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Peter Edwards

Peter Edwards

Peter Edwards is a historian specialising in Australia’s national security policies and policy-making. He is the Official Historian of Australia’s involvement in conflicts in Malaya, Borneo, and Vietnam, for which he wrote Crises and Commitments (1992) and A Nation at War (1997). He is also the author of Arthur Tange: Last of the Mandarins (2006), Permanent Friends? Historical Reflections on the Australian–American Alliance (2005), and Prime Ministers and Diplomats (1983); the co-editor of Facing North (vol. 2, 2003); the editor of Defence Policy-Making (2008) and  Australia Through American Eyes (1977); and a founding editor of the series of Documents on Australian Foreign Policy. His latest book is Law, Politics and Intelligence: A life of Robert Marsden Hope (2020).

Peter Edwards reviews 'Breaking the Codes: Australia’s KGB Network 1944-1950' by Desmond Ball & David Horner

July 1999, no. 212 01 July 1999
Breaking The Codes was published last August. The time that has subsequently elapsed makes it possible to comment not only on the book itself but also on some aspects of its reception. For most Australians interested in current affairs and recent history, Desmond Ball and David Horner are familiar names but at first sight unlikely joint authors. Both have published extensively and authoritatively ... (read more)

Peter Edwards reviews 'Australia's Mandarins: The Frank and the Fearless?' by Patrick Weller

September 2001, no. 234 01 September 2001
On May 24 this year, a memorial service was held in the Great Hall of Parliament House. The great and the good were there in force. They were marking the death of Sir Arthur Tange, widely regarded as the last of the great public service mandarins who flourished from the 1940s to the 1970s. Although the usual partisan conflicts were temporarily suspended, an element of controversy intruded. In his ... (read more)

Peter Edwards reviews 'Vietnam' by Paul Ham, 'Triumph Forsaken' by Mark Moyar and 'War and Words' by Trish Payne

February 2008, no. 298 16 December 2022
Vietnam: The Australian war                                HarperCollins, $55 hb, 832 pp  More than thirty years after the last helicopters left the roof of the American embassy in Saigon, the flow of new books on the Vietnam war shows no sign of abating. Among them are some intended for a limited, scholarly mark ... (read more)

Peter Edwards reviews 'The Secret History of the Five Eyes: The untold story of the international spy network' by Richard Kerbaj

December 2022, no. 449 25 November 2022
Richard Kerbaj is the latest in a long line of journalists and other writers to write a book on the intelligence agencies of the Five Eyes countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). His major claim is that he has conducted interviews with more than a hundred current and former intelligence officers, as well as four former prime ministers, Britain’s The ... (read more)

Peter Edwards reviews 'The War Game: Australian war leadership from Gallipoli to Iraq' by David Horner

October 2022, no. 447 26 September 2022
At first sight, the title of David Horner’s new book, The War Game, is an uncharacteristically flippant reference by a serious historian to a deadly serious business. Horner has taken the term from writers such as Jonathan Swift and Horace Walpole, who saw war being treated as a game in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The carnage of the industrial-scale wars of the twentieth century, w ... (read more)

Peter Edwards reviews 'Persons of Interest: An intimate account of Cecily and John Burton' by Pamela Burton with Meredith Edwards

September 2022, no. 446 27 August 2022
Persons of Interest does not fit readily into any familiar genre. It crosses the borders of biography, psychology, Cold War history, and family studies. When Pamela Burton and her sister Meredith Edwards decided to write a book about their parents, they realised that different readerships would be attracted to different parts. Who would be interested in a book about the marriage, and the post-divo ... (read more)

Peter Edwards reviews 'Forgotten Wars: The end of Britain's Asian empire' by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper

October 2007, no. 295 01 October 2007
Notwithstanding the old adage, you can tell a certain amount about a book by its cover, especially if it has two covers, each displaying a different subtitle. The British edition of Forgotten Wars, on sale in Australian bookshops, has the subtitle ‘The End of Britain’s Asian Empire’. The cover photograph shows Lord Louis Mountbatten, in spotless white naval uniform, inspecting a guard of hon ... (read more)

Peter Edwards reviews 'Return to Vietnam: An oral history of American and Australian veterans’ journeys' by Mia Martin Hobbs

April 2022, no. 441 23 March 2022
Australia’s Vietnam War has passed through several phases in the last six decades. In the mid-1960s the commitment of combat forces by the Menzies and Holt governments was strongly supported. The war and the associated conscription scheme became the focus of enormous controversy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, contributing to Labor’s electoral success in 1972. Gough Whitlam did not pull out ... (read more)

Peter Edwards reviews 'Ministers, Mandarins and Diplomats: Australian foreign policy making 1941–1969' by Joan Beaumont, Christopher Waters, and David Lowe, with Garry Woodard

May 2003, no. 251 01 May 2003
Important political issues sometimes cut across traditional party lines, making it harder for us to confront and debate them. The ‘children overboard’ affair, for example, raised important questions about the relationship between public servants and their ministers. Some of these questions were blurred in the subsequent debate, however, for a simple reason. Since the 1970s, governments from bo ... (read more)

Peter Edwards reviews 'Spinning the Secrets of State: Politics and intelligence in Australia' by Justin T. McPhee

December 2020, no. 427 25 November 2020
It is not surprising that a book on the politicisation of intelligence in Australia should begin and end by referring to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. For many Australians, that episode will long remain the classic example of the misuse of intelligence for partisan political purposes, in sharp contrast to the ideal that intelligence analysts should speak truth to power, giving policymakers their u ... (read more)
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