Former Australian PM calls the First World War a conflict "devoid of any virtue"

Posted on on 11 November 2013
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The Former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, has addressed a Remembrance Day service at the Australian War Memorial calling the First World War a conflict "devoid of any virtue".

The 11th November service saw Mr. Keating describe the First World War as a "cauldron of destruction" which "arose from the quagmire of European tribalism. A complex interplay of nation state destinies overlaid by notions of cultural superiority peppered with racism".

"The First World War not only destroyed European civilisation and the empires at its heart; its aftermath led to a second conflagration, the Second World War, which divided the continent until the end of the century".

"European holocaust"

Mr. Keating continued that Australians had already "crystallised a good idea of ourselves" in the wake of Australian federation in 1901.

"By 1915 we had no need to re-affirm our European heritage at the price of being dragged to a European holocaust. We had escaped that mire, both sociologically and geographically".

"But out of loyalty to imperial Britain, we returned to Europe’s killing fields to decide the status of Germany, a question which should earlier have been settled by foresight and statecraft".

"Those bloody battles in Flanders, on the Western Front and at Gallipoli nevertheless distinguished us, demonstrating what we were made of".

Mr. Keating stated that Australia was "never in need of any redemption at Gallipoli", and that "there was nothing missing in our young nation or our idea of it that required the martial baptism of a European cataclysm to legitimise us".

Anzac legend

Acknowledging the positive aspects of the 'Anzac legend', Mr. Keating said: "What the Anzac legend did do, by the bravery and sacrifice of our troops, was reinforce our own cultural notions of independence, mateship and ingenuity. Of resilience and courage in adversity".

He continued that this was "despite the fact that the military campaigns were shockingly flawed and incompetently executed".

Mr. Keating, as Australian leader in 1993, presided over the funeral service of the unknown Australian soldier at the Australian War Memorial.

"Greatly heartened"

The former Prime Minister said that he was "greatly heartened" that "so many young Australians find a sense of identity and purpose from the Anzac legend and from those Australian men and women who have fought in wars over the last hundred years".

"But the true commemoration of their lives, service and sacrifice is to understand that the essence of their motivation was their belief in all we had created here and our responsibility in continuing to improve it". 
"Homage to these people has to be homage to them and about them and not to some idealised or jingoist reduction of what their lives really meant". 
Concluding his speech, Mr. Keating urged Australians in the face of hardship to have "courage under pressure, ingenuity in adversity, bonds of mateship and above all, loyalty to Australia". 

Source: Australian War Memorial

Images courtesy of Paul Keating's website

Posted by: Daniel Barry, Centenary News