Australia’s rush to enter World War I

Reading about the ‘khaki election’ of 1914 in Douglas Newton’s Hell-Bent evokes a sense of déjà vu in 2014, as Australia embarks on another war in the Middle East. During the campaign of 1914, Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Labor leader Andrew Fisher jostled to prove their loyalty to Britain and their enthusiasm for the impending war. Fisher’s efforts to match and outdo the conservative leader for patriotism bring to mind Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s willingness to support the government’s military engagement in Syria and Iraq, and its amendments to national security laws. Plus ça change

Hell-Bent takes as its subject one of the few chapters in Australia’s military history that has received little close attention: the nation’s decision to go to war in August 1914. The study goes some way to correcting the nationalist myopia that leads Australians to the belief that their history began with a beachhead on an isolated Turkish peninsula on 25 April 1915. Newton, a retired academic historian, uses the records of the British and Australian governments and the personal papers of political and other leaders to illuminate a moment in history before the Anzac acronym was coined and before the nation was given its ‘martial baptism’ at Gallipoli. Newton’s lively and beautifully crafted prose takes the reader back and forth between Melbourne, Sydney, and London during the countdown to war.

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