This afternoon I listened to a BBC World Service podcast, part of their “War that Changed the World” series on World War I, about the Australian experience at Gallipoli.

Gallipoli, for those who don’t know a great deal about World War I, was Britain’s attempt to open a second front by capturing the Dardanelles, the strait that led from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea. They tried to capture it by running a naval fleet through, but when they discovered that the Turks had mined the strait Britain decided on a land campaign — land on a peninsula, then march overland and capture Istanbul, thus securing the Dardanelles for the Allies.

I won’t fault the British war ministry for their audacity. The plan was certainly ambitious and, if it worked, the Allies would have been able to supply Russia and thus keep the Germans occupied on the Eastern Front.

The plan didn’t work. Basically, the Allies landed on an entrenched and fortified position (because the Turks had a pretty good idea the Allies were coming after the Royal Navy’s attempt to run the Dardanelles), and for eight months the Australian and New Zealand forces were pinned down on their beachhead. The British Army, which landed to the south on the tip of the peninsula, fared slightly better, but their advance went something like two miles from the beach, and they were never able to link up with the ANZAC forces to the north.

What’s particularly stupid about Gallipoli is that no one among the Allies was willing to give up. Once there were boots on the ground, it became just another trench like the Western Front, albeit one that was remote and difficult to supply (thanks to distance from Britain and the Turks’ artillery) and one where retreat didn’t mean moving back into the French countryside to regroup but running into the sea to drown.

World War I was one of history’s great blunders, and Gallipoli was an appalling stupidity in the midst of that blunder.

No disrespect meant to any Australians or New Zealanders who read this; I know that Gallipoli is a moment of great national pride for you, and your soldiers fought well and bravely under desperate and horrible circumstances.