On the Warpath: An anthology of Australian military travel
MUP, $34.95 pb, 350 pp
Note especially the last word in the subtitle – ‘travel’. This book is not, or not chiefly, about strategy and battles. It is about getting to the war, or passing through an operational area and (with luck) getting home again; it is about visiting war cemeteries, battlefields and memorials, or revisiting them, sometimes decades later.
You may think this a wispy and slender thread upon which to string 350 pages of book. I thought so myself when I picked it up, and the misgiving recurred several times during the perusal. (Since a peacetime visit to Auschwitz is neither military nor Australian, Lily Brett’s piece seemed to have strayed in by mistake.) But the thread held – just – and I am grateful to the editors for teaching me much that I didn’t know, or had not understood.
In earlier books and articles, Robin Gerster and Peter Pierce have reconnoitred this territory already. They have a good mental map of Australia’s martial landscape, from the Sudan (1885) to East Timor and Afghanistan the day before yesterday. Their own commentary, for my taste, is too tinged by present-day political correctness. This is more implicit than stated, but it weakens their authority. There is, for example, a certain underlying readiness to characterise Australian soldiers as loudmouths and racists.