In the First World War, a total of 16 million died of which 62,149 were Australians. In addition, from March 1918 until February 1919, in the pandemic of the (misnamed) Spanish Flu, which was brought to Europe by American soldiers, 21 million died. The figure of more than 12,000 Australians who died from the Spanish Flu pandemic raised the total Australian death toll from the first World War to over 74,000.
What seems to me to have never seen asked in the publicity surrounding ANZAC commemorations, is the question: Could the First World War - in which 16 million - or if the 22 million death toll of the Spanish Flu epidemic of March 1918 until February 1919 were to be added, 38 million died - have possibly been avoided?
Lest we forget how Australia helped start the First World War
The Australian War memorial says, "When Britain declared war in August 1914 Australia was automatically placed on the side of the Commonwealth."
So, how was Australia automatically "placed on the side of the Commonwealth?" Was it not possible for Australia, as a sovereign nation, with its own parliament, to democratically discuss whether or not it should support Britain in its war with Germany and act on whatever decision it had arrived at?
In fact, as shown in Hell-Bent - Australia's leap into the Great War (2014) by Australian author Douglas Newton, Australia, in the years prior to the First World War, on two occasions - during the Agadir Crisis of 1912 and during the Second Balkan War of 1913, the Australian government did its utmost to fan the flames of war.
... And those who tried to prevent war
According to Newton, what prevented war from breaking out on those two occasions was "British and European labour movements ... get[ting] into the streets. French and German socialists organised a series of monster demonstrations against war in August and September. British Labour also held rallies for peace."
On one other previous occasion, in 1905, war could have broken out when the Swedish government tried to use force to prevent Norway from seceding. On this prior occasion, Swedish socialists, led by Zeth Höglund, led mass protests and succeeded in preventing war and allowing Norway to be independent.
August 1914: Australia tips the balance in favour of war
However, following the Sarajevo incident of 28 June 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, the European Socialist movements were unable to prevent the outbreak of war. Indeed, many Parliamentary leaders who had opposed war on those previous occasions, this time took their countries to war.
In Britain, the Liberal Party government came close to keeping Britain out of the war. Previously the Liberal Party had opposed the Boer War of 1899-1902. The Liberal Party initially lost electoral support for their opposition to the British government's war against the Boers of South Africa, but by 1905 were able to form government in the UK.
As described in The Darkest Days - The Truth Behind Britain's Rush to War, 1914 (2014), also by Douglas Newton, a majority of the Liberal cabinet were, at first, opposed to war. Despite this, through a lot of political manoeuvring, assisted by the Australian government, the pro-war minority became a majority. The UK declared war on Germany. The Australian government of Liberal Prime Minister Joseph Cook, together with the Labor opposition of Andrew Fisher had got their wish!
Gallipoli Landings and the subsequent slaughter on the Western front
What followed shortly, on 25 April 1915, was the Allied landing at Gallipoli Peninsula, which has since 1916 been commemorated each year as ANZAC Day. As a consequence, of the total 56,707 Allied dead, 7,594 Australians died on Gallipoli Peninsula over the next 8 months, whilst 56,643 of the Turkish defenders were killed.
The subsequent fighting over the next three years in the trenches of the Western front was to prove to be even more bloody. 46,000 Australians died between March 1916 and Armistice Day on 11 November 1918.
The total number of deaths for the First World War was 16 million. This terrible death toll was exceeded by the total of more that 21 million who were killed by the (misnamed) Spanish Flu epidemic, which was brought to Europe by US soldiers. Of the 21 million, Australia's comparatively low share was more than 12,000 deaths.
The total cost to Australia for its entry to the First World War was over 74,000 killed and155,000 wounded. This doesn't take into account many other Australian participants psychologically scarred for years to come by their experiences.
The Australian people twice stop conscription
Whilst the Australian government had succeeded in its goal of bringing about the outbreak of war, many Australians remained resolutely opposed to war, particularly coal mining communities and Irish Catholics.
To find replacements for those who had been killed or maimed on the battlefields of Europe, the Labor government tried twice to introduce conscription through referenda, but were defeated on both occasions. Even a majority of Australian soldiers serving in Europe voted against conscription during the second referendum of 1917.
These past successes in the fight against war, that I have described above, are what we should be commemorated on ANZAC Day. On ANZAC Day, whilst we should also commemorate the courage of those Australians who fought in the First World War, we should not do so without speaking forthrightly about the corrupt political leaders who duped them into fighting and making those terrible sacrifices in that senseless war.