Post #21 – War (and ANZAC Day) is a Racket

With ANZAC Day this Saturday, I thought I would try and honour those who died for this country by not saying anything at all. Lord knows there’s more than enough media coverage surrounding the 100th anniversary of that fateful landing of our troops in Gallipoli to test the endurance of the most seasoned media consumer and ANZAC aficionado. But something about the whole thing has bugged me this year, more than it has other years. I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable playing two-up (contemporarily called ‘three-up’ now, for a quicker, more entertaining game!) whilst sinking copious amounts of piss to commemorate the dead. I would usually bite my tongue when people would describe how they would be ‘celebrating‘ (what the fuck are you celebrating, exactly?) ANZAC Day, or further bite my tongue when they would casually relate the day to some faux-patriotic/nationalistic sentiment (thereby completely missing the whole point of the commemoration).

But this year, with the commemorative spirit notched up to fever pitch, it struck me. The obscene profits that were (and still are) made in war has now become a full-time industry – both abroad and here. We no longer need to be at war (although it helps) for unscrupulous and opportunistic corporations and businessmen to make a buck – we now live in an era of ‘war products’. The military-industrial complex has expanded into the commercialisation of the remembrance of war, and with it the life-cycle of war and capitalism has seemingly gone full circle. The duty of fighting for an empire over 100 years ago has evolved into a collective national duty of buying in to the commodification of the Gallipoli campaign.

You see, contemporary capitalism wants to be involved in the commemoration of ANZAC Day – big business tell us they care and that they mourn with us. Just like Pinnochio, they think they’re human and they want to show their ‘human’ emotions with the only thing they have lots of – money. Recent examples include Woolworth’s attempt to put a ‘fresh’ spin on honouring the dead (until a popular backlash ensued); Target brought out scented candles, hoodies (so you can be a Gallipoli gangster!), commemorative swags, and stubby holders; small businesses tried to get in on it too, everything from ‘Light Horse Punch‘ at your favourite drinking hole, to flogging boob jobs; and a foreign-owned beverage corporation played to our love of beer and ‘mateship’ by encouraging us all to ‘raise a glass‘ in toast of our departed brethren. Never mind the fact that for the last few years running the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has lost more people to alcohol-related incidents than to the Taliban or ISIS. Also never mind that the main defence of their adverts revolves around their capped donations to the RSL (well, some RSL’s), with these venues recently being accused of ignoring the plight of veterans in the search for greater profits. The President of the NSW RSL came out recently saying,

We want nothing to do with the clubs and the poker machines and the drinking. The clubs aren’t serving our members. The clubs don’t contribute to us or the welfare of veterans. They are trading off the Anzac traditions and the Anzac legend. Let’s divorce ourselves, if you like, of the family tree. Let’s call it quits and we’ll get on with our business.

If the RSL venues feel a bit tacky and disingenuous, you can do the ‘Camp Gallipoli‘ experience in places all around Australia where you get to ‘sleep under the stars’, but not before a splendid evening of ‘entertainment’ and ‘great food options’ – all for just $121! Wanna bit of sport with your ANZAC biscuits? Go along to the ‘traditional’ ANZAC clashes of over-paid sport stars battling it out – just have a 1 minute remembrance at the beginning and it’s all kosher! However, not everyone’s a fan, as The Age’s Liz Porter summed up,

The commodification of “the Anzac spirit” as an AFL marketing device appears to have begun with the 1995 Essendon-Collingwood clash, after which a commemorative poster of the game was produced, bearing the words “Lest we forget”. A solemn pledge was reborn as an advertising slogan.

Want to just veg in front of the TV? Not without a live cross from the commercial television stations – live from Turkey! TV schedules are packed with mini-series and documentaries further perpetuating the state-sanctioned Gallipoli narrative. Further afield, a work colleague of mine is joining thousands of other tourists on a pilgrimage to where it all began – for a fee, of course. He won in a lottery ballot to reserve a spot on the hill where our diggers landed on April 25th, 1915. The night before the dawn service, he will be accompanied by any number of second-rate celebrities waltzing around, with live Aussie bands and a live-stream back to Australia by the commercial networks topping off an entertaining backdrop. Slinking into the night will be the tour operating companies, counting their piles of cash. ANZAC Day has come full-circle – it’s no longer about remembering the legacy of those who perished in that hell-hole over the other side of the world one hundred years ago. It’s about profiteering off another speciality of capitalism – war.

The myth of the ANZAC is what really helps perpetuate this business model of ‘war products’ in Australia, so firstly we need to get a few things straight. Let us keep in mind on ANZAC Day that what our soldiers fought for in that first World War was not freedom, or equality (our Indigenous Australians’ can attest to that), or any of that other feel-good shit the media and the politicians would have you believe. This war was about a toxic mix of capitalism and imperialism, in it’s purest form. Finally fighting as a fully-fledged nation we Australians’ attempted to invade a sovereign nation that had never attacked nor threatened us – simply because we were told to. We were fighting for King, Mother Britain and Empire – ‘freedom’ had very little to do with it. We didn’t even fight under our current flag (so to those who scream, “they died under that flag!”, you’re ummm… wrong). It was a flawed mission from the beginning, we were sent to the slaughter – our greatest success was our retreat. It’s all very good and well to attach faux-spirit to an event after the fact, but as Jane Rawson recently pointed out in a piece for Overland:

Courage, ingenuity, good humour, mateship and even sacrifice are qualities which have no inherent relationship with war. Sure, they occur during war; they also occur in primary schools and at stitch and bitch sessions in inner-city bars. I bet that if you could get into the internment camps at Manus and Nauru, you’d even see them there.

