Australian Book Review

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.

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Published in May 1995, no. 170

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.

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Published in April 1994, no. 159

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.

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‘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.

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Published in August 1987, no, 93

In a response to Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli published in Quadrant in 1982, Gerard Henderson observed that ‘recounting the story of the Anzacs has become something of a growth industry’. Five years on, the Gallipoli industry shows no sign of a downturn. The salvaging and publication of war diaries, letters and manuscripts that had long mouldered in museums, libraries and attics, the spate of ‘epic’ teledramas and ersatz war fiction (like Jack Bennett’s spin-off from the aforesaid movie), new historical studies and the resurrection of old ones such as C. E. W. Bean’s Official History and, at the other end of the scale, John Laffin’s Digger: The story of the Australian soldier (its subtitle magically changed to ‘The legend of the Australian soldier’), all attest to the enduring appeal of Australia’s military exploits to writers and filmmakers and to the subject’s ability to tap a popular audience.

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Published in May 1987, no. 90