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Workers At Either End of the Bayonet

I’ve never understood Australians fascination with ANZAC Day. On the 25th April 1915 a British force with an Australian contingent invaded the Dardanelles in an attempt to force the Ottoman Empire (Germany’s major ally) out of the war. The invasion was a failure. Over 8,000 Australians died in a campaign that resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 soldiers on both sides. It’s hard to understand why World War One, a dirty little trade war that resulted in the deaths of over 25 million people, fought by works at either end of a bayonet for the glory of God, King and Country, is celebrated as Australia’s most important day.

Fake news isn’t something invented by President Groper, it is a permanent feature of Australia's historical and contemporary record. Over 60,000 young Australians died on the European killing fields and a further 60,000 died of their wounds within a decade of returning home from a volunteer force of 420,000 men. An extraordinary number of young men when you consider Australia population in 1914 was a little over 5 million. The war didn’t just occur on the battlefields in Europe and German and British colonies. At the same time a war was going on in Australia to prevent the deaths of another 60,000 young Australians on the European killing fields. When WWI was first declared in October 1914 most Australians supported the Labor Prime Minister’s call to support the war effort to the last man and the last shilling. As the casualty figures skyrocketed and the volunteers dried up, the Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes attempted to introduce conscription in Australia.

Faced with widespread opposition from the Labor movement, the Irish dominated Roman Catholic Church, led by Melbourne’s Archbishop Mannix, the Women’s Peace Movement, the anti-war movement and radical organisations like the Industrial Workers of the world (I.W.W) who opposed the war from the day it was declared it was forced to hold a plebiscite. It’s important to remember the I.W.W paid a heavy price for leading the anti-conscription movement. The I.W.W was declared illegal, its members were jailed, its newspapers were closed down and its assets seized.

Despite a vigorous pro-conscription campaign by the stay at home patriots that was supported by the media, big business, war profiteers and many of the churches, the first anti-conscription plebiscite was defeated in October 1916. Faced with the very real prospect his Labor colleagues would dump him as Prime Minister, Billy Hughes and one third of the Labor government crossed the floor to form a pro-conscription government with the conservative opposition.

Despite the introduction of draconian legislation to stop the anti-conscription movement, the second conscription plebiscite held in December 1917 failed to change Australians’ minds about the need for conscription.

On ANZAC Day I remember the heroes that have been written out of this country’s history. The men and women in the anti-conscription movement whose brave stand against conscription ensured another 60,000 young Australians were not sacrificed for the Glory of God, King and Country on the European killing fields, not as we will be constantly told on the 25th April 2017 that they died fighting for freedom, democracy and the Australian way of life.

Dr. Joseph Toscano

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