Interruption: Five Artefacts of International Law (Part II)

by | 16 Dec 2014

ANZAC in Egypt: Myths, Memories and Movement in the Monumental Imagining of the First World War

Charlotte Peevers*


Figure 1. A photograph of the original memorial to the Desert Mounted Corps at Port Said, Egypt taken by Den Aston, a serving British soldier in 1956. Source

The original Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (‘ANZAC’) Memorial at Port Said, Egypt (destroyed during the Suez Crisis of 1956 and replicated in Albany, WA in 1964 and at ANZAC Parade in Canberra in 1968) embodies the antiquity of architectural remembering and the transience of the ANZAC experience far beyond Australia’s shores. The destruction of the Memorial in 1956 reflects its representation, for Egyptians, as a vestige of Empire and occupation. And here the artefact is depicted in a photograph taken by a soldier occupying Port Said during the Suez Crisis.

The very destruction of this original monument provided the rationale for a re-memorialisation and mythologising of the ANZAC sacrifice through the building of replicas on firmer, national ground. These replicas, incidentally, tell an entirely different story of sacrifice to that ‘immortalised’ in the original monument, one in which the protagonists are no longer engaged in active combat but instead play out a tragi-heroic drama: the foregrounded New Zealander and horse are no longer participants in ground battle, instead the horse is depicted as wounded, his rider vulnerable, with the Australian soldier coming to their rescue. This shifting narrativisation of sacrifice and violence lends further evidence to the multiplicity and generative capacities of ‘the archive’.

Through this artefact we see how the First World War has served as a source of mythical (re)imaginations for nation-building projects which often use violence not as a source of sorrow but as a platform for asserting new forms of violence. The re-configurations, erasures, re-emplacement, re-buildings and re-appropriations of this artefact enable us to capture the political plasticity both of history and the material world constituted through international law. International law and its events should be understood as being part of the battle of imagination about who we are and where we belong. The artefact and its malleability also reveal the dangerous contingencies that reside within practices associated with the memorialisation of the First World War as well as other key international legal events, such as the Suez Crisis.

Violence and Artefactuality of International Legal History: Thinking through Joe Sacco’s The Great War

Luis Eslava*


Figure 2: Joe Sacco, The Great War. Source: New Yorker.

Joe Sacco’s The Great War (a single, wordless 24-foot (7.3-meters) long accordion-fold panorama of 1 July 1914, the first day of the Battle of the Somme), collapses time, space and history into a single, transportable image. Published in 2013, The Great War condenses the imagining of the First World War into a visual continuous narrative that at once reflects past imperial comfort, hierarchy and order (the early sections far from the front and early in the initial day of the Battle of the Somme) and, further into the scene, reflects the doom, death and anarchy experience when the battle concluded. In refusing to distinguish these two imaginings from each other, the artefact challenges the traditional memorialisation of the ‘Great War’ as a war only of mass suffering and destruction, instead forcing the viewer to confront the daily structures of authority and power, as well as the hidden continuities, that legitimise suffering and exposure to violence – a reality present across the First World War but that continues to permeate the management of global violence through international law and across the world today.

Constrained by the commensurability of its book format (regardless of its magnificent layout), The Great War also invites the reader to think about the inescapability of limits (both physical and discursive) for the recovery, conceptualisation and transportability of the past and its violence. The Great War help us to reconceptualise, as a result, how violence operates in the international legal order, and to reflect on the way in which past events and memories navigate through time and space. Keeping an eye on how these two analytical levels are challenged in this exceptional book, I use this artefact as a springboard to think about alternative modes of defining, producing and engaging with the living archive of international law.

Drawing Jurisdiction: Six Nations Soldiers, the British Crown, and the Archive of International Law

Genevieve R. Painter*


Figure 3: The Six Nations Petition to King Edward V Library and Archives Canada, RG 10 Indian Affairs, (Volume 6767, File 452-15, Part 1) Source.

In 1917, the government of the Six Nations of Grand River sent a petition to King Edward V. The clan-mothers of the Six Nations wrote to King Edward V to demand the release and return of a number of Six Nations members who had enlisted voluntarily to fight in the war. The letter cites the treaty made between the Six Nations and the British nation to defend each other in times of war, but it notes that the King has not requested military assistance from the Six Nations. The petition was dismissed by the British government as a ‘domestic matter’ under the jurisdiction of the Dominion of Canada. A historical reading of this artefact draws attention to the social and political context in which it was written, notably the divisions within Six Nations on support for the war effort and military service as a site for transformation of the relationship between indigenous peoples and the Canadian federal government. An anthropological reading of the artefact attends to its materiality, focusing on the handwriting of the text, the marks of its signatories, and the inclusion in the letter of two drawings of the Two Row Wampum, the beaded belt containing the Covenant Silver Chain holding the Six Nations and British government in perpetual alliance. Through this dual reading, I aim to explore the construction of the archive as a practice for thinking about the methodological affinities between historians and anthropologists.

