April 25th is a solemn day of remembrance here in NZ and in Australia. It marks the sacrifices made by members of ANZAC (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) when they joined to fight alongside Britain in the first World War.
Young men flocked to join up having no earthly idea of what they were getting themselves into, but filled with a fervour “For King and Country.”
The first deployment of the ANZACS was at the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli. The information the command received about the terrain and an under estimation of the Turkish forces led to a disaster. Nine months later the Allies withdrew leaving behind 46,000 dead.
“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them.” From Ode of Remembrance, taken from Laurence Binyon’s
“For the Fallen” first published in 1914.
This day is also commemorated in Turkey at Gallipoli where the cove has been renamed ANZAC Cove. Many ex-servicemen and their families travel to Turkey each year.
And Waltzing Matilda? This was the song played as the troops sailed out from Sydney, Australia at the start of that fateful enterprise. Click here to hear John Williams singing “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”.
I have written in more detail on this day both in 2011 and 2012. It is a sad commentary on the people of the world that even after this “War to End All Wars” we still send our young men and women out to be slaughtered by ‘the enemy’.
And now there are no more survivors from Gallipoli.
RIP all the fallen and
Last Gallipoli survivor from Australia
(died May 2002 aged 103)
Alfred Douglas Dibley Last Gallipoli survivor from New Zealand
(died 18 December 1997 aged 101)
Child soldiers are “more obedient, do not question orders and are easier to manipulate than adult soldiers.”
The exploitation of children in the ranks of the world’s armies must end, says a new United Nations report. “One of the most alarming trends in armed conflict is the participation of children as soldiers,” declares the report, by Graça Machel, the Secretary-General’s Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.
The report says the use of child soldiers is a problem created by adults, to be eradicated by adults. It calls for a global campaign to demobilize all child soldiers and to “eradicate the use of children under the age of 18 years in the armed forces.” The report further calls upon governments to renounce the practice of forced recruitment, which has put increasing numbers of children under arms against their will.
“Children are dropping out of childhood,” commented Devaki Jain of India, one of Ms. Machel’s Eminent Persons’ Group of advisers. “We must envision a society free of conflict where children can grow up as children, not weapons of war.”
The use of child soldiers is hardly new. “Children serve armies in supporting roles as cooks, porters, messengers and spies,” the report notes. “Increasingly, however, adults are conscripting children as soldiers deliberately.” Children under 15 years of age are known to be serving in government or opposition forces in at least 25 conflict zones and it is estimated that some 200,000 child soldiers under 16 years of age saw armed combat in 1988. Generally, however, child soldiers are statistically invisible as governments and armed opposition groups deny or downplay their role.
The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child defines childhood as below the age of 18 years, although it currently recognizes 15 as the minimum age for voluntary or compulsory recruitment into the armed forces. However, momentum is building for an Optional Protocol to the Convention that would raise the minimum age to 18.
With new weapons that are lightweight and easy to fire, children are more easily armed, with less training than ever before. Moreover, as was stated in one background paper prepared for the Machel report, child soldiers are “more obedient, do not question orders and are easier to manipulate than adult soldiers.” And they usually don’t demand pay.
A series of 24 case-studies on child soldiers, covering conflicts over the past 30 years, makes it clear that tens of thousands of children — many under the age of 10 — have been recruited into armies around the world. In Liberia, children as young as seven have been found in combat, while in Cambodia, a survey of wounded soldiers found that 20 per cent of them were between the ages of 10 and 14 when recruited. In Sri Lanka, of 180 Tamil Tiger guerrillas killed in one government attack, more than half were still in their teens, and 128 were girls. Solid statistics are hard to come by, however, as most armies and militia do not want to admit to their use of child soldiers.
According to the report, children are often press-ganged from their own neighbourhoods where local militia or village leaders may be obliged to meet recruitment quotas. In the Sudan, children as young as 12 have been rounded up from buses and cars. In Guatemala, youngsters have been grabbed from streets, homes, parties, and even violently removed from churches. In the 1980s, the Ethiopian military practised a ‘vacuum cleaner’ approach, recruiting boys, sometimes at gunpoint, from football fields, markets, religious festivals or on the way to school.
