'Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.’ Samuel Johnson’s aphorism was commended to me many years ago by Peter Ryan, then the long-serving publisher at Melbourne University Press. The author of a superb personal account of his war experience in New Guinea, Fear Drive My Feet (1959), Ryan had just read a manuscript I had submitted to MUP. It was a critical and possibly excessively sarcastic account of the heroic theme in Australian war writing. My cynicism about the Anzac industry had a personal basis, Ryan seemed to be implying. Apparently I was driven by envy and self-loathing. Nevertheless, he published the manuscript, and in the book I shamelessly deployed the ever-quotable Johnson as an epigraph.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Robin Gerster reviews 'On War and Writing' by Samuel Hynes
  • Contents Category Essays
  • Custom Highlight Text

    'Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.’ Samuel Johnson’s aphorism was commended to me many years ago by Peter Ryan, then the long-serving publisher at Melbourne University Press. The author of a superb personal account of his war experience ...

  • Book Title On War and Writing
  • Book Author Samuel Hynes
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Chicago Press (Footprint), $44.99 hb, 215 pp, 9780226468785

General ‘Pompey’ Elliott was a famous Australian in 1918, half forgotten seventy years later, and is now a national military hero. This Anzac Day he stood high. On French soil he was praised by France’s prime minister, Édouard Philippe, in one of the most mesmerising and sensitive speeches ever offered by a European leader to Australian ears. Probably Elliott now stands just below General Sir John Monash in the honour roll of Australia’s military leaders, though we cannot foretell whether Pompey’s status – he was a cult figure in his day – will persist.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Geoffrey Blainey reviews 'Pompey Elliott at War: In his own words' by Ross McMullin
  • Contents Category Australian History
  • Custom Highlight Text

    General ‘Pompey’ Elliott was a famous Australian in 1918, half forgotten seventy years later, and is now a national military hero. This Anzac Day he stood high. On French soil he was praised by France’s prime minister, Édouard Philippe, in one of the most mesmerising and sensitive speeches ever offered by a European leader to Australian ears ...

  • Book Title Pompey Elliott at War
  • Book Author Ross McMullin
  • Book Subtitle In his own words
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Scribe, $59.99 hb, 544 pp, 9781925322415

The director of the Australian War Memorial, Brendan Nelson, recently announced plans for a $500 million underground expansion of the memorial. In justifying the expenditure, Nelson claimed that commemoration ‘is an extremely important part of the therapeutic milieu’ for returning soldiers; ‘I’ve particularly learned from the Vietnam experience it is important to tell the stories and tell them now. We tell them broadly and deeply and we don’t wait a decade.’

Christina Twomey’s new book, The Battle Within, traces the experiences of a group of returning soldiers who had to wait a lot longer than a decade to have their stories told. It was not until the 1980s that prisoners of the Japanese during World War II were invited into the temple of Anzac. Twomey uses the metaphor of the Thai–Burma railway, which she first saw as a twelve-year-old in 1980 and revisited in 2012, to describe their passage from exile to the increasingly elaborate centre of Anzac commemoration:

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Carolyn Holbrook reviews 'The Battle Within: POWs in postwar Australia' by Christina Twomey
  • Contents Category Military History
  • Custom Highlight Text

    The director of the Australian War Memorial, Brendan Nelson, recently announced plans for a $500 million underground expansion of the memorial. In justifying the expenditure, Nelson claimed that commemoration ‘is an extremely important part of the therapeutic milieu’ for returning soldiers; ‘I’ve particularly learned from the ...

  • Book Title The Battle Within
  • Book Author Christina Twomey
  • Book Subtitle POWs in postwar Australia
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio NewSouth, $39.99 pb, 320 pp, 9781742235684

John Curtin may be our most extensively documented prime minister. He is the subject of many biographies (including one by the author of the volume reviewed here) and countless chapters and articles, and is necessarily a central figure in war histories of the 1940s. John Edwards ventures into a well-populated field. The publisher’s claim in promoting the book that Curtin is one of our most underrated prime ministers is specious – in every comparative poll undertaken, Curtin is ranked at, or close to, the top.

In his earlier book (Curtin’s Gift, 2005), Edwards was explicit about his purpose in recovering Curtin from Labor partisans and war sacrifice narratives. There is no such declaration of purpose this time. He avoids framing his enterprise as a contribution to a larger debate, or explicitly engaging with differences in interpretation. His intention, evidently, is to tell the story anew, for the general reader, specifically focusing on wartime decision making. He makes judicious use of existing work when needed, but writes as if this is a tale never told before. It is an approach well-suited to the general reader. It may provoke peer researchers.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title James Walter reviews 'John Curtin’s War: Volume I' by John Edwards
  • Contents Category Memoir
  • Custom Highlight Text

    John Curtin may be our most extensively documented prime minister. He is the subject of many biographies (including one by the author of the volume reviewed here) and countless chapters and articles, and is necessarily a central figure in war histories of the 1940s. John Edwards ventures into a well-populated field ...

