Mel Gibson’s drunken verbal abuse of Jews has been rightly condemned. As is so often the case, however, the commentariat have seized on a relative triviality and overlooked more substantial matters.
Gibson has been involved in a series of pseudo-historical films which may be much more important in terms of actual political effect and whose content deserves scrutiny.
Let us consider first the film Gallipoli, an Australian film made in 1981. The screenplay of Gallipoli was not written by Gibson but by a leftist Australian intellectual, David Williamson. Gibson was, however, the major star.
The film deals with the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, when French and British Empire troops failed in a long and costly battle to advance from the Turkish coast to Constantinople. Winston Churchill was blamed, perhaps unfairly, and his political career almost destroyed. It was the first great campaign for Australian and New Zealand troops, the casualties were shocking. The anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, April 25, ANZAC Day, is kept in Australia as the equivalent of U.S. Veterans’ Day and is the greatest national commemoration day of the year. Associated with it are many semi-religious ceremonies and rituals in which millions of Australians — not only veterans — participate, and the number involved is growing every year.
The film Gallipoli does not show much fighting for most of its length. However, its climax is a re-creation of the disastrous Australian attack on a Turkish position called The Nek.
The troops, mainly dismounted West Australian light horsemen, innocent boys from the bush whose life in Australia is indicated at the beginning of the film, attack in three waves in uphill charges against entrenched Turkish machine-guns. The first wave is wiped out and the attack is shown to be clearly hopeless and suicidal. However, an English officer, Colonel Robinson, safe in a dug-out far from the fighting, orders the attacks to proceed.
The second wave attacks and is also annihilated. The senior West Australian officer, Major Barton, wants to halt the attacks. Robinson refuses. Major Barton orders a soldier, Frank Dunne, a champion runner, played by Gibson, to run to the Australian General’s headquarters and have Robinson’s suicidal orders overridden and countermanded.
The wise Australian general gives orders to halt the attack, but as Frank sprints back with these orders, he is killed and the message is never delivered. The third wave, led by Major Barton after he has made a moving speech to the men, goes over the top and is also destroyed.
So much for the film. Like other “historical” films Gibson has made, it could easily be taken as fact by people who are not well-informed historians. However, the reality is that there was no such person as the bumbling and murderous British Colonel Robinson. The fatal orders to persist with the attacks were actually given by another Australian, Colonel J. M. Antill.
Further, the fatal attacks were not delivered to support British troops — who in the film are said to be “drinking tea on the beach” as the Aussies die for them — but to support a New Zealand attack that had also bogged down. In fact a British regiment incurred heavy casualties trying to support the Australians once it was realized they were in trouble.
The film is a piece of anti-British propaganda and its plot is based on a falsehood. There was no discernible reason to create the fictional character of Robinson except to encourage anti-British sentiment in Australia — which was certainly on the left political agenda in the 1980s under the code-name “The New Nationalism.” The bizarre anti-British and anti-Semitic crank historian (and Lenin Jubilee Medalist) the late Manning Clark was highly honored in certain Labor Party and other leftist circles about that time for promoting anti-British mythology.
The Gallipoli battlefields are visited by many Australian tourists and this poisonous film is apparently shown every night in a number of tourist hotels and hostels there.
BRAVEHEART, ALLEGEDLY THE STORY of Scotland’s struggle against English genocide, was made in 1995 and directed by Gibson. It is an anti-English diatribe from its opening, in which Robert the Bruce is shown saying, “I shall tell of William Wallace. Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes.” The first scene shows the child Wallace encountering the hanged bodies of Scots noblemen and boys treacherously murdered after a meeting with representatives of the English king.
In the film the English king intends to destroy the population of Scotland by war or breeding. He invokes the doctrine of primae noctis, which allegedly allows the English lords the right to sexual intercourse with any common woman on her wedding night.
Historians question whether primae noctis ever actually existed in this form in Europe at all. It did not exist in either England or Scotland. Further, this suggests conceptions of race and genetics quite foreign to the medieval mind.
Wallace’s wife has her throat slit in public by the English, one of numberless Anglic atrocities. At one point Wallace is seen rallying the Scots with the speech: “I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?…They may take our lives but they’ll never take our freedom!”
