Blinkered commemoration at the Australian War Memorial

David Stephens writes in Fairfax media 10 June 2o14 about the parochial approach taken by the Australian War Memorial to commemoration, despite the possibilities offered by its legislation for a broader perspective. The hard copy in the Canberra Times 11 June 2014 is slightly different. An earlier version appeared in Pearls and Irritations (John Menadue’s blog).

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One comment on “Blinkered commemoration at the Australian War Memorial
  1. Leighton View says:

    I agree with Dr. Stephens that the Australian War Memorial has a “blinkered commemoration” view of conflicts of which Australia has been a part. Also a rather restricted view since it doesn’t cover colonial conflict, Australia’s “Civil War” which of course didn’t occur (if you were to obtain all your knowledge about conflict from what is on display at the AWM). Narrow vision is, however, a characteristic of national memorials commemorating warfare. In that sense the AWM is no different from the others and is very good at its job and appears to be fulfilling its responsibility under the legislation which created it.

    What disturbs me more about war memorials is that whether in Australia, the United States, Britain, Russia, Saddam’s Iraq or wherever they help to lay the groundwork for future conflicts. How? Because it seems the main emphasis is not laid on the tragedy (and tragedy never ending, till those who knew intimately the dead are, themselves, gone). Rather a very strong underlying theme is that of the overt and implied debt the living have to the war dead. The message of “responsibility” to “live up” and if need be emulate the sacrifice of those who died before. To contemplate the fact that they, the living, might also need to sacrifice in a similar way in the future.

    War Memorials don’t dissuade countries from future military tragedies, in fact they help ensure that there is always a certain portion of the population that sees conflict as unavoidable (if not desirable). A portion of the population that believes that ultimately only war can solve, avoid or delay problems.

    Once a conflict is underway, military memorials and ceremonies serve to legitimize the fighting and almost unavoidable losses. Perversely leading to more losses in order to add meaning to the casualties already suffered so that they aren’t “in vain.”

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