Research Paper on Australians at War: Why Did Australians Enter the Great War?

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University of Richmond
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World War 1 will remain a significant event in the history of the Australians not only because of the effects it had on them but also the key role it played in shaping the military of the country up to date. The war that took time between 1914 and 1918 claimed the lives of over 60000 soldiers and left over 156000 maimed and taken by the enemies as prisoners. This was not a small number considering that they had just federated less than two decades ago with only a population of fewer than five million people ("Australian Involvement In The First World War", 2017).

Before the Great War broke, between Britain and Germany, Australians virtually depended on Britain for everything regarding the defense of the country. They did not have a formal army and depended on their motherland for protection in times of conflicts. This made the new Commonwealth of Australia a loyal junior partner to the British Empire who was more than ready join them for any campaign. Even though Australia was now a federated nation, many Australians thought themselves as partly Britons and this partly explains their high willingness to support Britain in the Great War.

The first reason why Australians went into the war was rather an obligation. This is because, when Australian Federation was formed in 1901 and given to control the external affairs, the international relations and the management of diplomacy were still under the imperial government of Britain. Under the Constitution of 1901, even though it gave them the power to legislate regarding both external and defense matters through the subsection 51, the foreign policy that included the power to declare wars and signs treaties were a reserve for the empire. This was applied to all the other British colonies including New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada. This dictated that any member of the empire was obliged to make peace or declare a war if the United Kingdom took that position. To prove their subjection, the efforts by a few members of Australian Labor Party and those from trade unions were brushed off because they did not have a legal backing. The foreign interest of Britain was considered supreme and uniform to the rest of it empire umbrella. It was not until later during the war after huge losses of experienced by the Australian troops, that the country and other dominions reconsidered the Empires stand (Curtis,2014).

The move to go into the war was also self-preservation strategy. 1914 still, most of the Australians had been born in the United Kingdom and this, by large, influenced their patriotism to the Britains framework of imperialism. They felt that they were part of British race supremacy, which meant that if they dominated over the Germans, their small Australian race would not be in danger. Otherwise, Germany would dominate Europe, which would adversely affect them considering they had a link with the British. Furthermore, Australia was eying to colonize Belgium, which was right at the heart of Germanys occupation. Therefore, they had all to lose if Germany won the war against the British hence a haste support to their allies (Beaumont, 1995;pp2).

Economic realities played a key role to the entry. When the war broke, Australia withdrew from the European trade, which meant they had to solely rely on trade with the British. This really affected their economy and therefore they had to enter the war, obviously in support of Britain, to stabilize the state of their economy. However, they perceived as even a future major threat was the Germans political and economic aims. According to Moses (1989), the Germans heavy presence in the Pacific was a major concern to them. The Germans had embarked on an intense quest to make a global empire just like the other super powers such as Britain and their aim was South West Pacific. This quest meant that they would compromise the Australians economic efforts of supplying the northern Queensland with black labor for their sugar plantations. In fact, in 1884 after Australia acquired Queensland as its first overseas colony, Germany quickly claimed New Guineas eastern part and intensified their trading activities. By 1914, Germany, under the Imperial German Pacific Protectorate banner, had colonized majority of the Pacific colonies including German Samoa in the central Pacific. Australia have been eyed some of this resource endowed Germans colonies was a good motivation to enter the Great War against them (Gapps & →, 2017)

Religion was also a big contributor to the decision of going into a fight against the Germans. According to McKernan (1980), the war was seen as means of punishment where the evil nation would lose because of going against Gods will. The Protestant would hold thanks giving and even war anniversaries and used heightened tones to make sense of the war. Faith is a big part of influencing factors in the society encouraged, even more, men to into service to fight. In one of the articles in Bathurst National Advocate, an Anglican bishop, on the behalf of the church, in response to the countrys stand on the war, commented that the war was justified because they realized it was dictated by the honor. To them, any action that dictated nationalism was worth participation. He referred to the Germans, as great Teutonic empire that was out there to mop the key principles of national freedom and lives that are very sacred. The Catholic also viewed the war as a means to gain the glory. In one of the Daily Telegraph newspapers article, a Catholic bishop was quoted saying that the war just and noble waged and that Australia was going to get the imperishable glory. From these statements, there is no doubt that religious faith of the Australians played a big role in Australias match into the war.

