and ease and comfort and all the good things that flesh is heir to. But I was not quite sure, my darling, if I could leave you. Then I looked up at the wall and saw your picture - the one I love. Near by - curiously apposite - was the picture of His Majesty George V. Somehow the final tussle resolved itself into King or Love. You know I've no silly ideas of Divine Right. Oliver Cromwell knocked all that nonsense on the head a few centuries ago. But I do realise all that the King stands for. And so I stood irresolute, gazing first on one picture, then on the other... For a brief space I thought I'd toss for it; I even took a coin from my pocket. The I scouted that idea as silly and cowardly: I alone had to make my decision; I could not trust it to the spin of a coin.

"I took your picture down from the wall and gazed at it, oh, so fondly... There could be only one answer... You always were my inspiration... And I could have sworn the picture smiled approval when I made the great decision. You know it was not that I loved thee less, but Empire more. 'I would not love thee, dear, so well, loved I not honour more'. I'd often heard that, but never knew what it meant till now. God bless you, my own. I went up to the barracks in the morning." (pp 9-12)

Who's the gibbering fantasist now?

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