Phillip Deery & Julie Kimber, ed.
Fighting against War: Peace Activism in the Twentieth Century, Leftbank Press/Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Melbourne, 2015
The book includes 15 of the papers delivered at the 14th Biennial Labour History conference in Melbourne in February 2015, plus a helpful introduction by the editors. That the book was available at the conference is to the great credit of both the authors and the editors.
The extended commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great War have commenced in earnest [the editors say]. Over the next four years people around the world will struggle to avoid the politicised public narratives of these remembrances. Nationalistic sentiment is no less palpable today than imperial sentiment was a century ago. Its opponents are still there too. Among the countless commemorative activities that will occur, there are innumerable counter narratives. Although they are compelling in their telling of oppositional stories, they have yet to capture the imagination of the dominant storytellers of our generation. Mainstream media, governments, and politicians of all persuasions, remain a captive of “soft jingoism”, and the myth making of Geoffrey Serle’s “fire-eating generals”. In such a view, war remains a lamentable, but necessary evil. The true costs of war are absorbed only partially.
The papers in the book go a long way to presenting those counter narratives. There is Douglas Newton on women in Britain in 1914 trying to avert war and Carolyn Rasmussen on Australian women doing similar work. Verity Burgmann and Liam Byrne look at different socialist approaches to World War I while Anne Beggs-Sunter and Rhys Cooper focus on anti-war activism in print. Robert Bollard studies the Irish and Karen Agutter the Italians. Carolyn Holbrook writes on psychology and Australian memory of the Great War. All of these papers centre around the Great War.
Then there are Phil Roberts and Chris McConville on memorial architecture, particularly in Ballarat, Lachlan Clohesy on aspects of Evatt’s foreign policy, Kim Thoday on protestant peace activism during the early Cold War, Bobbie Oliver on the anti-Vietnam War journal, The Peacemaker, and Nick Irving on the Vietnam Moratorium movement in Australia.
There were keynote addresses at the conference from Marilyn Lake, Bruce Scates and Verity Burgmann again, although they are not included in the book. Marilyn Lake lamented the ahistorical approach of Australian Labor politicians and Bruce Scates advocated activism in presenting alternative narratives, even if they were discomforting to audiences.