142 years ago, yesterday, the son of an Irish convict, transported to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing two pigs, dropped to his death after being convicted of murder, in part due to the perjured testimony of a trooper. That man, Edward (Ned) Kelly, when sentenced, said to the judge, Sir Redmond Barry, “Yes, I will see you where I am going.” Twelve days after his execution, Sir Redmond Barry died from complications from diabetes.
One of reasons given by Ned Kelly for why he turned to crime was anger at his family’s poverty and anger at the British establishment. Anti-British sentiments were to impact an event that had its conclusion on the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month of 1918.
Four years earlier, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, Serbia, and a list of demands issued by Austria, and after Germany, when facing a bifrontal war, due to the alliance system (the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy (Italy pulled the pin on the alliance as it didn’t want to go to war against Britain) and the Triple Entente of Russia, France and Britain) enacted the Schlieffen Plan, a brilliant strategy on paper, but ignorant of Belgium’s neutrality, and after Germany refused to get out of Belgium, war broke out in Europe.
Being a British colony, Australia was dragged into the war, and Australian men eagerly rushed to enlist, initially. As casualties increased and recruitment numbers dropped, then Australian Prime Minister, William Morris (Billy) Hughes, invoked conscription. He held two referenda, and both failed. The Catholic Church, of which Ned Kelly was an adherent and 38 years before the armistice, had the Last Rites administered by the same man who had baptized him 25 years earlier, was vehemently opposed to conscription, in particular, Archbishop Daniel Mannix, due to the brutal suppression of the Irish Rebellion by the British, in 1916.
It is right and appropriate to remember those who died however, those men did NOT give their lives for our freedom. Another important lesson from the war is that an unjust peace treaty can give way to a brutal dictatorship. Yes, Woodrow Wilson was correct in saying that France had a case, however, a crippling reparations bill that would have taken until 1988 to pay off and the loss of German internal as well as external territory, was unjust, not to mention the War Guilt Clause.
Fortunately, while military recruitment on television is advertised to make defence force life appear attractive, wars are not marketed in the same way as the First World War was and the Second World War. And fortunately, while in Australia, the former Prime Minister saw some votes in scapegoating a community, scapegoating is more the preserve of the Far-Right than the mainstream today.
The First World War was not, as claimed at the time, the war to end all wars. The Second World War was far more brutal, and since then, Australia has been involved in Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan and Iraq. The world will not be able to live in peace until it learns the lessons of the futility of war. Namely, the loss of the lives of some promising young men (I remember reading the story of a a Christian missionary from Scotland, who went to Japan, and then to Melbourne, Australia, who had a son who was an exceptional student. He was doing a Master's Degree in England, when he joined the Army and was killed in Europe.), on both sides.