War

Tobruk by Peter Fitzsimons

by
October 2006, no. 285

Books like this are not written for people like me, and it is only fair to acknowledge that at the outset. ‘Australia’s most beloved popular historian’ (he must be, it says so on the inside flap) actually doesn’t want to be regarded as an historian, but as a storyteller (he says so himself), and so has little or no interest in satisfying the requirements and expectations that a professional historian might seek to apply to his undertaking. He will make a lot of money in the process, and good luck to him.

... (read more)

A brief moment of reflection on the quantum of grief in Australia associated with wars of the twentieth century is, to say the least, unsettling. Nearly 100,000 killed in combat, many seriously wounded, many dealing with the physical and mental consequences long after the cessation of hostilities. Lives snatched from the everyday and made into noble sacrifices. The darker dimensions of the Anzac legacy have seeped into the national imagining in recent years, and we are now more open to the poignant melancholy of remembrance, undercutting the bellicose flag-waving of former years. But our sense of the costs of sacrifice has largely been focused on those who served. Joy Damousi in this and her previous book, The Labour of Loss (1999), opens our eyes to those others who have borne the pain of grief most acutely: the wives and families of those killed and those forever transformed by the experience of battle. These illuminating books are a long overdue acknowledgment of the burden of mourning that many Australian families have had to bear.

... (read more)

The title is not provocative: The Brisbane Line Controversy, but Paul Burns’s subtitle flags the partisanship that will mark his study. This is a case, he contends, of ‘Political Partisanship versus National Security 1942–45’. His conclusion is unobjectionable: ‘belief in a “Brisbane Line” was our barometer of fear about the vulnerability of our own continent which no Australian Army could negate’. In political demonology, the Brisbane Line signifies the intention of the Menzies–Fadden conservative governments of 1939–41 to abandon all but the south-east corner of Australia to the Japanese, should an invasion come. Burns is keen to absolve Menzies and his colleagues of blame and to find where, and with whom, the notion of the Line originated. In the process he indicts Labor front-bencher Eddie Ward, whose allegations about a Brisbane Line led to a Royal Commission in the election year of 1943.

... (read more)

A nation at war is a less than gripping tide, although it is suggestively ambiguous. Australia was at war in Vietnam for most of the decade covered in Peter Edwards’s book. In senses chiefly, but not wholly, metaphorical, it was also a society ‘at war’, divided over conscription and the commitment of troops to Vietnam. The excellent cover photograph illuminates the latter implication of Edwards’s title, as well as the importance of media coverage of both overseas conflict and domestic protest against it. A newsreel photographer looks back into another camera, and away from the policeman who is struggling to shift an inert demonstrator.

... (read more)

The serious academic study of war has grown considerably in Australia in the last ten to fifteen years, bringing with it an often welcome diversification in focus and a willingness to subject old issues to fresh scrutiny. One sign of the increasing acceptance of war as a subject of serious study in the universities is the increasing number of university historians and other who, with little knowledge of or interest in the mechanics of war, nonetheless extend their work to include consideration of war and the military as these affect their particular areas of interest.

... (read more)

The celebrated journalist Peter Arnett’s new autobiography Live from the Battlefield partly solves one mystery for me. For the last eighteen months, whenever I discussed Arnett and his forthcoming memoirs with my husband (who was trying to research Arnett’s relationship with news network CNN after the Gulf War), I found myself constantly and inexplicably analysing Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and the characterisation of the ambitious, fragile Becky Sharp.

... (read more)

In their introduction to this collection of essays, the editors state that Australia’s war experiences in Vietnam left some lasting legacies, but ones that were either unexpected or unintended: a loss of moral authority on the part of Australian conservative governments, a breakdown in the defence and foreign policy consensus about the ‘threat’ to Australia, the revival of populist politics and resistance to conscription, and increasing resistance to orthodox political views on other issues.

... (read more)

‘The settlement of returned soldiers on cultivable land,’ wrote Ernest Scott in Volume XI of the Official History of Australia in the War 1914–1918 (1936), ‘is one of the most ancient policies of governments after wars.’ Soldier settlement in Australia after World War I is a major instance of a practice dating back as far as Assyria in the thirteenth-century BC. In early twentieth-century Australia, the need to raise an army entirely from volunteers, and the insatiable demands of modern war, made soldier settlement as much an inducement of recruitment as a means of calming things down afterwards, its traditional function.

... (read more)