War

The myth and reality of the Anzac legend has proven a perennial subject of inquiry and argument for over thirty years now, since the publication of Ken Inglis’s justly famous articles in Meanjin and elsewhere in 1964–65. These prompted a spirited exchange with the late Geoff Serle and others. More recently, John Robertson examined the Gallipoli campaign in terms of the myth (1990), and found the critics of Australian martial performance wanting, while Eric Andrews took the Anglo-Australian relationship between 1914 and 1918 to task (1993), and found duplicity and manipulation in the construction of the Australians’ image.

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When I was a graduate student in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s, Russian friends used to talk a lot about World War II. Their stories were of hardship and suffering stoically borne by the population and finally vindicated by victory in 1945. This was not dissimilar from what was published in the Soviet press on the subject, but without the press’s obligatory references to the wise leadership of the party. Wendy Z. Goldman and Donald Filtzer tell basically the same story as my Soviet friends. Invoking the image of a ‘levée en masse spirit’ in the wartime Soviet Union, they admit that ‘strict discipline and repression certainly played a role’ in the state’s ‘unprecedented feats of mass mobilization’, but they put their interpretative emphasis elsewhere: ‘without the support of the vast majority of people and workers in particular, the great achievements on the home front would not have been possible’.

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The Gallipoli campaign has a peculiar fascination for historians of World War I. This new book, by British historian Nicholas A. Lambert, is concerned not so much with the conduct of the campaign as with the reasons for its being launched. The chances for its success were known at the time to be low, so why was this gamble, which cost perhaps 130,000 Allied and Ottoman lives, taken?

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Two weeks after he announced the reintroduction of conscription in late 1964, Prime Minister Robert Menzies addressed a political rally at Hornsby, in the Liberal heartland of Sydney’s north-west. Menzies received what historian Carolyn Collins described as a ‘rockstar welcome’. However, when he spoke about national service, a group of black-clad women in the audience rose to their feet and covered their heads with black veils, standing silently for several minutes in the face of jeers and boos. They eventually filed out of the hall, handing out anti-conscription pamphlets as they left. Margaret Holmes, who had helped organise the protest, recalled later that it ‘stopped [Menzies] in his tracks’. Organised by the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, it was the first women’s protest against conscription in the Vietnam era, but it would not be the last. Weaponising decorous, middle-class femininity would prove to be a potent strategy in the nine long years it took to abolish conscription in Australia.

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This book is about the battles in which the First Australian Imperial Force took part between June and November 1917. It is not, however, a battle history. Rather, it takes the interesting approach of investigating how Australians remember these battles. Spoiler alert: they don’t.

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As readers of her two volumes of memoirs will know, Sheila Fitzpatrick trained at the University of Melbourne until departing for Oxford in 1964 to pursue doctoral research on the history of the Soviet Union. That took her to Moscow, where she gained access to Soviet archives. Fitzpatrick would make her name as an archival historian, in contrast to earlier Western scholars who relied, both of necessity and by inclination, on other sources; she showed remarkable ingenuity in using the officially sanctioned records.

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In 1969, an Anzac veteran visiting Gallipoli fell into conversation with a retired Turkish school teacher. The teacher had with him a guidebook featuring a quote from Şükrü Kaya, the former head of the Ottoman Directorate for the Settlement of Tribes and Immigrants. The quote came from a 1953 interview Kaya gave, in which he recalled a 1934 speech he made on behalf of Mustafa Kemal, a sentimental entreaty to Anzac mothers to ‘wipe away’ their tears. The teacher shared Kemal’s supposed words with the Australian visitor, who returned to Brisbane and passed them on to Alan J. Campbell, a Gallipoli veteran. Campbell, who was involved in the creation of a Gallipoli memorial in Brisbane, contacted the Turkish Historical Society to verify the quote. They could only confirm Kaya’s 1953 interview, but this was considered good enough. In this convoluted way, ‘the most iconic refrain of Anzac Day’ ended up on the memorial’s plaque, attributed to Kemal, with one addition. Campbell invented the now well-worn line about ‘the Johnnies and the Mehmets [lying] side by side’.

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‘If you want peace, prepare for war,’ Vegetius wrote in a fourth-century CE Roman military manual. From the classical world to the twenty-first-century Sino-American cold war, Margaret MacMillan’s book is broad in its sweep. Judging by the content, one might gain the impression that war is a purely European invention, but that would be erroneous; it is only because Europeans spent 2,400 years carefully archiving their literary, artistic, and technological endeavours in ‘the art of war’ that so much survives – except the victims. The soldiers and civilians are long gone, their names largely forgotten; what lives on is the representation of war in text, the visual arts, cinema, and oral history.

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Comparison, when it comes to historical study, is rarely devoid of ambition. The aim is to identify patterns that are global in their significance and to overcome the tendency to see a unique trajectory for particular places or nations. Yet such work frequently founders when it becomes apparent that the author’s knowledge of alternative cases is thin or that the claim to comparison is made to hide a focus that is in fact quite narrow. Not so in this co-authored book, which builds upon its three authors’ areas of expertise – the Anglosphere (Martin Crotty), Asia (Neil J. Diamant), and Europe (Mark Edele) – to deliver a compelling argument about veteran benefits in the twentieth century.

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The participation of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, from 1936 to 1939, was a great but overwhelmingly tragic adventure. According to Geoffrey Cox, an enthusiastic young journalist from New Zealand in Madrid at the time, it was ‘the most truly international army the world has seen since the Crusades’. Romance, bravery, and sacrifice were combined with bastardry, suffering, and humiliation, marred by often lazy and amateurish tactics, including the fatal notion that military discipline was a form of ‘class oppression’. Giles Tremlett’s richly documented new account overflows with exhilaration and alcohol, along with sabotage, treachery, and utter disorganisation. Perhaps it was the very failure of this romantic intervention that has encouraged, over the decades, a rose-tinted vision: a history, in effect, written by the losers.

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