The last prominent politician to note this fact was our former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who thought the idea that Australia’s nationhood was baptised within the ANZAC spirit of Gallipoli was ‘utter nonsense‘. He was ripped apart for voicing such opinions, lest us common folk catch on to the absurdity of it all. Furthermore, politicians get a boost in the polls by war-mongering – they feed off conflict and hyper-nationalism to further their own ideological agendas. Renowned Australian journalist Robert Manne noted in the aftermath of the Iraq War that:

The sentimentalised version of the new Australian militarism provided a fitting atmosphere for romanticising the Australian involvement in the invasion of Iraq, for turning all Australian soldiers into instant diggers, and for legitimising all new military spending.

The military-industrial complex these days integrates the media and other corporations on the periphery – for example those that have little or nothing to do with war, such as companies like Woolworths and Target. All aspects of business love the obscene profits that can be made from war, and who can blame them? They can sell more raw materials to ‘help’ the war effort, media organisations can garner better sales and increased ratings, the price of raw materials usually goes up and stimulates the financial markets, and there’s the possibility that new frontier markets will be opened up – Iraqi oilfields, anyone? But what is really new about this military-industrial complex is how corporations behave on the home-front, and how they manipulate the masses to further consumer ‘war products’. Opportunistic businesses are increasingly trying to cash in on our need to somehow relate to this myth of a ‘just war’ being stuffed down our throats – whether that be via movies, stubby holders, CD’s, shitty outdoor ‘experiences’ – you name it. War, what is it good for? The answer is business. In the Australian context, some corporations really and truly…

benefited from [the first world] war. BHP’s steelworks in Newcastle was born. The lead plant at Port Pirie was at one point the biggest producing in the world. Broken Hill’s zinc industry began to bloom.

Whilst mining magnates and large corporations like BHP Billiton profited handsomely from that war, “the burden of the First World War fell squarely on the poorest in society“. And this didn’t just apply to Australia. In America, a famous Major General noted after WW1 that American companies were making anywhere between ‘100% to 7,856% profit‘ off the war effort, compared to the measly few percent in times of peace. This particular Major General received two Medals of Honour (more than any other) in the line of duty and was, as they say, American as apple pie. However, sometime after the war he was approached by the largest corporations in America who wanted him to help ‘rally the troops’ in a fascist uprising against the American government – in what was later referred to as ‘The Business Plot‘. This was the last straw for him, and he spoke out in clear and concise terms against the influence of big business in war. This is what he said:

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Turn to contemporary times and Halliburton, ExxonMobil, Daimler-Chrysler and Blackwater are now the companies synonymous with profiteering off war. As Abbott demonstrated with the purchase of 58 dud fighter jets for $12.4 billion, the political class is happy to perpetuate the new military-industrial complex. A brief look to the recent past shows the connections between large multinational corporations and the Iraq War are too numerous to ignore. So lest we forget the masses of workers and the poor who needlessly died in wars fought for the interests of the rich. Let us remember that behind the nationalistic phrases of our political elite and our biased, blood-thirsty press lies the sordid reality of capitalist ambition – of wars fought for the greed of corporations at the cost of millions of lives. Despite what our politicians, the media and corporate Australia would have you believe, Australia has never wanted war. This was demonstrated in the democratic defeat of conscription in the midst of the first World War, to the acts of civil disobedience opposing the Vietnam War, and to the huge numbers of Aussies who took to the streets opposing the Iraq War. Fast-forward to today and the Australian people are currently facing ‘Gallipoli fatigue‘, and further questioning why we are again involved in foreign wars in the Middle East. Sadly, with the passing of any living connection to the battles of Gallipoli and the Western Front many years ago, a void has been left for big business to sell us more ‘war products’ and thus further profit from our grief and confusion.

My pop told me about how his father fought in both the Boer Wars and WW1, and I’m certainly not arrogant enough to speak on behalf of my great-grandfather. Heck, I never even met the guy – it’s presumptuous of me to know what he specifically thought he was fighting for, let alone for anyone else to comment. But I think it’s fair to assume that he didn’t fight so that BHP Billiton, DuPont, BP or Halliburton could make untold fortunes off further death and destruction. I also think it’s fair to say he didn’t battle in those trenches so Channel 9 could make an advert-filled mini-series about the ordeal, or so that Target could sell some shitty scented candles, or better yet so Lee Kernaghan can pump out another crappy country album. So this ANZAC Day, please take time to reflect – not on the heroics, mateship and ‘spirit’ of it all. These are themes that the political elites, big business and the media callously adopt and manipulate to maintain the new military-industrial complex and profitable model of ‘war products’. Better yet, remember the Gallipoli campaign for the true message (and the only message) one can take from it – how futile, absurd, obnoxious and horrible war really is. Let’s collectively say ‘never again’, and actually mean it for once.

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