Sheedy, Chris: For queen & country

Sheedy, Chris

For queen & country‘, Canberra Times, 31 October 2014

Useful corrective to the ‘other people’s wars’ argument about Australia’s entry into World War I. Quotes at length from historian, Craig Stockings, about how most Australians of 1914 saw themselves as people of the Empire, such that Britain’s fight was automatically theirs as well.

The article was commissioned by UNSW Canberra, the Canberra campus of UNSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

The false assumption that Australians had a modern-day attitude as opposed to an early-1900s mindset leads us to believe that Australians were fighting a war that was European and specifically British, a war that had little to do with Australia.

It is here from which the idea of marching to help Britain in World War I comes. Australians were not helping Britain. They were helping an Empire of which they were part, Stockings says. They were, in that sense, helping themselves. The modern division of identity between “us” and “them” did not exist in the early 20th century, as it does now.

Such thinking also leads us to consider the war as a wasteful tragedy for Australia, a pointless sacrifice of so many young lives. But a war that preserved and defended the empire was certainly not seen by Australians as a “waste” in 1914, or 1918 for that matter, Stockings says.

 

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