E-newsletter No. 37, 30 August 2016

ISSN: 2202-5561 ©

New on the Honest History website (honesthistory.net.au)

‘Anzackery’ defined in new edition of the Australian National Dictionary: Bruce Moore writes

Press baron Lord Northcliffe (egged on by Keith Murdoch) talks up the Anzacs after Pozières: Honest History document

From the Honest History archives: ‘Defining Moments’ at the National Museum of Australia

Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18: PM Hughes announces conscription plebiscite, 100 years ago today

Phillip Schuler, Australian correspondent in the Great War: Kristen Alexander reviews Mark Baker’s book

Conscription for Vietnam: exploring ‘Hell No! We Won’t Go’ at the Australian War Memorial

PM Menzies makes the front cover of Time magazine, 1960: from Humphrey McQueen’s collection

Do professional historians have a future?, asks Neville Buch

Australia’s Vietnam War in context – and other recent posts on the Honest History site

Centenary Watch

Minister Tehan back in harness. Senator Ludlam is Greens’ spokesperson. Local Long Tan commemorations less controversial. ‘Anzackery’ definition has interesting background. Conscription battles need to be front and centre. Chance for a new legacy at the Australian War Memorial. War-related ‘think pieces’ on South Australian site. United States World War I commemoration cranks up.


Clarifying. ‘He [Bernanke, chairman of US Federal Reserve] noted, that, at least in his early years as chairman, predecessor Greenspan, by contrast, joked “about his own strained relationship with transparency”, telling a Senate committee on one occasion: “Since becoming a central banker, I have learned to mumble with great incoherence. If I seem unduly clear to you, you must have misunderstood what I said.”‘ (JR Nethercote, Fairfax review, July 2016, of Ben Bernanke, The Courage to Act, 2015)

Consensus in history. ‘Proper controversy is when one historian says “This is caused by Thing A”, and another says “Shut up, you! It was caused by Thing B.” But when one is saying “It was Thing A”, and the other says “It’s more complicated than that”, I reckon we pretty much have an answer. Some say it’s Thing A, others say it’s partly Thing A – that’s as close to a consensus as naturally argumentative people are ever likely to come to.’ (David Mitchell, columnist for The Observer and The Guardian, 2011)

Confusion in history. ‘I hate the expression “island story”. People who talk about our island story are often trying to reduce history to the level of a Pride and Prejudice box-set or a marketing strategy for scones. The things that happened on this island before what’s happening now are, in many cases, interesting. But they’re not a simple narrative to which we’re the happy, sad or ambiguous ending – or a shaggy-dog story with the Cameron administration as the disappointing punchline. They’re a confused series of events. Or rather our best guess at a confused series of events constructed from studying a random hotchpotch of surviving artefacts.’ (David Mitchell, columnist for The Observer and The Guardian, 2012)

Common wars, common humanity. ‘In writing this book I hoped to suggest to them [readers in 1975, especially Americans dealing with the Vietnam War] some of the psychological and intellectual dimensions of “combat” – to use the current euphemism. I hoped that the effect of the book on such readers might persuade them that even Gooks had feelings, that even they hated to die, and like us called for help or God or Mother when their agony became unbearable.’ (Paul Fussell, ‘Afterword’, 2000, to The Great War and Modern Memory, 1975)

False economy? ‘Drones have become the proposed solution to economize violence and free us from overwhelming emotion. But the eyes in the sky that look to save us have destroyed our freedom, and can only themselves be defeated at last by the infinite resourcefulness of the imagination.’ (David Bromwich, New York Review of Books review, April 2016, of works by Laura Poitras)

Yours faithfully. ‘Every true faith is infallible. It performs what the believing person hopes to find in it. But it does not offer the least support for the establishing of an objective truth. Here the ways of men divide. If you want to achieve peace of mind and happiness, have faith. If you want to be a disciple of truth, then search … “Faith” means not wanting to know what is true.’ (Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900)

Facts and truth. ‘The facts of history cannot be purely objective, since they become facts of history only in virtue of the significance attached to them by the historian. Objectivity in history – if we are still to use the conventional term – cannot be an objectivity of fact, but only of relation, of the relation between fact and interpretation, between past, present, and future … It is only the simplest kind of historical statement that can be adjudged absolutely true or absolutely false.’ (EH Carr, What is History? 1961)

And again. ‘Historians know that history is subjective. People never agree on what evidence to select or emphasise, so no two studies of a subject can be the same. All disciplines, including science and history, persuade not by truth, but by fidelity to evidence and context.’ (Bill Gammage, The Biggest Estate on Earth, 2011)

Big difference. ‘Politicians and a retinue of warrior commentators want us to be proud of our martial history, lest the nation fall apart. Historians worth their salt want us to know that history critically, lest the nation be deceived, or simply dumbed-down. This is a great divide. History is a cautious, ever-questioning discipline, well aware that all historical truth is contextual and contingent and thus open to revision or to new ways of seeing the past. Politics is a profession played out with dogmatic certainties that are wielded like baseball bats.’ (Peter Cochrane, Griffith Review 48, 2015)

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