This is historical codswallop. The wars of Edward of England and the Scots under Bruce were wars between Norman-descended feudal nobles. The very idea of freedom for the peasants would have been beyond the conception of any of them (these were the days when two dogs were said to have been hanged for attacking a lion in a Royal menagerie — since the lion was the King of Beasts, the dogs were guilty of treason).
It is claimed by some that Braveheart contributed to a significant increase in Scottish Nationalist sentiment before the general election of 1997 when the Scottish Nationalist Party doubled its representation in Westminster and a Scottish Parliament was set up. The results of this have been generally negative and divisive, and anti-English rhetoric, attitudes and even physical attacks on English people in Scotland have led to a growing anti-Scots backlash in England, to the point where serious commentators believe the English will not again accept a Scots-born Prime Minister. I have commented previously on this completely unnecessary souring of relations between the two countries.
In 1997 in an act of almost unbelievable crassness and bad taste, a statue of Gibson as William Wallace was placed outside the Wallace Monument near Stirling, Scotland, with the word “Braveheart” on Wallace’s shield, thus trivializing and kitschifying the memory of Wallace. (I was fortunate enough to be taken by my Scottish brother-in-law to see the monument before this happened. It was simple and majestic.) One local resident stated it was desecrating the main memorial to Wallace with a “lump of crap.” In 1998 the Gibson statue was attacked with a hammer, and now, with the word “Freedom” in its plinth, it is protected by a cage at night.
Braveheart has vanishingly little discernible relationship to history. This is true even of the details that the Scots are depicted wearing kilts and playing Highland bagpipes, neither of which in fact appeared until several hundred years later. Though the story is set in the early 14th Century, Gibson is shown carrying a 16th-Century claymore. In the film it is suggested Edward III of England was Wallace’s son. In fact he was born seven years after Wallace’s death. Irish soldiers on the English side are shown changing sides and joining the Scots at the Battle of Falkirk. They didn’t. There is no evidence for the mass hanging of Scottish nobles which Wallace is meant to have witnessed as a boy. Most of the dynastic “history” presented is complete fantasy. While it is claimed in the film that England had oppressed and attacked Scotland for the previous hundred years, relations between the two kingdoms had actually been comparatively peaceful. And so on, and so on. It would take too long to detail all the historical falsehoods here, but there is a Wikipedia entry which gives many of them.
GIBSON’S NEXT EXERCISE IN ANTI-ENGLISH propaganda masquerading as historical fact was The Patriot, made in 2000 and set in the American Revolution. Again, historians savaged its inaccuracies, particularly its exaggeration or invention of British atrocities. These included a scene in which the British burn a town’s inhabitants alive in a church, actually probably inspired by a Nazi atrocity in World War II. In fact, history is not merely falsified but inverted: American-owned slaves are shown being freed to serve in the Revolutionary Army and it is implied the American forces intended to free all slaves, when in fact it was the British who first offered slaves who joined them freedom with the Dunmore Proclamation.
I have not seen Gibson’s 2004 Magnum Opus, which he directed, produced and co-scripted, The Passion of the Christ, and to which he personally committed many millions of dollars of his own money. I have read the book and know how the story ends, and prolonged flogging and torture scenes (apparently Christ’s rib-cage is shown eventually becoming bared by the whipping) fail to appeal to me. People whose judgment and ethics I respect have praised it and claimed it is an aid to Christian faith, though they have also said the violence and torture is excessive. Whether the many accusations that the film is anti-Semitic are true or not, I do not know, but at a time when Israel is fighting for its life against enemies sworn to its annihilation, it would seem to be both the responsible and Christian thing to make such a film in a way that these accusations would not be possible, for example by making the point that Christ was crucified as a result of the machinations of a small “political” group rather than by the Jews as a whole. As we have seen in rather too much detail recently, anti-Semitism often does not need much to ignite it.
Gibson’s drunken ravings about Jews were truly disgusting. But it is also true that they are not very important in themselves and it is wrong to scapegoat him for them. If we were all to be held to account for words of drunken stupidity few would escape whipping, I think. He has confessed to a long-standing problem with alcohol and one should wish him well in overcoming it.
The more serious matter is that he has taken part in a series of probably highly influential films that tend to portray falsehood as fact, and which, at a time when it seems “Anglosphere” cultural and political unity is of some importance, even setting aside the possible anti-Semitism of The Passion of the Christ, seem aimed at setting Australians against British, Scots against English and Americans against British.