Military History

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 the troops – that had already been done by his predecessor, William McMahon – but he did recognise the communist government in the north, even before the war was over.

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The suffering of prisoners of the Japanese dominates many Australians’ memories of World War II. More than 22,000 men and almost forty women were captured in Southeast Asia between 1942 and 1945. About 8,000 of them died. Traditionally this high death rate has been attributed to a mix of Japanese cruelty and their refusal to observe international humanitarian law. The military code of bushidō, it is argued, meant that Japanese soldiers had no respect for enemies who had surrendered. 

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As with many authors, Covid-19 forced Catherine Bond to cancel the launch event for her new book. But unlike most authors’ work, the contemporary relevance of Bond’s latest book has been considerably heightened by the ongoing pandemic. Indeed, in the midst of this crisis it is hard to imagine a historical text timelier than Law in War: Freedom and restriction in Australia during the Great War. A century later, lessons from that era are still instructive today.

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In its long war in Afghanistan, Australia lost forty-one soldiers. These deaths were felt keenly, and usually the prime minister, other senior politicians, and army chiefs attended the funerals. In addition, more than 260 soldiers were wounded. Service in Afghanistan was trying and demanding. Yet, while Special Forces units were constantly rotated through numerous deployments, at any particular time fewer than 2,000 Australian soldiers were serving in Afghanistan. ... (read more)

It seems hard to imagine that we need more books on World War I after the tsunami of publications released during the recent centenary. Yet, here we have a blockbuster, a 926-page tome, Staring at God, by Simon Heffer, a British journalist turned historian in the tradition of Alistair Horne and Max Hastings.

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The Great War: Aftermath and commemoration edited by Carolyn Holbrook and Keir Reeves

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April 2020, no. 420

The centenary of World War I offered a significant opportunity to reflect on the experience and legacy of one of the world’s most devastating conflicts. In Australia such reflection was, on the whole, disappointingly one-dimensional: a four-year nationalistic and sanitised ‘memory orgy’ (to use Joan Beaumont’s wonderful phrase). It did, however, galvanise historians to produce important new studies of the war and to tackle long-standing questions about Australians’ attachment to Anzac. Many of those historians, established and early career, feature in The Great War: Aftermath and commemoration.

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Australia’s role in the war against the Ottoman Empire from 1916 to 1918 is much less widely understood than its contribution to the doomed campaign in the Dardanelles or the muddy slog on the Western Front. It is one aspect of Australia’s World War I that has not been overwritten by historians ...

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First, a quibble. In the first paragraph of his introduction, John Connor writes that few Australians could ‘name a significant figure of the Australian Army’, John Monash and Simpson (and his donkey) aside. I am less sure. A generation after his death, Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop remains a familiar name. Two of the past three governors-general, including the incu ...

The recent scandal over Facebook’s censorship of Nick Ut’s 1972 photograph of ‘Napalm girl’, Kim Phuc, offers a salutary reminder of photography’s stubborn ...

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Armenia, Australia and the Great War by Vicken Babkenian and Peter Stanley

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September 2016, no. 384

The Armenian Genocide, which claimed an estimated 1.5 million lives, began in 1915. It continues to cause controversy today and is a hotly contested event; ...

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