Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lest we forget what really happens in war

As Australia lurches into yet another war in the middle east, poorly thought through as all those before, it's worth remembering the first major war Australian troops fought in, the first world war. It was billed "the war to end all wars" due to the horror, but in reality it launched a century (and counting) of bloody, stupid and unnecessary slaughter that shows no sign of letup.

My friend John Tognolini wrote this book, a fictionalised story of his two uncles who fought at Gallipoli. He doesn't glorify the war, despite parts of the book reading like an action novel. In fact, it is a fair survey of the stupidity of this particular war, from the viewpoint of the trenches.

The fighting was bloody. The troops were poorly equipped, unprepared and outnumbered. The officers were often as not stupid and cowardly. The whole operation was a complete waste of lives on both sides, which is made painfully clear in the narrative.

Togs (as his friends call him) has a lively writing style when he gets going. We get a bit of a sense of what happened as though we were there in the Allied trenches. It's not pretty, but it's engaging and if you need a reminder of the nasty incident, probably a lot easier than trying to wade through official military histories. It's a short book (expect a sequel).

Togs also has his characters use their stage to voice some of the contemporary critique of the war (and at times, allowing the author's hindsight to colour their statements as well). Sometimes it's a bit clunky how they do this, as far as the narrative goes, but it remains readable enough.

There's occasional anachronisms. Some of the language used strikes me as more modern than 1914. Some of the characters are somewhat larger than life, in their backstory and actions as well as their developed political views when they voice the criticisms of the war.

But it's a novel, in the end, and a bit of latitude in the characters is one way to tie together a historical account with a dissenting voice about Australia's war history.

As much as I rankle at the current Australian fashion to celebrate this battle (rather than mourn it) in the born-again jingoism of the 21st century, any rational look at Australia's history would see that Gallipoli is indeed the epitomy of Australia's involvement in overseas wars: a minor player in stupid imperialist bloodlettings and conquests.

Togs is launching the book tomorrow at Trades Hall in Melbourne. You can get it as a $5 ebook here.

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