Archer, Robin, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot & Sean Scalmer, ed.: The Conscription Conflict and the Great War

Archer, Robin, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot & Sean Scalmer, ed.

The Conscription Conflict and the Great War, Monash University Publishing, Melbourne, 2016

Collection with articles by the editors, Douglas Newton, Frank Bongiorno, John Connor and Ross McKibbin.

While the Great War raged, Australians were twice asked to vote on the question of military conscription for overseas service. The recourse to popular referendum on such an issue at such a time was without precedent anywhere in the world. The campaigns precipitated mass mobilisation, bitter argument, a split in the Labor Party, and the fall of a government. The defeat of the proposals was hailed by some as a victory of democracy over militarism, mourned by others as an expression of political disloyalty or a symptom of failed self-government.

But while the memory of the conscription campaigns once loomed large, it has increasingly been overshadowed by a preoccupation with the sacrifice and heroism of Australian soldiers – a preoccupation that has been reinforced during the centennial commemorations.

This volume redresses the balance. Across nine chapters, distinguished scholars consider the origins, unfolding, and consequences of the conscription campaigns, comparing local events with experiences in Britain, the United States, and other countries. A corrective to the “militarisation” of Australian history, it is also a major new exploration of a unique and defining episode in Australia’s past. (blurb)

The book is reviewed for Honest History by Derek Abbott. Inside Story has a review from David Clune and Labour History website one from Michael Hamel-Green. Speeches at the launches of the book in three cities are here, part of our continuing series called ‘Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18’. Tom Switzer on the ABC.

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