It doesn’t help any­one to drag down those who did as good a job as was pos­si­ble

The Weekend Australian - - COMMENTARY - GER­ARD HEN­DER­SON

There used to be a time when in­di­vid­u­als be­gan an ar­gu­ment in the pub­lic de­bate. Now, in the terms of the mod­ern cliche, they start “a con­ver­sa­tion” or some­times “the con­ver­sa­tion”.

Meet ACT La­bor Party politi­cian Bec Cody. She was elected to the ACT Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly in Oc­to­ber 2016 and is a mem­ber of the La­bor Left fac­tion.

Late last month The Can­berra Times re­ported that Cody had called for a re­view of all ACT sub­urbs and street names that caused “pain” by the “com­mem­o­ra­tion of vil­lains as heroes”.

In­ter­viewed by Fran Kelly on the ABC’s RN Break­fast on Oc­to­ber 30, Cody ini­ti­ated a con­ver­sa­tion on Field Mar­shal Sir Dou­glas Haig in gen­eral and Can­berra’s Haig Park in par­tic­u­lar. Haig was the com­man­der-in-chief of Bri­tish forces in France dur­ing the greater part of World War I. Haig Park is in the Can­berra sub­urbs of Brad­don and Turner.

Kelly sug­gested that Cody had been study­ing Haig and asked her about Haig Park. Cody replied: “Peo­ple keep writ­ing and ring­ing and telling me all about it. Haig Park was named af­ter a gen­eral that sent his troops into bat­tle just to be killed — he didn’t nec­es­sar­ily think about how they might be af­fected by this.”

So there you have it. Ac­cord­ing to Cody, all Haig did in 1914-18 was to send his troops into bat­tle to get them killed. Ear­lier, on Oc­to­ber 29, the ABC re­ported that Haig Park was “named af­ter Dou­glas Haig, who has been re­ferred to as The Butcher for his tac­tics dur­ing World War I”. Pre­sent­ing ABC TV’s The Drum on Oc­to­ber 30, Craig Reu­cas­sel joined in the cho­rus by de­scrib­ing Haig as “the so-called butcher of the West­ern Front”.

Cody used the ABC to pub­li­cise her cam­paign that sev­eral ACT names, in­clud­ing Haig Park, should be changed by the ACT Place Names Com­mit­tee. She has drawn up a mo­tion to this ef­fect that will come be­fore the Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly on No­vem­ber 28. All this sug­gests Cody be­longs to that group of left­ists who are alien­ated from their own so­ci­ety.

To­mor­row Aus­tralia com­mem­o­rates Re­mem­brance Day along with the cen­te­nary of the end of World War I. Haig was the leader of the Bri­tish forces — Aus­tralians, Bri­tish (in­clud­ing some Ir­ish), Cana­di­ans, In­di­ans, New Zealan­ders and more — who played a ma­jor role in the de­feat of Im­pe­rial Ger­many on the field of bat­tle at the West­ern Front. The Bri­tish forces were sup­ported by France and, to­wards the end of the con­flict, the US.

In Ar­chi­tect of Vic­tory: Dou­glas Haig (Bir­linn, 2006), mil­i­tary his­to­rian Wal­ter Reid wrote that Haig “presided over the great­est vic­tory that has ever been won es­sen­tially by a Bri­tish feat of arms”. Reid con­ceded that “this does not make him (Haig) the great­est gen­eral that Bri­tain has pro- duced”. But he was a suc­cess­ful sol­dier.

Reid ac­knowl­edges Haig’s faults, es­pe­cially “a ca­pac­ity to be car­ried away by ex­cess of op­ti­mism which blinded him from time to time to re­al­ity”. But he praises Haig as a “great ad­min­is­tra­tor” who was “to in­vig­o­rate and in­spire the great­est ap­pli­ca­tion of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy to war­fare that mil­i­tary his­tory had known”.

From an Aus­tralian per­spec­tive, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that Haig was an ad­mirer of Gen­eral John Monash, the leader of the Aus­tralian Army Corps, who played a key role in the Al­lies’ mil­i­tary vic­to­ries in 1918.

Aus­tralia has never had a more im­por­tant role in world af­fairs than it did in 1918 and the years im­me­di­ately be­fore and af­ter the ar­mistice. Yet Cody has cho­sen 2018 as the year when Haig Park should be re­named as a state­ment against a man she al­leges — with­out a shred of ev­i­dence — “sent his troops into bat­tle just to be killed”.

In the 1960s and into the 70s it was fash­ion­able in in­tel­lec­tual cir­cles to de­pict World War I as an un­nec­es­sary con­flict in which mil­i­tary forces suf­fered, and died, in vain. The den­i­gra­tion of Haig be­gan as early as the 20s. He was crit­i­cised by one-time Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Lloyd Ge­orge and by his­to­ri­ans such as Lid­dell Hart. In a sense, they re­sented Haig for achiev­ing what they main­tained could not be achieved: namely, the de­feat of the Ger­man army on the West­ern Front.

Cer­tainly there was some dread­ful loss of life, es­pe­cially dur­ing the Bat­tle of the Somme in 1916 and the Third Bat­tle of Ypres in 1917 (dur­ing which my un­cle Alan Dar­gavel died). How­ever, both bat­tles did con­sid­er­able dam­age to the Ger­mans, even though the Al­lies did not gain much ground. In his 1961 book, The Don­keys, Bri­tish his­to­rian Alan Clark de­picted Haig as a heart­less idiot. This was taken up a few years later by Joan Lit­tle­wood’s the­atre pro­duc­tion Oh, What a Lovely War! and by Richard At­ten­bor­ough’s film adap­ta­tion of the same name.

The de­fence of Haig was led by his­to­rian John Ter­raine in his 1963 book, Dou­glas Haig: The Ed­u­cated Sol­dier, and in sub­se­quent pub­li­ca­tions. A half-cen­tury later, Ter­raine’s the­sis is no longer con­tro­ver­sial. As Aus­tralian his­to­rian Peter Stan­ley said in 2014: “Haig’s rep­u­ta­tion has been both at­tacked and de­fended; the thrust of cur­rent his­tor­i­cal think­ing is that he did as good a job as could have been done.”

Ger­many was the ag­gres­sor in 1914 and it had pos­ses­sions in the Pa­cific. A Ger­man vic­tory in 1918 or ear­lier would have ad­versely af­fected Aus­tralia. Aus­tralians have a vested in­ter­est in hon­our­ing all who helped de­feat the kaiser — from the field mar­shal down to a pri­vate. Cody’s pro­posal to change the name of Haig Park is a left­ist ges­ture born out of his­tor­i­cal ig­no­rance.

Ger­ard Hen­der­son is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Syd­ney In­sti­tute. His Me­dia Watch Dog blog can be found at www.theaus­tralian.com.au

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