  • Book Title John Curtin’s War
  • Book Author John Edwards
  • Book Subtitle Volume I
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Viking, $49.99 hb, 560 pp, 9780670073474

Miranda: Oh brave new world, that has such people in it ...
Prospero: Tis new to thee ...

The Tempest

In July 1942 the Police Battalion 101 was ordered to murder all the older men, women, and children in Józefów, in Poland. Major Wilhelm Trapp, a member of the Nazi Party, led the battalion. He made an unprecedented offer. If any older members of the battalion felt unable to proceed, they could be excused. Twelve men withdrew from the atrocities that were to follow; the vast majority went on with the killing.

The Holocaust ushered in new technologies that made the kind of direct killing experienced at Józefów obsolete. Murder became mechanised. Yet the central questions raised by this incident remain: what motivates soldiers to perform mass slaughter? Why do soldiers in fact go ‘beyond the call of duty’? Why are atrocities such as Mỹ Lai and torture in places like Abu Ghraib so commonplace? Ethics under Fire: Challenges for the Australian army tries to answer some of these questions while suggesting ways forward in the rapidly changing landscape of warfare.

This edited collection is the result of a conference in 2016. It covers the contribution ethics can make to the military (Part One); issues of cultural difference when working with allied forces, and the difficulties of acting ethically outside of conventional military frameworks (Parts Two and Three). Part Four adds narrative depth through writings about NGOs working with the Australian army. In Parts Five and Six, writers focus on uses of technology and the internet. Finally, in Part Seven the authors engage with three case studies.

What draws together these diverse contributions, ranging from writing by philosophers to soldiers to humanitarian workers is one central question: How can an institution which is ‘in the business of killing people and destroying property’ behave ethically? Even when this behaviour, as is in the case with the ADF’s work in Rwanda and Somalia, is motivated by the desire to restore human dignity and alleviate suffering, the role of the military is innately ethically ambiguous.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Deborah Zion reviews 'Ethics Under Fire: Challenges for the Australian army' edited by Tom Frame and Albert Palazzo
  • Contents Category Australian History
  • Custom Highlight Text

    In July 1942 the Police Battalion 101 was ordered to murder all the older men, women, and children in Józefów, in Poland. Major Wilhelm Trapp, a member of the Nazi Party, led the battalion. He made an unprecedented offer. If any older members of the battalion felt unable to proceed, they could be excused. Twelve men ...

  • Book Title Ethics Under Fire
  • Book Author Tom Frame and Albert Palazzo
  • Book Subtitle Challenges for the Australian army
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio UNSW Press, $39.99 pb, 320 pp, 9781742235493

Few organisations defend their reputation more vigorously than the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Long since clasped to the national bosom, the ADF has no intention of being shoehorned out of its prized position at the heart of Australian identity and culture. The first duty of its public affairs personnel is to protect the brand – a brand, it believes, is fragile and under constant assault. In reality, the ADF’s reputation is virtually unbreakable. At one point during 2011 there were six separate investigations running simultaneously into various aspects of ADF culture, including inquiries into personal conduct within the ADF, the use of alcohol, the treatment of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and in the ADF more broadly. Sparked by the ADFA Skype Sex Scandal, the investigations laid bare a toxic culture of misogyny, bullying, and abuse. What damage did this scarifying experience inflict on the ADF’s standing in the eyes of the public? In February 2012, while new allegations of abuse were still surfacing, Essential Research asked its polling sample ‘How much trust do you have in the following national institutions?’ The ADF came in top, well ahead of the Federal Police, the Federal and High Courts, ASIO, the Reserve Bank, and the Commonwealth Public Service.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Kevin Foster reviews 'No Front Line: Australia’s special forces at war in Afghanistan' by Chris Masters
  • Contents Category Politics
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Few organisations defend their reputation more vigorously than the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Long since clasped to the national bosom, the ADF has no intention of being shoehorned out of its prized position at the heart of Australian identity and culture. The first duty of its public affairs personnel is to protect ...

  • Book Title No Front Line
  • Book Author Chris Masters
  • Book Subtitle Australia’s special forces at war in Afghanistan
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 609 pp, 9781760111144

In 1915 a young Englishman was repatriated from the Western front to Craiglockhart psychiatric hospital in Scotland. Traumatised and disillusioned, he would write the best-known anthem of his doomed generation. Wilfred Owen's horror was replicated across the war zones of the twentieth century. Shell shock, epitomising the catastrophic new relationship between man and machine, is Philipp Blom's unifying metaphor in Fracture: Life and culture in the West 1918–1938, a popular history of the interwar years (1918–38).

