Stephens, David: Two views of World War I: War Memorial and National Library

David Stephens

Two views of World War I: sight-bites and Keepsakes‘, Honest History, 3 February 2015

The article is a review of the refurbished World War I galleries of the Australian War Memorial and the temporary Keepsakes exhibition at the National Library. It compares the two offerings and concludes:

Those who prefer a sentimental skim with a khaki hue, artillery and machine gun sound effects, and a bit more detail if they can be bothered, will punt for the Memorial; those who need or want to go deeper and wider and like to keep the military exploits in perspective will prefer Keepsakes.

The article is also critical of the Memorial’s continuing failure to tell a rounded story of Australians in war.

Finally, we need to ask whether the Memorial, by sentimentalising and sanitising war and by avoiding looking in depth at the reasons behind and the effects of our military involvements – the Afghanistan exhibition is a recent notable example – effectively contributes to the perpetuation of a bellicose Australian culture, particularly among children, and thus to the continuation of those involvements. “Despite an apparent endeavour to not celebrate victory”, James Rose has written, “the War Memorial can be guilty of celebrating – or at least assuming the necessity of – the act of war itself”. In the case of children, “[i]t’s hard not to see it as a kind of imprinting”. As well as shrine, trophy room, reliquarium and armoury, is the Memorial also jingoistic urger and military recruiting office?

Read more …

A further article written after the ‘hard launch’ of the refurbished galleries on 22 February.

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