This weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign of World War I, a doomed attempt by British forces to invade the Gallipoli Peninsula and capture the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople. The day has a special place in the history of Australia and New Zealand: About 10,000 fighters from the two countries died in the fighting, a disproportionately large number.
April 25 is now celebrated as Anzac Day in both countries, a day of remembrance named after the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), which fought at Gallipoli. The tragic campaign is seen as a landmark moment in the formation of Australia's and New Zealand's national identities.
Yet, even 100 years after Gallipoli, questioning its legacy can prove extremely controversial. One Australian journalist discovered that this weekend, when a few tweets sparked his dismissal — and a wider debate about history.
On Saturday, Scott McIntyre, a sports reporter with Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) public broadcaster, wrote a series of tweets in which he criticized the message of Anzac Day and the legacy of Australia's fighting in the world wars.
McIntyre, who reports on soccer, has tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. Soon, his comments sparked an angry reaction on Twitter. "You are a first class idiot and apologist," one user wrote. "We should deport you," another wrote.
Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian communications minister, stepped in, too.
Within just a few hours of the tweets being sent, McIntyre had been fired.
In a statement, SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid said that the reporter's comments had been “inappropriate and disrespectful” and that his position in the company was "untenable." "SBS supports our Anzacs and has devoted unprecedented resources to coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings," Ebeid's statement concluded.
McIntyre hasn't commented on his dismissal, but he hasn't deleted his tweets, either. Meanwhile, his firing has sparked a debate about free speech in Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Turnbull alerted SBS's managing editor about McIntyre's tweets but denied any political interference in the matter.
"It is a free country. You can say what you like, but there are consequences for when you say stupid and ugly things," lawmaker Scott Morrison told the Sydney radio station 2GB.
Not everyone was convinced. Hundreds of people have favorited and retweeted McIntyre's messages, apparently showing support for his message. Some went further: Geoff Winestock, a reporter at the Australian Financial Review, tweeted a similar comment and dared his own employer, Fairfax Media, to fire him for it.
Even before McIntyre's tweets, the message of Anzac Day had become a subject of debate in Australia. A solemn event when it first began, it has evolved into a celebration that some criticize as jingoistic. Historians have long questioned the popular narrative of the Gallipoli campaign, and well-known figures such as former prime minister Paul Keating have called Australia's popular embrace of Anzac Day misguided.
However, even some critics of Anzac Day seem to agree that McIntyre's comments were, at the least, ill-timed and deliberately inflammatory. Geoff Lemon at the Guardian wrote that although executions, rape and theft were carried out by some Anzac troops, there's no evidence that the majority of soldiers participated or condoned the actions. Suggesting that the average Australian or New Zealander soldier had a direct link to the nuclear attacks in Japan seems even more unfair.
Still, regardless of McIntyre's message, some wondered whether firing him went against the spirit of Anzac Day. As Hugh Riminton, the co-host of the nightly show "Ten Eyewitness News," put it: