Ashenden, Dean: Saving the War Memorial from itself

Dean Ashenden

Saving the War Memorial from itself‘, Inside Story, 15 January 2019 updated

Long article canvassing many aspects of the War Memorial’s current direction, from its refusal to recognise the Frontier Wars, to the composition of its Council, and its liking for donations from arms companies. All of these issues have been dealt with many times by Honest History (use our Search engine) but Ashenden’s piece is an excellent reasoned critique of the Memorial’s attitudes, along with some discussion of prospects of – and tactics for – pushing it in a different direction. Some highlights:

  • the Memorial’s blind spot about the Frontier Wars is a symptom of a national silence about these events;
  • yet the Frontier Wars were more formative of Australia than any of our overseas military expeditions;
  • commemorating the Frontier Wars elsewhere than the Memorial makes them seem less important than they are, not real wars;
  • the Memorial has become brash and not reflective of the people it commemorates;
  • the Memorial’s current Director has become personally identified with its current direction;
  • the Memorial’s council is unrepresentative of Australians;
  • Labor’s present view is much the same as the Coalition’s but it needs to be persuaded ‘that the AWM should be the focus of a comprehensive review and rethink’.

On the issue of the Memorial and the Frontier Wars, Ashenden concludes:

What is objectionable or worse is that the AWM’s arguments are made in bad faith, and that the leadership of a major national institution has hidden behind rationalisations and half-truths while showing no willingness to engage in a serious conversation about a serious question, to learn, and to hold open the possibility of coming to a different view.

The Memorial has had the luxury for many years of being able to ignore or shrug off even reasoned critique. For example, it writes off criticism of its expansion plans. Director Nelson told an interviewer in November that there will be ‘the usual stuff [from] a small but vocal constituency who will argue money should not be spent in this way’.

Critical comment from Neil Churches in The Spectator.

David Stephens

16 January 2019


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