The other reason for entry into the World War 1 was for the national history and narratives. According to McKay (2013), there was a general consensus that the Commonwealth did not have any history before 1914. There was also a common belief that no true nation was possible without one and therefore there was a need to make one and that the glory days were ahead of them. Charles Bean a popular war historian paints ANZAC spirits as a strong force determined to write a history in the Australia and New Zealands blank history books. Entering the Great War was also a chance to cement the unique virtues such as mateship, resourcefulness, and egalitarianism that they held strongly at their early phase of their nationalism. In fact in Robertsons book on the empire and ANZAC, the nationhood of both Australia and New Zealand was born after the battle of Gallipoli. Despite the great loss during the battle, the ANZAC soldiers had demonstrated endurance and great courage, which proved that the nation was equally efficient with everyone on the war ground. This was a sentiment concurred by many publications including that of Ernest Scott and Bean and which up to date is commemorated during the ANZAC day in Australia (Robertson, 1990;p 247-258).

The Germany dominance was not the only threat for Australians. One of the aims of entering the war was to contain Japan. Australia felt that Japan was being pushed out as a European outpost. Just before the Great War broke, the Japanese army had successfully defeated the Russian Navy during the battle of Tsushima in 1905. Consequently, it had challenged the Australia s policy on restrictions of racial immigration. This was a great point of concern because; among the values, Australia held too close to them was White Australia. In fact, this was among the first policies created immediately the Australian Federal Parliament federated it in 1901. The move by Britain to sign the Anglo-Japanese alliance to try and contain the issues of imperial overload made the situation worse for the Australians. The media reported that the motherland, Britain, were now friends with Japan by directly addressing the Australians. Even though the Japanese were on their side during the war and actually escorted the first AIF contingent, their moves were still under scrutiny by the Australians. The seizure of the weak Chinese government and extraction of more dispensations further confirmed that the Japanese were not to be trusted. The action made them fear that the same would happen to Australia sooner or later. More specifically, they feared that Japanese would force them to amend the White Australia policy and allow immigrants to the country to relieve its population pressure, as well as, acquire the wealth of from Dutch East Indies. True to Australians concerns, between 1915 and 1916, Japan is recorded to have started pressuring Australia for a commercial treaty that would favor Japan in the global trade and even risk changes of its immigration policy (Meaney, 2009;p 128).

A tussle between the loyalty and disloyalty can also be cited as one of the reasons Australians entered the war. According to Beaumont (2013), when the ANZAC legend emerged, the community was divided into two divides; those who were loyal to the empire and those that were not. In Australia, the disloyal represented the Anti-conscriptions who were against the recruitment of the Australian Imperial Force through conscription. They were of opinion that if the conscription mode of recruitment was applied, and then the action would be going against the fundamental freedoms which a democratic nation such as Australia should guard. The loyalist, on the other hand, stood their ground basing their reasons as a commitment to support the empire because it had their interests at heart and fight the militarism practiced by the Germans and which was a big threat to the small nation. Though the Anti -conscription did not oppose the course, it did not compromise the individual rights of freedom, the loyalty divide was prepared to go to any extent to achieve these goals. However, the popular vote went to the loyalty because their ideas were packaged to show how lack of support to the war would demean the efforts of defending the White Australian, a value the held as a core. This led to stigmatization and division among the citizens with entry into war emerging as the loyalty to the Empire and the popular vote. This was confirmed by the Prime Minister Morris Hughes statement after the winning the war in 1919 that White Australia had been preserved and the principle was now safe as it the day it was adopted (Inglis, 1998;p 216-225).

For the particular Australians who were involved in the war directly, as soldiers in the Australian Naval, ANMEF and Australian Imperial Force, the motives were different. In the early years of a nation, the sense of nationalism is heightened and Australia having just acquired independence recently, its population was very active. The people had the notion that they had an obligation to show Britain, which facilitated the quest of Australia, that they had traits of other established nations.

As seen, the Australians entry into the Great War was dictated by several factors. However, the analysis of these reasons shows that the deep ancestral connection with Britain was the man reason it participated. It was a young nation anxious to write a history in an era where war was considered as a means of proving nations might.



Australian Involvement In The First World War. (2017). Retrieved 8 September 2017, from

Beaumont, J. ed., 1995. Australia's War, 1914-18. Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. Special Request Service.

Beaumont, J., 2013. Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War. Allen & Unwin.

Curtis, J., To the last manAustralias entry to war in 1914. Parliament of Australia, http://www. aph. gov. au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parlia m...

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