Stephens, David: Parochial commemoration

Stephens, David

Parochial commemoration of war‘, Pearls and Irritations [John Menadue’s blog], 23 April 2014

Guest blog arguing that the Australian War Memorial narrowly defines its own legislation with the result that the Memorial ‘is missing many opportunities to expand our commemorative horizons and put our war deaths in context’. The Australian experience of war is targeted ‘down to the most trivial level’ while the broader context is largely ignored.

The wars and conflicts of the twentieth century killed an estimated 231 million people, perhaps 80 per cent of them civilians. By contrast, the wars recognised by the Australian War Memorial took around 100 000 Australian lives during that century, all but a handful of them enlisted servicemen and women. Every single one of those 100 000 deaths was a tragedy but are there in the world any 100 000 deaths so much commemorated as these?

Moreover, are there any deaths in war anywhere which are commemorated with so little regard for the context in which these men and women died? The “history of wars” should involve looking at both sides in each conflict and the full range of effects. Wars have despoiled the lands and the lives of hundreds of millions of people, few of whom – apart from the dead of the Australian Frontier Wars, which the Australian War Memorial refuses to recognise – lived in Australia.

The causes of wars are complex, their progress, aftermath and ramifications traumatic for individuals, families and nations. Yet, in pursuit of “the Australian experience of war”, the Australian War Memorial steers away from these aspects while it endlessly mines the stories of our 100 000 uniformed victims, a mere 0.04 per cent of that 231 million.

It would be in our national interest for the Memorial to focus more widely.

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