Fracture begins with an episode linking US events to the wider Western world, signalling that this is the story of the West, not just Europe. In 1920 Mamie Smith created history as the first black artist to make a blues recording. For Blom, this event was not just about race. Smith sang of unadorned emotion, bringing popular culture into the mainstream. Jazz was the iconic release from the confines of the pre-war world, and just one of transnational imports that ushered in the era of American supremacy. The following year links the rebellion of the Kronstadt sailors, brutally suppressed by Lenin, with the labour strife splitting the United States and fatally weakening the American workers unions. Edwin Hubble's identification in 1923 of a cepheid variable star in the galaxy of Andromeda provided data that would galvanise German physicist Werner Heisenberg to formulate quantum mechanics.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Peter Morgan reviews 'Fracture: Life and culture in the West 1918–1938' by Phillip Blom
  • Contents Category History
  • Custom Highlight Text

    In 1915 a young Englishman was repatriated from the Western front to Craiglockhart psychiatric hospital in Scotland. Traumatised and disillusioned, he would write ...

  • Book Title Fracture
  • Book Author Philipp Blom
  • Book Subtitle Life and culture in the West 1918–1938
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Atlantic Books, $29.99 pb, 494 pp, 9780857892201

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; several nations, including Australia, do not recognise it as genocide. While the British government has condemned the massacre, it does not consider that it qualifies as genocide under the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide. Although the naming of this event arouses fierce disputation, twenty-nine governments to date, including Germany, Russia, and Italy, have recognised the massacres as genocide. What relevance does this event and its aftermath have for Australia, given its continued reluctance to embrace the term 'genocide' to describe the murder of men, women, and children?

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Joy Damousi reviews 'Armenia, Australia and the Great War' by Vicken Babkenian and Peter Stanley
  • Contents Category Military History
  • Custom Highlight Text

    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; ...

  • Book Title Armenia, Australia and the Great War
  • Book Author Vicken Babkenian and Peter Stanley
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio NewSouth $34.99 pb, 335 pp, 9781742233994

Australians must start 'thinking like hawks, while moving like doves', James Brown asserts in his viscerally illustrated but poorly argued Firing Line: Australia's path to war. Amid a darkening security outlook – subtext: a rising China – Australia must awaken from its complacency and foster a new national strategy based upon genuine and informed debate about war and our place in the world. Unfortunately, Brown undercuts his reasonable pro-position by insinuating that this debate must result in a deeper dependence on the United States.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Lucas Grainger-Brown reviews 'Firing Line: Australia's path to war (Quarterly Essay 62) by James Brown
  • Contents Category Politics
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Australians must start 'thinking like hawks, while moving like doves', James Brown asserts in his viscerally illustrated but poorly argued Firing Line: Australia's path to war ...

  • Book Title Firing Line
  • Book Author James Brown
  • Book Subtitle Australia's path to war (Quarterly Essay 62)
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Black Inc. $22.99 pb, 106 pp, 9781863958417

When we talk about the importance of Australia's remembered wartime past, we mostly think of home-front experiences or Australians who went away to fight in overseas wars. Yet more than a quarter of our population was born overseas, and many of their early lives were shaped by war, with migration often a consequence of wartime dislocation or postwar persecution and poverty. The war memories these migrants bring to Australia are not just a vital family heritage; they also impact on Australian society and politics. As Joy Damousi argues in this important book, while Anglo-Australia has been keen to celebrate the legacy of Australian servicemen and women, we have been less willing to acknowledge migrant war stories and their impact. Focusing on the case study of Greek postwar migrant memory of World War II and the Greek Civil War, Damousi highlights a gap in recent Australia war and migration scholarship. The extensive literature about Australian Holocaust survivor memory, Damousi's work, and Nathalie Nguyen's recent books about Vietnamese Australian war memory suggest that this gap may already be closing. Perhaps some migrant communities are more able, or more willing, to talk about their war. Perhaps Australian society prefers to hear some migrant war stories more than others.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Alistair Thomson reviews 'Memory and Migration in the Shadow of War: Australia's Greek immigrants after World War II and the Greek Civil War' by Joy Damousi
  • Contents Category Australian History
  • Custom Highlight Text

    When we talk about the importance of Australia's remembered wartime past, we mostly think of home-front experiences or Australians who went away ...

  • Book Title Memory and Migration in the Shadow of War
  • Book Author Joy Damousi
  • Book Subtitle Australia's Greek immigrants after World War II and the Greek Civil War
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Cambridge University Press $145 hb, 270 pp, 97811107115941
Page 1 of 4