Giacomo Balla’s Vestito antineutrale

Rose Parfitt*

Figure 4: Some of Giacomo Balla’s sketches for the Anti-neutral Suit, 1914. Source.

The artefact I present here is the Anti-neutral Suit (Vestito antineutrale) designed and worn by the Futurist artist Giacomo Balla as a material provocation capable of disturbing our received memories of the Great War. As Balla explained in 1914, the Suit’s design was ‘violent, imperious, and impetuous like commands on the field of battle’. Its colours were ‘muscular’ and ‘joyful’, printed on fabrics of ‘thrilling iridescence’ of ‘crazy violets, very very very very reds, green times 300,000, blue times 20,000, yellow, orgaaange, vermiillllion’ [sic]. In donning the ‘feisty Futurist banners’ of the suit and its like, the Futurists intended to impress upon ‘[a]ll of Italy’s youth’ the ‘URGENT and imperative great war’, and in doing so to force the Italian Government to ‘take off its passéist attire of fear and indecision’.

The purpose of the Suit was, in other words, explicitly interpellative. Viewed as an international legal artefact (though since destroyed) it bears witness to the bodily reality of those who relished in the carnage of the War – those who urged on the War’s unrelenting, apparently uncontrollable capacity to destroy a past they saw as flaccid, sentimental, ‘feminine’, and to thrust the world forward into a mechanical, technified and and hence virile, ‘masculine’ future. In doing so, the Suit forces us to bring back to mind those extremely disruptive and yet almost completely forgotten artists, intellectuals and politicians who celebrated the dawn of the age of mechanised killing ushered in by the Great War. At the same time, the Anti-neutral Suit presents a concrete challenge to the supposedly universal human/humanitarian conscience upon which the legitimacy of the contemporary international legal order has come to be founded in the wake of that War. As the ‘international community’ continues to wage yet another world war – the ‘overseas contingency operation’, formerly known as the ‘global war on terror’ – the Suit also invites us to confront the unassailable nature of a threat posed by a (phantasmic) belligerent subject for whom injury and death represent transcendence and victory, rather than suffering, misery and loss, and to consider the genealogy of that threat. Was it not precisely such a (far less phantasmic) disdain for the shredding and burning of ‘our own’ human flesh (though, of course, that of the nation’s voiceless ‘masses’ rather than that of its ordering selves) that assured the victory of a liberal international legal order in 1919? And if that is so, should we be surprised to discover that the contemporary ‘liberty’ of that supposedly universal community of equals should be founded on the ceaseless mass sacrifice of its weakest individual members?

International Workers of the World Anti-Conscription Poster 1915/16, Australia

Madelaine Chiam*

Figure 5: Australian anti-conscription poster, Industrial Workers of the World. Source: National Library of Australia

My artefact is an anti-conscription poster created by the International Workers of the World (IWW) campaign in the lead up to the first Australian referendum on conscription of October 1916. The poster registers a shift from a gaze ‘abroad’ to the war fought ‘at home’. The anti-conscription poster tells of the way nationhood was and continues to be configured, both within and without Australia. It challenges the Australian myths of nation-building and unity – centred in particular on the 1915 ANZAC campaign at Gallipoli – by highlighting both the success of the anti-conscription movement and the deep social divisions that the movement revealed. It raises the possibility of collapsing time and reconfiguring nationhood according to economic and political status, with its ‘call to arms’ being directed to capitalists and other figures protected from direct military engagement. The artefact thus exposes a socio-economic entrenchment at the heart of commemoration. The poster also operates as a generative site for exploring continuities in structures of power and authority. As a British Dominion in 1916, Australia lacked the independent power to declare war and peace – the only means to object to the war was through the conscription debates. The success of the anti-conscription forces – and the failure of the conscription referenda – evidenced an internal push for separation from the British Empire. As an independent state in 2003, Australia was able to participate in the invasion of Iraq without any legal deference to the great powers. Yet the language of many of the anti-war protesters resembled that of the 1916 debates. The artefact thus highlights questions of political and economic deference – in this case, Australia’s exposure to the power and authority United States and Great Britain.

*Madelaine Chiam, PhD Candidate at Melbourne Law School;
*Luis Eslava, Lecturer in Law at Kent Law School, Senior Fellow at Melbourne Law School and International Professor at Universidad Externado de Colombia;
*Genevieve R. Painter, PhD Candidate at UC Berkeley;
*Rose Parfitt, McKenzie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Melbourne Law School;
*Charlotte Peevers, Lecturer in Law at the University of Technology, Sydney.


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