Clark, Anna: Trench warfare: The Honest History Book

Anna Clark

Trench warfare: The Honest History Book, Sydney Review of Books, 19 September 2017

Review of The Honest History Book (long read).

[The authors, says Clark] provide a powerful argument against the superficial, the commercial, and the celebratory aspects of what has come to be termed “Anzackery”, as well as making important interventions that demonstrate the diversity of Australian history … [M]emory is a slippery beast, and Honest History does a good job of challenging that reification of Anzac and its effects on historical thinking.

Clark pulls up examples of sentimental commemoration and other aspects of the received approach to Anzac, then goes on to give a comprehensive coverage and critique of the book. She wonders whether the book could have taken more account of academic studies of memory and forgetting. She places the book in the genre of works questioning Anzac and comments:

Taken together, the works demonstrate a powerful critique of popular remembrance. They reveal the complicated relationship Australia has with its past, where its federal government spent more on commemorating the centenary of the first world war than every other participating nation put together, yet only a generation ago Anzac Day was thought to be in decline. They question why Australia remembers its sacrifices in international wars ad nauseum, but forgets its own wars of colonisation and dispossession. And they explicitly challenge the efficacy of publicly funding education programs that emphasise Australian exceptionalism without teaching critical historical engagement. “The Great War should rattle our souls, not rouse our self-esteem”, [Douglas] Newton rightly contends in his chapter.

There is a bibliography.

Other reviews and comments on The Honest History Book.

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