Monday 13th April 8.30pm ABC
For the past 100 years, young Australians have grown up hearing the story of the original Anzacs. They know where they fought, the battles they were involved in and the characters that emerged from the brutal campaign as the Anzacs, along with British, Indian and French forces, attempted unsuccessfully to take over the Gallipoli peninsula.
This week on Four Corners, reporter Chris Masters tells the story of the nation’s first and most recent military campaigns. Drawing on interviews he recorded with Gallipoli veterans for his documentary The Fatal Shore (1988), and combining them with the stories of soldiers who’ve served in Afghanistan, he searches for the similarities and the differences in the men and women who went to these conflicts and the campaigns they fought.
“I think it’s hardwired into most Australians that when we think about war, we think about boats turning up on a shore... we think about charging up a hill to kill an enemy.” – Former soldier
Far fewer Australians, though, would know with any precision what Australian troops have been doing in Afghanistan for the past 14 years. Thousands of soldiers have left our shores, many have died and many more wounded. And yet, in spite of modern communications, few people would understand exactly what our soldiers have been through.
Why is that? Has the legend of Anzac obscured and overshadowed more recent conflicts, and has it stopped a more complex discussion about Australians experience of war?
Soldiers talk about why they joined the Army, why they went to combat zones, what it was like to be sent into combat and what they took from their time in the cauldron of war.
What emerges from these candid reflections is a complex picture of similarities and differences. Asked why young men in 1915 were prepared to go over the top to certain death, one Anzac says:
“I was 100% keen like all were in those days. There was more patriotism in those days than there is now.”
Afghanistan veterans might still be patriotic but they make it clear sending men to certain death would run counter to their own psychology and their training.
“As a junior officer I never, ever would have been put in a position where one of my senior officers would have told me to do something so brash and so brazen that it would unnecessarily risk so many lives for so little tactical or strategic gain.” – Former Australian Army Officer
Some aspects of the soldiers’ experience though never vary. One is the agreement that luck is what you need to survive. The other, that when the chips are down and death is at hand, the reason the soldiers from both eras carried on was simply the over-riding sense of loyalty to their mates.
ANZAC TO AFGHANISTAN, reported by Chris Masters and presented by Kerry O'Brien, goes to air on Monday 13th April at 8.30pm on ABC. It is replayed on Tuesday 14th April at 10.00am and again on Wednesday 15th at midnight. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.