Hassan, Toni: Why does the War Memorial proudly display this booty from an illegal war?

Toni Hassan

Why does the War Memorial proudly display this booty from an illegal war?‘, Canberra Times, 3 May 2017

Also in other Fairfax and in Canberra Times hard copy. Reports the disappointment of former Australian War Memorial education officer, Patrick O’Hara, at the Memorial’s display of a gold-plated gun (an AK-47) captured during the Iraq War of 2003. The Memorial, O’Hara says, ‘was designed to show the ugly reality of war. It wasn’t meant to be political, gloating or a trophy cabinet … [The display of the Iraq War gun is] prostitution of the memorial to sensationalism.’

The article also quotes Honest History’s Michael Piggott on Charles Bean, who has (wrongly) been used as a talisman by the Memorial (Piggott wrote a chapter on Bean and the Memorial for The Honest History Book), and Bean himself on what guns do to people (information conspicuously absent from the walls of the Memorial, although it has plenty of highly polished big guns on display).

‘Bean spent his entire life trying to see how the Australian people were tested in war [says Piggott]. The national character, that’s what he was on about. If we were to put words into Bean’s mouth, they might be: “How does the display of this golden gun tell us anything insightful about the Australian people?”‘

The article has a comment from the Memorial’s spokesperson.

The gold-plated Tabuk is displayed alongside other examples of insurgent weapons to demonstrate the threats faced by coalition forces in Iraq. In addition, its display also aims to prompt the visitor to the memorial to consider the extreme nature of a regime that would gold-plate its firearms.

For more on what guns do to people, see this recent piece from the United States. It is mostly about the effects of small guns wielded by civilians, although some of the guns are about the same size as the Memorial’s golden trophy, including the exact same weapon, the AK-47. It’s a long read but it should give the reader a more rounded view of guns than the one that is offered by the Memorial. A key paragraph:

[Dr Amy Goldberg from Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia] started talking about the 2012 murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.”

Similar things could be said about death by guns in war. Such a description should be displayed next to every gun, large or small, gold-plated or not, that is polished and treasured by the Memorial.

David Stephens

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