The report deplores the fact that children are often deliberately brutalized in order to harden them into more ruthless soldiers. In some conflicts, children have been forced to commit atrocities against their own families. In Sierra Leone, for example, the Revolutionary United Front forced captured children to take part in the torture and execution of their own relatives, after which they were led to neighbouring villages to repeat the slaughter. Elsewhere, before battle young soldiers have been given amphetamines, tranquillizers and other drugs to “increase their courage” and to dull their sensitivity to pain.
Some children become soldiers simply to survive. In war-ravaged lands where schools have been closed, fields destroyed, and relatives arrested or killed, a gun is a meal ticket and a more attractive alternative to sitting home alone and afraid. Sometimes a minor soldier’s pay is given directly to the family.
For girls, recruitment may lead to sex slavery. The report notes that in Uganda, for instance, young girls abducted by rebel forces were commonly divided up and allocated to soldiers to serve as their ‘wives’. A case-study from Honduras, prepared for the Machel report, illustrates one child’s experience of joining armed groups:
“At the age of 13, I joined the student movement. I had a dream to contribute to make things change, so that children would not be hungry … later I joined the armed struggle. I had all the inexperience and fears of a little girl. I found out that girls were obliged to have sexual relations ‘to alleviate the sadness of the combatants. And who alleviated our sadness after going with someone we hardly knew? At my young age I experienced abortion … In spite of my commitment, they abused me, they trampled my human dignity. And above all, they did not understand that I was a child and that I had rights.”
It is difficult to reintegrate demobilized children after a peace settlement is reached. Many have been physically or sexually abused by the very forces for which they have been fighting, and have seen their parents killed, sometimes in the most brutal manner, in front of their eyes. Most have also been led into participating in murder, rape and other atrocities. These children have no skills for life in peacetime and they are accustomed to getting their way through violence.
The report urges that all future peace agreements include specific measures pertaining to the demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers, ranging from job creation and the rebuilding of schools, to the training of teachers who are sensitive to the special needs of child victims of war.
The report calls on governments to regularize recruitment procedures for their armed forces and to prosecute violators to ensure that under-age recruitment does not occur. The Machel report also illustrates how the recruitment of children can at least be minimized when parents and communities are better informed about existing national and international law.
While much remains to be done, there have been some successes. In Peru, for example, forced recruitment drives reportedly declined in areas where they were denounced by parish churches. And in Myanmar, protests from aid agencies led to the release of boys forcibly recruited from a refugee camp. In the Sudan, humanitarian organizations have negotiated agreements with opposition groups to prevent the recruitment of children.
As early as the 9th century BC, the Assyrians and the Greco-Roman world used fiery weapons such as incendiary arrows and pots that contained combustible substances in warfare. Thucydides mentioned the use of tubular flame throwers during the siege of Athens in 424 BC. According to the chronicler John Malalas, the naval fleet of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I used a sulphur-based mixture to subdue the revolt of Vitalianas in 515 AD as advised by Proclus, a philosopher from Athens.
During the classical and medieval periods – about 8th century BC until the mid-16th century AD, warring factions used thermal weapons such as burning projectiles and other incendiary devices to burn, damage and destroy enemy personnel, fortifications, towns, villages and farms.
In the simplest, and most common cases, the antagonists used boiling water and hot sand, as thermal projectiles. They poured or spewed hot liquefied bitumen, pitch, resin, animal fat and boiling oil, and at times chemicals such as sulphur and nitrates that burned or caused physical irritation over the enemy who tried to scale their fortifications, or projected the incendiaries onto the enemies waiting at a distance using war machines such as catapults. They used smoke to confuse or drive off attackers.
They followed the scorched-earth strategy – a practice carried out by an army in enemy territory or in its own home territory that involved destroying large tracts of land, towns, villages, and assets used or can be used by the enemy such as food sources, and transportation.
Though the Western Roman Empire fragmented and collapsed in the 5th century, the Byzantine Empire continued to thrive. It existed for more than a thousand years as the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe until 1453.
An incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire in naval battles known as “Greek fire” instilled fear in its enemies and helped to win many Byzantine military victories. It saved Constantinople from two Arab sieges securing the Empire’s survival. It provided a technological advantage over other incendiaries because It continued to burn while floating on water.
When the west European Crusaders came face-to-face with the Greek fire, it made an impression such that they applied the name to any incendiary weapon, including those used by the Arabs, the Chinese, and the Mongols.
Even though we use the term “Greek fire” in English and in many other languages, the original Byzantine sources called it by a variety of names, such as: “sea fire” (Ancient Greek: πῦρ θαλάσσιον), “Roman fire” (πῦρ ῥωμαϊκόν), “war fire” (πολεμικὸν πῦρ), “liquid fire” (ὑγρὸν πῦρ), or “manufactured fire” (πῦρ σκευαστόν).
The Byzantine formula for the composition of Greek fire, a closely guarded state secret, now lost, remains a matter of speculation and debate. Some suggest combinations of pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, sulphur, or nitre (the mineral form of potassium nitrate, KNO3, also known as saltpetre). Byzantines used pressurized siphons to project the liquid incendiary mixtures onto the enemy.
Saint Theophanes the Confessor, a member of the Byzantine aristocracy who became a monk and chronicler accredits Kallinikos, an architect from Heliopolis in the former province of Phoenice, by then overrun by the Muslim conquests, as the developer of the Greek fire around 672 AD. However, Thephanes also reports the use of fire-carrying and siphon-equipped ships by the Byzantines a couple of years before the supposed arrival of Kallinikos at Constantinople. The report of this chronicler stands unresolved due to the variance in the chronology of events.
Around 672, the Arabs who subdued Syria, Palestine and Egypt now set out to capture Constantinople, the imperial capital of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine navy used Greek fire to repel the Muslims during the first and second Arab sieges of the city. During the expansion of the Byzantine Empire in the late 9th and early10th centuries, the Byzantines used Greek fire in naval battles against the Saracens.
The Byzantines themselves used Greek fire in their civil wars, for example, in the revolt of the thematic fleets in 727 and during the large-scale rebellion in i821–823 led by Thomas the Slav. In both cases, the Imperial Fleet defeated the rebel fleets by using Greek fire. The Byzantines also used the weapon against the various Rus’ raids to the Bosporus in 941 and 1043, as well as in the Bulgarian war of 970–971, when the fire-carrying Byzantine ships blockaded the Danube.
The Byzantines believed that divine intervention led to the discovery of Greek fire during the Empire’s struggle against the Arabs. Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos who ruled from 945 to 959 in his book De Administrando Imperio, advised his son and heir, Romanos II never to reveal the secrets of its composition. He wrote that since it was “shown and revealed by an angel to the great and holy first Christian Emperor Constantine” and that the angel bound him “not to prepare this fire but for Christians, and only in the imperial city.” He also warns by citing an incident of one official bribed into handing some of it over to the Empire’s enemies struck down by a “flame from heaven.”
However, the enemies of the Byzantine Empire captured their precious secret weapon: in 827, the Arabs captured at least one fireship intact, and in 812/814, the Bulgars captured several siphons and a fair amount of the substance. Even so, the Bulgars found the amount of substance not sufficient enough to copy it. The Arabs used a variety of incendiary substances similar to the Byzantine Greek fire, but they never succeeded in copying the Byzantine method of deployment by siphon – they used catapults and grenades.
Greek fire continued to be mentioned during the 12th century. Anna Komnene, a Greek princess, scholar, physician, hospital administrator and the daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium in her book Alexiad gives a vivid description of the use of Greek fire in a naval battle against the Pisans in 1099.
During the 1203 siege of Constantinople by the Crusade, though reports mentioned hastily improvised fire-ships, none of them confirmed the use of the actual Greek fire. This might be because of the disarmament of the Empire in the twenty years leading up to the sacking of Constantinople, or because the Byzantines had lost access to the territories where the ingredients that composed the Greek fire were to be found, or because the secret had been lost over time.