War

War is one of the great paradoxes of Australia. Why should a people occupying a continent so far from the world’s trouble spots have spent so much of their history dying in often distant wars? It is one of the questions that drew me to the study of Australian history. I am little the wiser after reading this collection of Australian war writing. This is partly bec ...

Many of us would find it as hard as Shaw’s Ladvenu does to think of any good reason for torture. It seems medieval, it is abhorrent, it is internationally illegal, and it doesn’t work. Statements made under torture are legally useless, and their value as intelligence is not much better ...

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Amos Oz, who is at the pinnacle of Israeli writing, epitomises the role of writer as a voice of hope, a moral guide, as well as the spinner of dream tales. Speaking recently at the Melbourne Town Hall, Oz captured the mood of progressive thought in Israel when he spoke of the pressing need for a two-state solution to resolve the Palestinian–Israeli crisis, where the warring forces would negotiate over the small tracts of land at issue, and would respect each other’s claims of sovereignty over their lands as indigenous peoples and equals. With his gift for striking images, Oz spoke of a time when Israel and Palestine would have embassies in each other’s countries. Israel, Oz declared, should be the first state to recognise the new state of Palestine. But is it all a dream?

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Tariq Ali, proclaims the Guardian, ‘has been a leading figure of the international left since the 60s’. If his latest book is the best the left can muster, I fear that its chances of influencing political debate are minimal – and, even worse, undesirable.

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When the United States recently announced its commitment to enforce a ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya, the State Department spokesman was asked whether the United States was now at war. He could only manage a floundering non-answer. The unfortunate spokesman’s difficulty with this apparently simple question is a reminder of the vast changes in the nature of military conflict in recent decades. Major conflicts are seldom a matter of one state formally declaring war on another, with a largely agreed set of rules on the conduct of operations (sometimes flouted in horrific ways) and with some generally accepted markers of victory and defeat.

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Of the fate of Australian prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese during World War II, the literature – memoir, fiction, history – is voluminous. There were 21,652 of them, of whom thirty-five per cent, or 7780, perished. A good deal has also been written of enemy prisoners – Japanese, German, Italian – who were held in camps in this country, and in pa ...

Witnesses to War, an ambitious book, is part of a larger project by the C.E.W. Bean Foundation to commemorate the work of Australian war correspondents. Fay Anderson and Richard Trembath, setting out to document the performance of Australian war correspondents, have tackled complex material. They deal with an enormous cast of characters and various interwoven themes, including the struggle against military censorship, how journalists have observed their duty to neutral coverage (or not), and the changing technology of reporting war – from sending stories by carrier pigeon or steamship in World War I to today’s live telecasts by journalists direct from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book fills an important gap. Until now, Phillip Knightley’s more general work, The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker (1975, 2004), has served as the final authority in this field. Knightley is a patron of the Foundation and an important influence.

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The title of this new book on the Vietnam War comes from the final verse cycle of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (1869). As Arthur lies dying, he reflects ‘that we / Shall never more ... Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds’. This Arthurian borrowing for the title of a book about an obscure battle fought by Australians in Vietnam during the 19 ...

Gallipoli: A Short History by Michael McKernan & Pozières: The Anzac Story by Scott Bennett

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May 2011, no. 331

Michael McKernan states in his introduction to his short book on Gallipoli that he is dissatisfied with much writing on military history. He writes: ‘Military history is often presented as a thing of maps and statistics, a brutal narrative based on the deployments and motives of commanders with a score sheet of those who performed well and those who failed. In this book I have tried to go beyond that ... to show that somewhere for each life lost, there was long mourning and deep grief.'

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While explorations of Australia at war have never been short on ‘male stories’, the prevalence of the masculine frame may yet increase in coming years as part of the ongoing examination of competing forms of manhood in this country, as evidenced by the upcoming symposium ‘Embattled Men: Masculinity and War’ at the Australian National University. The publicit ...