Beaumont, Joan: Anzac Day to VP Day

Joan Beaumont

ANZAC Day to VP Day: Arguments and interpretations’, Journal of the Australian War Memorial, 40, February 2007, pp. 1-7

Historiography of war in Australia, including many references in notes. Beaumont asks what are the roles of historians and government agencies in shaping the memory of war.

This professionalisation of Australian defence history coincided with the most striking and interesting development of recent decades: the resurgence in the memory of war in both popular culture and official commemoration. How much the Defence research units contributed to this development, or were stimulated by it, is unclear. However, although the popular media is inclined to represent the new interest in ANZAC and war commemoration as an organic and spontaneous occurrence – evidence of a new national pride that they take as unproblematic and positive – in fact, the national calendar of war ritual and commemoration that has emerged in the last two decades has been carefully orchestrated by federal governments of both political persuasions. The “memory industry” has also been implemented with considerable finesse and enthusiasm by government agencies, notably the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Australian War Memorial, who have a strong institutional logic in promoting it.

She notes academic differences over whether war memory is centrally shaped by the state or an expression of mourning and a human response to death and suffering but she concludes

this polarity is almost certainly unhelpful: we cannot understand the resurgence of interest in the memory of war, unless we see it as interaction between state and individual agency. Moreover, commemorative activities at the national level are only embraced by societies if they resonate with individual memories of the past.

All the same the state in Australia has been very active through, for example, Australia Remembers in 1995, and other government activities.

Beaumont concludes by discussing the various tendencies within Australian historiography of war and concludes with some questions addressed to the profession. They are still relevant, particularly her final question: ‘What is our role, as historians, in shaping the memory of war?’

Click here for all items related to: ,