The Australian government’s World War I centenary celebrations

Beginning in August, 2014, the Australian political establishment conducted a campaign of events commemorating and celebrating the 100th anniversary of the imperialist slaughter of World War I. The commemorations were a national campaign, supported by all the major political parties—the governing Liberals and Nationals, the opposition Labor Party and the Greens—and promoted by the media.

Dubbed “Rabaul to Return,” every stage of Australian involvement in the war, from its outset with the seizure of the town of Rabaul in German New Guinea to its conclusion in 1918, was marked by what Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed would be a “peoples’ celebration.”

Planning for the anniversary began in 2011, when the then Gillard Labor government established the “Anzac [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps] Centenary Advisory Board,” a panel composed of senior military figures, academics, high-ranking public servants and media personalities.

Anniversary services were held across Australia, with schoolchildren in particular dragooned into taking part, and new rubrics added to school curricula aimed at promoting Australia's participation in the war.

Over four years, more than $600 million was spent on centenary projects and events, swamping the population with patriotic propaganda and the quasi-religious glorification of the Australian armed forces and their military interventions, past and present. This was more than what was being spent on war commemorations by all the other former World War I combatants combined.

As the WSWS wrote throughout the celebrations, they were aimed at promoting nationalism and support for militarism in the present, under conditions of the Australian political establishment's alignment with the US-led “pivot to Asia” initiated under the Obama administration, aimed at militarily encircling China and preparing for military conflict. They were also aimed at burying any mention of the mass opposition to World War I that developed in Australia, as in other countries.

The militarist and anti-democratic character of the campaigns was exposed when the local government council in Sydney’s suburban Burwood, followed by the prestigious, sandstone University of Sydney, both banned the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) from holding a public meeting in their buildings that was called to expose the official lies about Anzac Day and advance a socialist alternative to the increasing danger of a third world war.

The decisions to censor the SEP, which were taken at the highest political level, confirmed the SEP’s warnings that the drive to war is inseparable from the escalating government assaults on the social and democratic rights of the working class. Courageous anti-war individuals, such as SBS sports journalist Stuart McIntyre, Yassmin Abdel-Magied from the ABC, and comedian Catherine Deveny, were viciously denounced after they dared to challenge the official Anzac mythology.

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