Today I finished Goodbye Cobber, God Bless You, a book by John Hamilton, about the battle of the Nek and how the 8th and 10th Light Horse brigades were mostly wiped out through the foolishness of senior commanding officers.
In recent years in Australia, there was national mourning whenever an Australian serviceman lost his life in Afghanistan, and their funerals would be attended by the Prime minister and other political and community leaders. There would probably have been community outrage had war fatalities risen to significant numbers. During 13 years in Afghanistan there were 41 Australian military deaths. At the Nek there were at least 234 deaths and around 140 wounded out of the approximately 600 troops involved, all in matter of an hour or so.
Maybe these figures are no greater than other WWI battles, apart from the manner in which they were sustained, with the troops being ordered into a situation that had been proven hopeless within minutes of it starting. But what happened there (and elsewhere in WWI) showed an attitude to human life that would be foreign to modern Australia.
Apart from the military orders that caused the slaughter of so many, that attitude is also reflected in the way it was reported in the press when the story got out at home.
Here is an example quoted in Goodbye Cobber, God Bless You, starting with a description of the second wave of 150 men sent charging towards the Turkish lines:
Before they had gone half way upon their course not more than twenty were on their feet but they still charged. It was heroic! It was wonderful! In a few seconds, the twenty had dwindled to a dozen, to ten, to seven, to three. Would these last survivors persist? Two dropped. One struggled to his feet again, only to sag at the knees and go down a second time. The last remaining hero looked around. His face was red, his eyes were staring, but he smiled grimly. Still he ran to tackle the enemy single-handed but the end of the race was near, He stopped as if some invisible obstacle had blocked the way. For an instant he stood still. He then toppled backwards, holding his rifle, with the bayonet fixed, high above his head. The charge had finished. (from the Argus,8th October)
I don’t think I need to much further comment, apart from asking what kind of political or cultural conditioning could have led to such an outlook, and how easily could we return to that kind of mindset?
Sadly I think it would be all too easy when patriotism and duty to God become confused.