Military History

In late April, the commemorations of the centenary of the Gallipoli landing will inevitably overshadow another significant anniversary in Australia’s military, political, and social history. On 29 April 1965, fifty years to the week after the landing at Anzac Cove, the Menzies government announced the commitment of an Australian infantry battalion to the growing conflict in Vietnam. That announcement led to Australia’s longest and third-largest military commitment of the twentieth century, surpassed only by the two world wars. While its political and social impacts on Australia did not match those of World War I, they should not be overlooked. The controversies surrounding Vietnam, and all that it was taken to symbolise, have given rise to numerous myths, many still current and influencing the way Australia looks at our past, present, and potential future military commitments.

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The resurgence of the Anzac legend in the last quarter of the twentieth century took many Australians by surprise. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, it seemed that the rituals of Anzac Day would wither and fade away as the generations who fought the two world wars died. It proved not to be so. ‘Anzac’, to use the common shorthand, now dominates the national memory of war as strongly as it ever did, although it is not the same legend as it was 100 years ago. Many commentators see this ‘return’ of Anzac as a spontaneous upwelling of national sentiment, a natural and appropriate honouring of those who have died in Australia’s defence. Critics, however, discern a more deliberate orchestration of public sentiment by successive governments, which, for a variety of political purposes, have ‘militarised’ Australian history and sidelined other competing narratives of Australia’s development.

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Reading about the ‘khaki election’ of 1914 in Douglas Newton’s Hell-Bent evokes a sense of déjà vu in 2014, as Australia embarks on another war in the Middle East. During the campaign of 1914, Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Labor leader Andrew Fisher jostled to prove their loyalty to Britain and their enthusiasm for the impending war. Fisher’s efforts to match and outdo the conservative leader for patriotism bring to mind Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s willingness to support the government’s military engagement in Syria and Iraq, and its amendments to national security laws. Plus ça change

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It is a brave author who produces a book proclaiming the usefulness of war at a time when most of us are thinking about the horrors and wastefulness of World War I. Ian Morris, British by birth but now the Willard Professor of Classics at Stanford, and author of Why The West Rules – For Now (2010), has done just that and is receiving praise for his efforts. What are the merits of his case?

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FORBIDDEN MUSIC: by Michael Haas & HOLLYWOOD AND HITLER by Thomas Doherty

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August 2014, no. 363

For all their differences of subject matter and approach (not to mention style), both of these studies can be seen as belonging to the category of what might be termed archaeological history. That is, they are concerned with retrieving and bringing to the surface a gallery of characters and set of important stories and connections which have been either suppressed o ...

Hamish McDonald has for more than thirty years written about foreign affairs and defence in Asia for publications such as the Sydney Morning Herald, Far Eastern Economic Review, and, more recently, as the world editor for the Saturday Paper. His writings on Indonesian politics and Australian complacency over the Balibo controversy have been more ...

Menzies at War by Anne Henderson

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August 2014, no. 363

Prime ministers seem to value longevity, whether it is Bob Hawke relishing the fact that he served longer than John Curtin and Ben Chifley combined, or John Howard relishing that he served longer than Hawke. But no prime minister is likely to serve as long as Robert Menzies’ sixteen years as prime minister from 1949 to 1966. His record is even more impressive when ...

In 1966 as a young first-year cadet at the Royal Military College, I purchased Anzac to Amiens by C.E.W. Bean, which had been published twenty years earlier. Bean had been Australia’s Official Historian for World War I, and Anzac to Amiens was his masterly condensation of the twelve-volume official history of which he had been the general editor and ...

Dangerous Allies by Malcolm Fraser, Cain Roberts

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June–July 2014, no. 362

Coinciding with the World War I anniversaries, Malcolm Fraser’s book will polarise Australian opinion on a fundamental issue. It has never been raised in this way, for Australian leaders have not discussed decisions to go to war in public, nor sought popular approval of Australia’s alliances. Yet successive generations of young Australians have fought in British ...

Reports about the Mossad often have the unfortunate trait of reading like a John le Carré novel. We hear of spies assuming false identities and injecting poison into the ears of Israel’s enemies, or of a Mossad director beginning his weekly meetings with the question, ‘Who are we going to assassinate today?’ Unfortunately, most of these stories are true. As w ...